Implementing svn:externals support in SVKEdit

So SVK doesn’t yet support Subversion externals. A number of possible workarounds are discussed in "Working around the lack of svn:externals support in SVK" but in this article I’d like to propose how I think the feature should be implemented in SVK.

Nested checkouts

An svn:externals property is an instruction to the Subversion client that it should check out a given repository path at a location inside an existing working copy. It is essentially a reference to a path in another repository, like a symbolic link. It essentially produces a "nested" working copy, one working copy checked out inside another.

Nesting of working copies is not allowed in SVK so you can’t "fake" this by manually checking out the desired path inside an existing working copy. As a precondition for implementing svn:externals support SVK therefore has to be modified to allow this special case of nested working copies when svn:externals are in use.


SVK normally works with a local mirror so if you invoke:

svk co svn+ssh://

Where no mirror for that URL yet exists SVK will offer to create a (local) mirror at:


This detail is relevant to implementing svn:externals support in SVK because a user could check out a working copy containing a reference to a not-yet-mirrored external repository. In this case SVK would need to offer to mirror the repository. Given that svn:externals are a client-level detail this mirroring should be implemented at check out time rather than at the time when the first repository is mirrored.

Working with SVK paths

It should be possible to set svn:externals properties that use SVK paths:

svk propset svn:externals "nested_path //mirror/mirror_path"

But this is of limited use because it means that other users who may not be using SVK and might just be using the Subversion client will not be able to checkout the externals.

Working with Subversion paths

Much more useful would be the ability for SVK to work with Subversion paths in svn:externals properties:

svk propset svn:externals "nested_path svn+ssh://"

The question then becomes, what should SVK do when it encounters such a path?

  • Should it automatically use the local mirror corresponding to that Subversion path (offering to create the mirror if it doesn’t yet exist)?
  • Should it use another mirror dedicated exclusively to that particular instance of svn:externals?

The first approach is probably the most straightforward and most closely matches the existing behaviour of Subversion externals.

Command changes

From a user perspective, the SVK commands which would need to be updated are:

  • svk co: The client should check out any svn:externals referenced in the code that is being checked out.
  • svk st: The client should separately show the status of the checked out working copy and that of any nested svn:externals.
  • svk up: The client should update not only the checked out working copy but also any nested svn:externals.
  • svk ci: When checking in code the client should act on only one thing at a time: either the checked out working copy or a nested svn:externals; this matches the behaviours of the Subversion client which insists that all commits be atomic and cannot guarantee that a commit to more than two repositories will be atomic.

See also