My development team uses source safe at a very basic level. We're moving into some more advanced and extended development cycles and I can't help but think that not using branching and merging in order to manage changes is going to be biting us very soon.

What arguments did you find most useful in order to convince your team to move to a better solution like SVN?

What programs did you use to bridge the functionality gap so that the team wouldn't miss the ide sourcesafe integration?

Or should I just accept sourcesafe and attempt to shoehorn better practices into it?

+1  A: 

If you use VisualSVN the team won't miss VSS as much. 2 people being able to work on one file at the same time is a big selling point too.

Kevin Sheffield
+47  A: 

First, teach them how to use SourceSafe in an efficient way.

If they are smart enough, they will begin to love the advantages of using a version-control system, and if so, they will soon reach the limits of SourceSafe. That's where they will be the more able to listen to your arguments for switching to a better VCS, could it be a CVCS or a DVCS, depending on what's the team is ready to achieve.

If you try to force them to use another VCS when they use SourceSafe in a wrong way, like saving zip file of source code (don't laugh, that's how they were acting in my company two years ago), they will be completly reluctant to any argumentation, as good as it could be.

"learn them"?
Sorry, maybe that my english is wrong. Is "teach them" a better phrasing?
Yes, change it to "First, teach them how to use..." or it sounds awful to a native English speaker.
Good laugh! Thanks
@Oli : he tells us how people used to zip files into SourceSafe and you find "learn them" as a laughing matter?! :))
Andrei Rinea
+1  A: 

The unreliability of source safe ("please fix the repository...") was enough of a sell for us. Andecdotally (I've never measured it) SVN also always seems faster. Good concurrent checkouts / merging.

I'd always figured that to a developer it was almost too obvious. SourceSafe just seems to break and die all too often to not want to replace it...

+1  A: 

I don't remember any SourceSafe user ever liking the product. Do your colleagues actually like it?

I've got a similar issue with CVS at my current customer's usage. Since "it works" and they are mostly pleased with it, I cannot push them to change. But daily I sure wish they would!

They are probably just familiar with it...and have had such a bad experience that they think all SCM tools are that bad :P
Stu Thompson
I like source safe. I am not an idiot thopugh. I know it has its limitations. I have used it for a long time for single developer small projects, and will continue to do so. Thats what its good for. Anything beyond that is asking for trouble.
It is indeed a matter of my co-workers just being "used to it". Until now, it's been a glorified network store, and nothing more, and source safe works just fine for that.
spelling flame: colleague.
Thanks for the spelling flame; I usually am very precise on spelling. Got me! :)
+3  A: 

The AnkhSVN plugin for VS is pretty good. It's got a few oddities but on the whole works well.

Convincing the team to move is hard work - I never managed it :-( Probably one of the more practical arguments though is speed - VSS is s-l-o-w when you've got a 1GB source database and several users.

edit It's been so long since I used VSS I forgot it was locking! Yes, as mentioned here the ability to move to a non-exclusive/merge changes model should help if you've got more than a handful of developers. It saves yelling "Can somebody check in the common includes" across the office!

+12  A: 

Whatever you do, move slowly! Don't start talking to them about branching on Day 1 -- it will just put them off. I'm stereotyping VSS users with that comment, but that's what I see out there.

For the developers: sell it as a replacement for VSS that works better and faster. Use VisualSVN on Day 1 so they have a super-shallow learning curve. Sell them on it being the same except faster, more stable, and 2 people can edit the same file and they won't have problems with some guy being off sick with locks on a bunch of files.

For the admins: sell them on it being more stable and easier to administer than VSS. Show them VisualSVN server.

Good luck!

Stewart Johnson

We used to use SourceSafe. Then, when I joined the team I was in a different location and even though we have a fairly good LAN when I tried to check out the latest version it took 40 minutes. I persuaded them to convert to CVS (we now use SVN) and the checkout time dropped to a couple of minutes. SourceSafe was just too slow to be usable at a remote location.

David Dibben
+48  A: 


  • SVN is a lot more reliable with large databases
  • SVN is still actively supported
  • Atomic commit - in VSS when you get latest version while another user is performing checkin, you can get an inconsistent state, forcing you to repeat the "Get latest version" in better case, but sometimes when unlucky you may be left with a codebase which compiles but does not work. This cannot happen in SVN thanks to atomic commits.


  • SVN branch/merge is a lot better
  • SVN has builtin support for remote access
  • SVN is more configurable (integration of external Diff/Merge tools)
  • SVN is more extensible (hooks)

Better productivity

  • SVN "Update" is a lot faster compared to SS "Get latest version"
  • SVN command line is a lot easier and cleaner - this is useful for automated build or testing tools

Same level of IDE Integration

  • VSS had a lot better VS integration until recently, but with AnkhSVN 2.0 this is no longer true.


SVN is open and there is plenty of various tools using SVN or cooperating with it. Some examples include:

  • integration with many bug tracker or product cycle management products
  • shell integration
  • integration into various products
  • various management and analysis tools
  • source is available, you can adjust it to your need, fix the problems (or hire someone to do it for you) should the need arise


  • You do not have to pay any license or maintenance fees
There is also VisualSVN plugin for Visual Studio that even when not free, is a great extension (tortoiseSVN is needed though) and it's worth the $49
Gustavo Rubio
Also see: as a plugin for Visual Studio
Bryan Denny
+15  A: 

There were two features that we used to sell management and the team on SVN over VSS.

1) The ability to branch. When using VSS, when a release was scheduled to go out, the entire repository was locked until the release actually went out. This included the test and fix cycle. So, developers were unable to commit anything other than fixes for the release to the VSS repository. This resulted in long integration sessions immediately following each release. With the use of release branches in SVN, there is no longer any need to lock the entire repository.

2) The ability to rollback an entire change at once. Because SVN records all files changed in a single, atomic commit, it is trivial to revert a problematic change. In VSS, a developer had to go through the entire repository and find every file changed at about the same time and revert each change to each file individually. With SVN, this is as trivial as finding the relevant commit and hitting the "Revert Changes from this Commit" button in TortoiseSVN.

As a side note, we use TortoiseSVN and everyone loves the file overlay icons for seeing what has and has not changed.


We moved from SourceSafe to Source Gear Vault. This source control engine is very comfortable for some one used to SourceSafe. We finally decided to make the change after a couple SourceSafe corruption incidents, that came at critical times. So my advice would be to focus your sales presentation on SourceSafes unreliability.

Aaron Fischer
+5  A: 

Nobody recommends using SourceSafe any more, not even Microsoft. They will now offer you an (expensive) TFS licence instead. SourceSafe is just not reliable.

I wrote about it here: Visual SourceSafe on E2. It's a bit of a rant, but that's because I had to use SourceSafe for quite a while, and the memory makes me froth at the mouth a bit.

Reliablity is the big one that will bite you. But also there are features that you may appreciate in SVN or TFS:

TFS and SVN both have atomic commits of multiple files, but Sourcesafe does not - if you check in two files "at once", it's not one operation, it's the same as checking in one of the files, then checking in the other. You can get at the state in between, where one file has been checked in, but not the other.

SourceSafe does not keep history of deleted files, file moves or renames.

Contrary to initial impressions, SourceSafe does support multiple simultaneous checkouts of the same file, if you set the right options. But TFS and especially SVN are better designed for this way of working

Unlike SourceSafe, TFS and SVN both work fine against servers on the internet (TFS just OK, SVN excellently) and SVN works well offline - e.g. if you have a laptop on a plane or train and no 'net, you can still work and compare to previous revisions or even revert, since the data to do that is held locally.

As someone else pointed out, SourceSafe, like CVS, is a "dead" product. It is not being actively developed. TFS and SVN will have next versions out some time in the future.

+3  A: 

You say "What arguments did you find most useful in order to convince your team to move to a better solution like SVN?"

If you don't know that it's a better solution, then why are you making the arguments? If your mind is made up enough to go argue for a solution, you should know what those reasons are already.

What convinced you that you should move to something better? Those are your arguments right there. Anything short of those arguments will sound like it's just an issue of personal preference.

Andy Lester
+1  A: 

Tell them to read this

Scott Langham

Surely using source safe is enough reason to want to migrate to another source control system?

I used SVN and CVS at my old job and have moved to a company that uses Source safe (we are going to migrate to SVN) and just using VSS has been enough for me to take a serious dislike to it. I went in with an open mind, despite many of my colleagues from my previous job telling me horror stories about VSS I assumed that it would have gotten better since they used it.

Not being able to edit a file because somone else is/was editing it is ridiculous. I've tried to move to more distributed versioning systems like Bazzar which is made by cannonical however it's not mature enough in terms of the tools available.

Source safe gets in the way of development where SVN helps you almost every step of the way.

Plus Using tortoise Svn made code reviews a lot easier.

Omar Kooheji
+2  A: 

Tell them to treat the source code as if it was money and point them to the numerous examples of SourceSafe coming down in flames taking the source with it. Things like that are just not supposed to happen in a proper source control system.

The best argument against SourceSafe is that it is just isn't Safe, everything else can potentially be called "features we don't need".


Only to the extend as you are able to herd a bunch of cats. I've been there twice and in both cases it took some serious problems in Source Safe before people saw the light. As a manager on the other hand I simply directed the team to use SVN and our productivity increased by 300% ( this was working with a group in India and in the US. We had code exchanges that used to take a long time before svn )

Thomas Wagner
+3  A: 

TortoiseSvn (free) is really nice for explorer integration, giving you all the features of svn from a context menu.

VisualSvn (commercial) makes it just as easy to integrate svn into Visual Studio, with the same status indication in the solution browser as well as context menus to use all the subversion features.

Both these tools go a long way to making version control seamless. It's been a coupe of years since I dealt with VSS, but these tools are a way nicer way to use source control.

Ditto for what every one has said about VSS being poop

Subversion has good support for branching and doing merges... I don't remember VSS having any capabilities in this department at all. I do remember teams going through pain of week long merges when needing to release from VSS, pain which just doesn't exist anymore with Subversion.

anhksvn is pretty good too.
+18  A: 

Find some excuse to start using non-ASCII characters in your C# code (Chinese and Japanese are excellent for this).

SourceSafe doesn't like Unicode (even though Visual Studio does), so if you choose the right Unicode text and check a file in and back out, your entire file will appear as corrupted gibberish. The beauty of this is that because SS uses a "diff" versioning system, this actually corrupts the file all the way back to the original check-in version, and can't be fixed automatically.

When this happens just one time (as it did to me when working on an application that had to support Japanese), you will probably find it to be a decisive argument in favor of dropping SourceSafe.

Don't tell me that bug is actually in shipping versions of VSS. That just... defies belief. Any sources on that?
I have a hard time getting behind corrupting the entire history of a file - intentionally - as a way to convince the team to change...
Jeff Barger
+2  A: 

First search google for the sheer quantity of pages describing how bad VSS is and share that with your coworkers.

Second, skip subversion and go straight to a proper distributed SCM like git or mercurial. Because merging is such an inherent part of distributed SCMs, they have to handle merges much better than centralized systems like svn. Subversion is still trying to retrofit itself to handle branching better, where the distributed systems were built correctly to begin with.

"the distributed systems were built correctly" You mean "built differently". There is no indication in the original post that there is any decentralisation to manage.
Sorry. Source control tools without merge tracking were built _incorrectly_.
+5  A: 

First, document all the problems you are having that can be traced to root causes within the source control system. Keep track of them for a month or so. Add on top of that missed opportunities resulting from not using it. (if you say "opportunity costs of not using subversion" you may impress an MBA-type manager). These numbers are actually an understimate of the opportunity cost because presumably you could have been doing work that provides more than your hourly bill rate of value if you weren't messing around with VSS.

For example, do you have problems where files are locked that need to be accessed by more than one person? Have you had problems with partial (non-atomic) check-ins? Do you have problems where it is difficult for you to keep track of releases of the software and recreate the repository as it was in the past? Do you have problems getting a copy of the code onto a server that doesn't have a sourcesafe client? Do you have problems automating your build and testing process because continuous integration tools can't monitor your version control systems for updates? I am sure you can think of many others.

If you can figure out the approximate time/money costs of problems caused by sourcesafe and benefits of things that subversion provides (using a generic number like $100/hr for labor costs or just hours) and any costs of late delivery of projects, do so. If you have collected data for a month or so, you can show the benefit using subversion per month.

Then present the approximate time/cost of moving to subversion. (About 8 hours to setup and migrate code, and 2 hours per developer to connect, checkout and move projects, something like that) The risk is low, since sourcesafe is still there to rollback to.

If the cost is more than the monthly benefit, you can divide the cost by the benefit to figure out the recovery period. You should also total it up over 3 years or so to show the long term benefit. Again, emphasize that the real opportunity cost is not directly calculable because you could have been adding value during the time you were trying to manage non-branched releases in sourcesafe.

+1  A: 

I would recommend that you go ahead and start introducing best practices to your sourcesafe usage with a view to changing to subversion further down the line. Hopefully this will make your actual subversion migration easier and give you time to sort plan out your development cycles, branching strategies et al. properly.

The other thing to consider is your development process in general. A source control management system is only ever part of the solution, to get the most out of subversion or any other product you will probably want to look at how it's usage interacts with your code review, qa and build processes.


Also Trac mounts on top of Subversion. It's free and a great way to view the repository (timeline, wiki, etc)


As you're making these arguments, consider whether you need to address any policy your company may have about using open source tools. See this answer to a prior question: Switching source control

Will M
+3  A: 

Build some automation that mirrors the VSS repository into a SVN repository

It takes time to build a consensus. If your SVN mirror of the VSS repository is available at all times, it will be easier to accumulate converts. The mirror doesn't have to be perfect- it just has to be usable. There are existing tools for this purpose.

+2  A: 

The clincher for us was the speed (i.e., the lack thereof) of VSS over VPN and low bandwidth hotel networks on the road and the problems of trying to tunnel through firewalls so that two teams at two different sites could quickly, securely, and reliably work from the same code repository. We were running two VSS repositories and packaging up "deliveries" that had to be merged into the other site's repository to keep them in sync.

The team grumbled for a while, but quickly got over it. TortoiseSVN is fantastic by itself and the AnkhSVN plug-in for Visual Studio really eased everyone into the changeover.

Looking back, I can't believe how many "Can you check in file SoAndSo?" e-mails we sent around, not to mention the "SourceSafe is down. We've got to restore the repository" e-mails.

Sheesh. After reading this comments and writing this response, I can't believe we put up with VSS for as long as we did.

+2  A: 

Web page summarising problems with VSS - just point people to that URL


Make them use it and they will switch to something else :)

Now, being serious, tell them its not that hard to use it, many developers that I've known refused to switch because they related subversion to unix and wierd commands, show them interfaces like ToirtoiseSVN or VisualSVN, tell them that Subversion allows them to edit the same file withouth a forced locking like VSS does.

And last but not least, it is Open Source. It has lower cost than buying Team Foundation Server and if you look around you will see that small teams of developers work quite well with SVN.

Gustavo Rubio

I used SourceSafe on a small development team and was responsible for keeping it running.

I found the database gets corrupted pretty easily, and there isn't much recourse when that happens. The "repair" feature (as with most any Microsoft repair feature) just doesn't work 98% of the time.

Naturally, when our database became corrupt, we tried to restore from our backup archive. That was when we discovered the other bad thing about SourceSafe: its 2GB archive limit. We were making backups at our office for months before we ever realized that they couldn't be restored and were useless.

SourceSafe is just a disaster waiting to happen.

Brandon Corfman

I'm planning on ditching SourceSafe in the next few weeks, after over a decade of putting up with it. Mostly I've been using it within the context of a small (< 5 person) team, and not had to do a lot of branching because there's been no call to do it.

However, the #1 problem for me, and always has been, is that the damn thing is so prone to corruption - if you have your SS database (lol, database; collection of randomly named files more accurately describes it) on a network drive, and something happens to your LAN connection partway through an add/checkin operation - 9 times out of ten you get "invalid handle" and the damn thing is corrupted in some way, and then you get to play Russian Roulette with the Analyzer tool.

I realised, a couple of months back, that for the past decade I had been making local zipped up copies of the source at every release of the software I was working on, because I didn't trust the source control system. What a waste of time.

So, it's going. I'll probably use Subversion and TortoiseSVN, because I think the team will need a UI to ease the transition.

Code Trawler

In my previous job we started on VSS then moved to SVN and never looked back.

Just started a new job and they use VSS, fortunately the above problems are making them think about using SVN.

Not being able to add a file to a project because someone has the project file checked out is infuriating!

-- Lee

Lee Englestone

When I was at the launch for VS2005 I managed to corner a Microsofty and ask why SourceSafe was so awful to use. The reply I got was rather shocking, not just because of what he said but because he was so up front about what he'd said.

He told me that it was only really meant for one person to use and even then it wasn't very good at doing that.

My colleagues and I were a bit shocked we couldn't think of much else to do other than laugh out loud, as did the Microsofty! He then told us that it wasn't used internally.

So, we switched to subversion shortly after that. We'd pretty much decided to go for it before the launch event, but that just confirmed we'd made the right decision.

Antony Scott

If dropping SourceSafe for another version control system I would recommend to go with Mercurial rather than with SVN

Joel Spolsky's wrote a very good introduction to Mercurial and you can use plug-in for Visual Studio as well.


Whenever i've worked in a team of 3 and they've started to increase numbers further moving away from VSS has seemed to be a natural step.

Also whenever i've shown people the benefits of Continuous Integration (specifically CruiseControl.NET); that in itself is often enough to warrant the move away from VSS to SVN (I find SVN works much better with CruiseControl.NET than VSS).

I'd suggest starting any new projects in SVN and migrate old projects across as and when necessary rather than a complete move from one to the other in a single step.

You'll be suprised how fast VSS dies off this way.

Lee Englestone