GitLab vs GitHub

GitLab vs GitHub


For the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC), version control repositories are a pretty big deal. They are so important that in the last few years, both GitHub vs GitLab have positioned themselves as the go-to DevOps tools that developers tend to favor above all others.

As their names state, both GitLab and GitHub are web-based Git repositories. If you find yourself confused, don’t worry, there are a lot of Gits to cover and that is exactly what we’ll do in this article: we’ll break down the nuts and bolts of Git as a version control system along with clarifying GitLab vs GitHub.

Let’s begin the educational journey exploring  GitHub vs GitLab.

Version control repository management services

For starters, what is a version control system? Essentially, it is a software management component that handles and tracks changes made to information, software, and programs. Real-life projects require version control systems as they typically have several programmers working at once on a software project. Thus, a version control system,  such as Git, ensures there are no code overlaps or conflicts.

Another key aspect of version control systems refers to changes in requirements, which tend to be frequent in SDLC environments. Version control systems carefully track versions to allow developers to revert to previous versions of code. This is particularly helpful as it allows modifications to be made without reworking entire code bases. 

The importance and relevance of version control systems in today’s SDLC landscapes cannot be stressed enough. Any software development project that involves technical requirements, collaborative team members, or frequent modifications to the code, absolutely requires a version control system.

The key advantages of using a version control system and its repository management services include

  1. streamlining the development process,
  2. the management of code for multiple projects at once,
  3. upkeep of a clean history for all changes within code.

With version control systems, all changes are kept and tracked in a repository - which, as we mentioned before, is a great plus for scenarios where developers want to revert back to a previous version or undo a mistake in the code. Version control systems greatly reduce human errors and they also integrate easily with software development tools such as Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) and build automation tools.

There are two primary types of version control system tools or models: client-server and distributed. In the client-server type, developers use a shared single repository that focuses on a single point of failure, while in the distributed type each developer works directly on their own local repository and changes are shared between repositories separately and full copies of source code are kept at each instance point.

To sum up, version control systems are essential to the success of highly collaborative software development workflows and there is virtually no scenario in any modern SDLC setting where it is beneficial to skip their use.

Git as a version control system

Before diving into the argument of GitLab vs GitHub, let’s clarify what Git is: Git is a version control system. And not only that, it is the defacto standard solution and most commonly used version control system today, worldwide. Now, that’s something to boast about.

Git, with its distributed version control system nature, tracks changes in source code during the SDLC. Created in 2005 by Linus Torvalds (creator of Linux) and originally designed as a low-level version control system engine, Git is now a full-fledged repository that is mature, open source, and free.

Some of the key Git properties include its toolkit-based design, distributed development, support for non-linear development, efficiency for handling large projects, and more.

Now, how does Git work? Every time a developer saves a newly-created piece of code, Git creates a commit. A commit represents a snapshot of all the files at a specific point in time during development. These commits create links to other commits to form a visual path of development history.

Now, we must clarify that each developer saves changes to their local code repository (branches) which is later merged into the team’s main or master branch. As we mentioned, the great thing about Git is that you can revert back to previous versions to make changes as needed.

Because Git has grown to be so big in the SDLC world, a staggering amount of 3rd party software tools and services including IDEs integrate seamlessly with it. This makes it easy and attractive to developers to use Git as it integrates easily with most software development tools. You can learn more about Git in the Git Basics page.

Now that we know a little bit more about Git and version control repository management services, let’s explore GitHub and GitLab.

GitHub vs GitLab

Now, in order to fully understand the dilemma of GitHub vs GitLab, let’s get to the heart of the subject: What is GitHub and what is GitLab? Here we go.

What is GitHub?

GitHub is a development platform that developers use to store projects - hence the word hub associated with the name. GitHub web hosting, as it's based on Git, is a service for version control that provides access control to features such as bug tracking, feature requests, task management, and wikis, to name a few.

With social networking-like features, GitHub enables users to access features such as feeds, followers, wikis, and more. GitHub is mainly used for code due to its built-in tools to review and improve it.

GitHub is accessible to the public as an open source, free service that provides remote access to Git repositories enables code hosting, and helps manage the software development lifecycle. Additionally, it includes features such as code sharing among multiple people, bug tracking, wiki space, and other tools for what is called social coding.

Now, let’s transition into Git’s other descendant: What is GitLab?

What is GitLab?

GitLab is a GitHub-like service that provides web-based DevOps internal management of Git repositories. GitLab offers two options: a free community edition and a paid enterprise edition. GitLab includes a lot of the necessary features for successful management of the software development process such as wikis, Jira integration, CI runner, release management, binary attachments, and more.

One of the key characteristics of GitLab is that it is written in the Ruby programming language. It offers an open-core development model and it’s an open source solution as well. GitLab boasts an impressive community of users and contributors who have collaborated to make GitLab into the reliable version developers have come to know and love.

With over 100,000 organizations and users leveraging GitLab, it became the 4th fastest growing private software company in 2018. GitLab’s popularity is due partly to its seamless integration with Continuous Integration technologies. Integration helps throughout different development stages to make it easier to cross-reference code, tests, and deployments while offering full visibility to developers for context and quick iterations as necessary.

For the first time ever, GitLab dominated GitHub in 2019 as the highest ranking developer tool, according to Axosoft list of Top 20 Dev Tools for 2019. Now, let’s review the areas where Gitlab vs GitHub share common ground and where there is a difference between GitHub and GitLab.

Similarities between GitHub and GitLab

Here are some of the key similarities between GitHub and GitLab:

  • Tracking. Both GitLab and GitHub offer fantastic issue tracking capabilities that enable status changes and the ability to assign owners to each issue. Additionally, bug reports can be sent instantly to both GitLab and GitHub.
  • Issues. Both GitLab and GitHub are capable of quickly setting up the status, assignees, or milestones for multiple issues at a time to easily filter them based on any type of property.
  • Integrations. Both GitLab and GitHub have a wide array of 3rd party integrations available to strengthen workflows and boost productivity. GitHub has a marketplace of 3rd party integrations for specialized tools and applications. GitLab offers numerous integrations for development and DevOps teams.
  • Support community. While GitHub’s support community is considered slightly bigger, both solutions offer a strong community of developers who contribute to the update and upkeep of GitLab and GitHub.
  • Labels. Both GitLab and GitHub provide easy inclusion of labels to provide a simple method of categorizing issues, merge requests, or epics based on descriptive titles such as “bug” or “documentation” which are very helpful for tracking.
  • Description templates. Developers can add a description template to issues or merge requests in both GitLab and GitHub by selecting a template for effective communication.
  • Enterprise solutions. GitLab and GitHub offer enterprise-level capabilities for development teams and organizations. While GitLab is better positioned in the enterprise environment, both solutions fare well in enterprise settings.
  • Wiki-based project documentation. Both GitLab and GitHub keep a separate system for documentation that is called Wiki and is built right into each project as a separate Git repository.
  • Edits. Both platforms allow upstream maintainers to collaborate on a source branch and edit into a fork. This way, maintainers can make small fixes or rebase branches before merging, which reduces iterations of community contributions.
  • Merge approvals. Both platforms enable developers to ensure merge requests are approved by one or more people. These approvals allow the development team to pre-define the list of approvers for every merge request in a project to improve coding quality.
  • Revert commits. GitHub and GitLab are capable of reverting commits or a single merge request via each platform’s UI.

Other key features that are shared between GitHub and GitLab include pull request, fork/clone repositories, code review, and markdown, to name some more - you can view a more detailed list here. Next, we are going to focus on the differences between the two platforms.

Web Solutions


Difference between GitHub and GitLab

Here are some of the key differences between GitHub vs GitLab:

  • Built-in Continuous Integration/Delivery. GitLab is known for its built-in Continuous Integration/Delivery for free, which is something that GitHub does not offer. Instead, GitHub’s offering lies in 3rd party integrations that enable Continuous Integration/Delivery.
  • Innersourcing. With GitLab, internal projects allow developers to promote inner sourcing of internal repositories - this is something that is not offered by GitHub.
  • Authentication. In GitLab, permission is granted based on people’s roles while in GitHub developers can grant read or write access to specific repositories.
  • Data import/export. GitLab offers far more detailed documentation on how to import/export data from external vendors while GitHub’s documentation is not as detailed. GitLab is capable of importing projects and issues from more sources than GitHub can. With that being said, GitHub does offer a tool called the GitHub Importer to bring in data. With regard to exporting, GitLab offers a comprehensive solution to export wikis, project repositories, project uploads, webhooks and services, and issues. On the other hand, GitHub is slightly more restrictive in terms of export features.
  • Deployment platform. GitHub does not come with a built-in deployment platform and requires a 3rd party integration with an external application to deploy applications. On the other hand, GitLab leverages Kubernetes for a seamless deployment experience.
  • Private repositories. GitLab offers free private repositories for open source projects while GitHub does not.
  • Comment tracking. GitHub is capable of providing the full history of a thread of comment updates - GitLab does not support this.
  • Issue transport. In GitLab, developers can easily move issues between projects - all links, history, and comments are copied to be referenced in the original issue and the newly moved issue.
  • CSV file export. GitLab is capable of exporting CSV files of issues to default notification email addresses as attachments.
  • Confidential issues. GitLab’s Confidential Issues module creates confidential issues that are visible only to project members with Reporter access level or above.
  • Issue weights and milestones. In GitLab, developers can assign weight to issues to manage them via Agile practices, which is not something that can be currently done by using GitHub. Additionally, GitLab, unlike GitHub, allows developers to create and manage milestones at project and group levels to represent an Agile sprint or a release.
  • Burndown charts. Unlike GitHub, GitLab offers Burndown Charts as part of milestones that allow developers to track progress during sprints or while working on new software versions.
  • Application performance monitoring. GitLab collects and displays performance metrics for applications to determine the impact of a merge and monitor production systems.
  • Cycle analytics. GitLab provides a dashboard to perform analytics about time, planning and monitoring activities.
  • Monthly new features. GitLab is known for its monthly updates of new features and improvements that are made religiously on the 22nd of each month.
  • Bare metal servers. GitLab can run on bare metal servers for full control of disk I/O, CPU, RAM, and more for easy horizontal scaling.

Besides the ones we just pointed out, the main difference between GitHub and GitLab rests in the philosophy each platform presents. GitHub is more focused on high availability and infrastructure performance while GitLab is more focused on including as many features in a robust and well-integrated platform for a complete and centralized DevOps process.

For more details on how GitHub vs GitLab fare against one another, as mentioned earlier, take a look at this list of available and non-available features.

In the following section, we explore how GitLab project management and DevOps mesh together.

GitLab Project Management and DevOps

GitLab Project Management lets developers plan, organize, and track the progress of projects through kanban boards, labels, story points, milestones, time tracking, due dates, and assignees, by using methodologies such as Scrum, SAFe, and many more.

GitLab is a big advocate of lean and agile project management, from simple issue tracking to complex DevOps lifecycles. Additionally, it enables developers to maintain traceability across the DevOps pipeline with its powerful and flexible issue tracker that scales easily from small teams to large organizations. 

In essence, GitLab operates as the central hub where development teams meet to collaborate on the actual implementation of the code. With this centralized location, code reviews, discussions, and security testing align to help boost project efficiency. Essentially, the DevOps pipeline is supported via merge requests where developers can track the status of development, testing, and software delivery. From planning to monitoring, GitLab covers the entire DevOps lifecycle.

What GitLab shouldn’t do

In recent years, the industry has noticed the rapid growth in popularity that GitLab has experienced among developers - it’s the clear winner for users who want a seamless Continuous Integration/Delivery experience, but it doesn’t come without some associated pitfalls such as its resource utilization.

Because GitLab is such a comprehensive tool that provides all the necessary tools that a developer might need throughout the software development lifecycle, it requires many resources, which can make it more complex or wearisome to operate. However, it is noteworthy that GitLab is taking long strides to improve and enhance the overall experience of developers who want everything, including performance corrections and a more intuitive platform, in a single, centralized location.

The final touch in GitHub vs GitLab discussion

In a highly competitive environment of developing software, repository management services have become vital to the success of software projects. GitLab and GitHub make it easy to manage changes within the software development lifecycle while fostering a collaborative environment that allows developers to share information and knowledge. Ultimately, both GitHub and GitLab have their sight set on DevOps.

To sum up, the GitHub public repository is a collaborative platform that hosts and reviews code, manages projects, and helps build software - all through a distributed version control and source code management functionality. On the other hand, GitLab is a web-based repository that offers collaborative features that are heavily focused on the DevOps toolchain and offers seamless Continuous Integration/Delivery.

The goal of this article is to evaluate the GitLab vs GitHub argument to empower you to decide which one works best for your projects. A nugget of suggestion from us is that if you’re working on a large project with collaboration from numerous developers, GitHub might be the right fit for you, but if your project is truly open source and requires seamless Continuous Integration/Delivery, GitLab is the better fit.

by Svitla Team

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