Version control is a system for tracking and managing changes to a software project over time. It provides a structured way to document modifications, ensuring that every alteration is recorded along with details such as who made the change and when it occurred. This history allows multiple team members to work on the same project without overwriting each other’s work and to easily revert to previous versions of the project when necessary.
The most popular version control system (VCS) for modern software teams is Git, which enables developers to create multiple branches of a project and work in parallel on different features or bug fixes. When the changes are complete and tested, teams can merge them back into the main codebase.
In this post, we’ll compare two of the most popular platforms for managing Git projects at scale, GitHub and GitLab, to decide which one is right for your project.
GitLab and GitHub: An overview
While both GitLab and GitHub offer similar functions, they have some significant differences. As unique platforms, they each cater to different aspects of the version control and development process.
Let’s quickly review each tool before bringing them into a head-to-head comparison.
What is GitLab?
Established in 2011, GitLab is an all-encompassing DevOps platform that facilitates all stages of the software development lifecycle within one unified interface.
GitLab’s integrated approach allows teams to manage code repositories, conduct code reviews, and collaborate within a single platform. Additionally, GitLab provides advanced branching strategies, workflow automation, and powerful repository management options.
What is GitHub?
Founded in 2008, GitHub is a cloud-based hosting service that uses Git for version control. It is a hub for software development projects known for its user-friendly interface and strong community.
Developers appreciate GitHub’s code review and collaboration tools, including pull requests and issues. Teams can easily manage branches, track changes, and merge code seamlessly, making it an ideal choice for open-source projects and enterprises alike.
GitLab vs GitHub: Head-to-head comparison
Let’s take a look at the features that differentiate GitLab and GitHub to see which solution is best for your project.
User experience and team collaboration features
GitLab excels in providing an all-in-one development environment that emphasizes seamless team collaboration. It offers a comprehensive suite of tools for project management, issue tracking, code reviews, and workflow automation.
You can further enhance your workspace by integrating it with tools like Jira, Asana, Datadog, Slack, and even GitHub. Additionally, GitLab features its own built-in CI/CD tool, allowing your team to manage pipelines directly from the platform and consolidate their workflows.
Like GitLab, GitHub offers a consolidated platform for code collaboration, review, and project management. Its clean and intuitive design and user-friendly interface makes it an accessible tool for users of all skill levels to navigate repositories, issues, and pull requests. GitHub also offers integrated CI/CD and workflow automation via GitHub Actions, giving teams the option to build, test, and deploy projects from their repositories.
One feature that sets GitHub apart is its extensive ecosystem of third-party integrations via GitHub Marketplace, which allows for customizable workflows that can easily adapt to existing tech stacks. These features, along with GitHub’s large and active community of open source contributors, provide a rich and versatile development environment.
When it comes to version control platforms, the hosting option you select should align with your project’s size, complexity, infrastructure preferences, and compliance requirements.
GitLab offers various hosting options to accommodate different project requirements:
- GitLab.com (cloud-based): GitLab.com is the cloud-hosted version of GitLab. It provides a fully managed platform with automatic updates and scaling. It’s a great choice for teams that prefer a cloud-based SaaS solution for ease of use and minimal infrastructure management.
- GitLab Self-Managed (self-hosted): GitLab Self-Managed refers to the self-hosted, on-premises version of GitLab. It offers complete control over your infrastructure and allows you to customize the environment to meet specific security or compliance needs. This option is suitable for large enterprises and organizations with unique infrastructure requirements.
GitHub also offers a mix of hosting options to cater to diverse user needs:
- GitHub.com (Cloud-Based): GitHub.com is GitHub’s cloud offering. It provides a user-friendly, fully managed environment that simplifies project setup and management. GitHub takes care of server infrastructure, enabling you to concentrate on coding and collaboration.
- GitHub Enterprise (Self-Hosted): GitHub Enterprise allows organizations to deploy GitHub on their infrastructure or private cloud. This self-hosted option offers greater control over security, customization, and data privacy. It’s a popular choice for larger enterprises with specific compliance and governance requirements.
Both GitLab and GitHub offer a blend of cloud-based and self-hosted hosting options, catering to a wide range of user preferences and organizational requirements. Your choice between the two will depend on factors like your project scale, security needs, compliance requirements, and how much control you want over your hosting environment.
GitLab and GitHub both support integrations with third-party tools, boosting extended functionality, automation, and collaboration to facilitate the development process and bolster code quality.
GitLab offers ready-made integrations with various popular tools and an API for custom integrations so that you can tailor your workspace to your unique workflows.
Two notable GitLab integrations include:
- Kubernetes: You can automatically deploy, scale, and maintain containerized applications, helping you manage cloud-native applications efficiently.
- Jira Software: Combining GitLab with Jira, a popular project management tool, helps track and manage issues and tasks within the GitLab platform, reducing the need for context switching.
Similarly, GitHub offers a broad range of integrations with third-party tools and services available via the GitHub Marketplace. This centralized integration hub helps with the discovery and installation processes in the GitHub platform.
Two prominent GitHub integrations are:
- Slack: With this integration, your team receives updates about GitHub activities directly within their Slack channels, promoting enhanced communication about code changes and pull requests.
- AWS: You can interact with AWS services such as AWS Lambda and Amazon S3 right from your GitHub repository. This integration supports serverless computing and scalable storage solutions directly connected to the codebase.
Deciding between GitLab and GitHub for integrations hinges on your team’s specific needs and preferences. Consider your desired toolkit, the simplicity of the integration setup, and the availability of your preferred third-party services.
Pricing and plans
GitLab and GitHub both offer free plans with unlimited public and private repositories, ideal for small teams or those looking to test the platforms. However, these plans have limited advanced features and storage capabilities.
Both platforms offer various paid plan tiers for teams needing more sophisticated functionalities. GitHub’s paid plans include the Team and Enterprise options, offering increased storage, additional GitHub Actions minutes and access to advanced features such as enhanced security controls and deployment protection rules.
Meanwhile, GitLab’s paid plans, Premium and Ultimate Enterprise, offer additional resources and features such as advanced CI/CD capabilities, dedicated support, and robust security and vulnerability management solutions for enterprise-grade requirements.
Your pricing tier selection should reflect the scale and complexity of your projects, along with your specific needs and budget. Smaller projects and teams may find the free tier sufficient, while larger teams or complex projects might require the more advanced capabilities of the paid plans.
The role of CI/CD in version control
No discussion of modern version control systems would be complete without mention of continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD). A well-orchestrated CI/CD pipeline works hand-in-hand with your VCS to automatically build, test, and deploy changes to your code, giving teams instant feedback they can use to iterate on new features and ship value to customers faster.
There are a range of CI/CD tools available in the marketplace, including those offered by all-in-one VCS platforms like GitLab and GitHub.
CI/CD capabilities in GitLab
GitLab provides an integrated CI/CD solution that offers a unified development experience. It supports pipeline configuration through a YAML-based configuration file, promoting customization and flexibility. Additionally, it lets you monitor pipeline progress so you can identify and mitigate potential issues quickly.
CI/CD capabilities in GitHub
GitHub has expanded its offerings to include GitHub Actions, a native CI/CD tool that integrates within the platform. This tool allows you to automate your workflows and build custom pipelines for your project. Additionally, GitHub Actions integrates seamlessly with version control, capitalizing on the platform’s expansive developer community to facilitate collaboration.
The case for dedicated CI/CD tools
While consolidated CI/CD solutions offer some degree of convenience for teams already using VCS platforms that offer them, they may not always provide the flexibility and advanced features your development team needs.
Drawbacks of relying on add-on CI/CD services from VCS providers include:
- Less advanced capabilities: Add-on CI/CD services offer fewer features and customization options compared to dedicated CI/CD platforms, limiting your ability to automate complex or advanced workflows.
- Lack of dedicated expertise: VCS providers lack the deep knowledge of CI/CD techniques and practices that organizations dedicated to CI/CD can bring. This may result in subpar onboarding and support, insufficient CI/CD setups, and missed opportunities for optimization, ultimately impacting the overall efficiency of your development processes.
- Slower innovation: VCS providers prioritize their core version control services over CI/CD, leading to slower development and integration of new CI/CD features and technologies.
- Limited scalability: Add-on CI/CD services provide limited compute options and minimal parallelism for executing your CI/CD workflows, hindering your ability to handle larger projects or increasing workloads.
- Vendor lock-in: Relying solely on a VCS provider’s CI/CD offering may result in vendor lock-in, making it challenging to migrate to alternative CI/CD solutions in the future, which can limit flexibility and increase costs.
To address these challenges, you can integrate world-class CI/CD tooling with your existing version control system. CircleCI supports GitLab, GitHub, and Bitbucket and gives you access to unparalleled speed, features, and flexibility to support your most advanced use cases.
Benefits of CircleCI’s dedicated CI/CD solution include:
- The most extensive selection of hosted compute environments, including Docker, M1, Arm, and GPU
- Rapid speed for executing builds, outpacing GitHub Actions’ completion times
- Flexibility to run your workflows in the cloud, behind your firewall, or on private cloud infrastructure you control
- Unlimited parallelism and concurrency for increased efficiency
- Advanced caching features for dependencies and artifacts, reducing build times and improving performance
- SSH debugging for increased visibility and rapid recovery
- Deep insights into software delivery metrics, test performance, and resource consumption
- Dedicated support from CI/CD experts
- A 664% return on investment and 10% increase in productivity for teams who make the switch
Choosing a VCS: GitLab or GitHub?
Choosing between GitLab and GitHub depends on your organization’s specific needs and resources. Smaller to medium-sized organizations may find the extensive integrations and flexibility of GitHub beneficial, while larger or enterprise-level organizations might value GitLab’s comprehensive feature set and stringent security measures.
Though your project requirements will ultimately dictate your decision, below are some general guidelines for choosing the right tool.
Choose GitLab if:
- You are working as a part of a small team or startup and want a free version with essential features.
- Your team requires a complete DevOps solution within a single platform, including integrated pipelines, container registry, and deployment tools.
- Your organization works on a self-hosted deployment approach and requires complete control over its infrastructure and data.
- You require specific security or compliance capabilities, or you prefer to host your code on-premises.
Choose GitHub if:
- Your team heavily relies on community engagement, open source projects, or third-party integrations and would make the most of GitHub’s vast developer community and social features.
- You prefer to enhance productivity and adoption through intuitive workflows and straightforward code review processes.
- You want to move to cloud-based infrastructure and eliminate the need for self-hosting.
- You want to reduce operational overhead and focus on coding rather than infrastructure management.
When choosing the right version control platform for your team, consider factors such as user experience, collaboration features, hosting options, integrations, and pricing.
And regardless of which platform you choose, a dedicated CI/CD tool like CircleCI helps manage your workflows and deliver high-quality software faster. With CircleCI, you can integrate with your preferred VCS provider in minutes and access industry-leading speed, scalability, and support, giving you a distinct advantage over competitors locked into lackluster all-in-one solutions.
Start your journey toward more efficient and robust code management with a free CircleCI account and start building your GitLab or GitHub projects today.