What is the best solution for maintaining backup and revision control on live websites?

As part of my job I work with several live websites. We need an efficient means of maintaining backups of the live folders over time. Additionally, updating these sites can be a pain, especially if a change happens to break in the live environment for whatever reason.

What would be ideal would be hassle-free source control. I implemented SVN for a while which was great as a semi-solution for backup as well as revision control (easy reversion of temporary or breaking changes) etc.

Unfortunately SVN places .SVN hidden directories everywhere which cause problems, especially when other developers make folder structure changes or copy/move website directories. I've heard the argument that this is a matter of education etc. but the approach taken by SVN is simply not a practical solution for us.

I am thinking that maybe an incremental backup solution may be better.

Other possibilities include:

  1. SVK, which is command-line only which becomes a problem. Besides, I am unsure on how appropriate this would be.

  2. Mercurial, perhaps with some triggers to hide the distributed component which is not required in this case and would be unnecessarily complicated for other developers.

    I experimented briefly with Mercurial but couldn't find a nice way to have the repository seperate and kept constantly in-sync with the live folder working copy. Maybe as a source control solution (making repository and live folder the same place) combined with another backup solution this could be the way to go.

    One downside of Mercurial is that it doesn't place empty folders under source control which is problematic for websites which often have empty folders as placeholder locations for file uploads etc.

  3. Rsync, which I haven't really investigated.

I'd really appreciate your advice on the best way to maintain backups of live websites, ideally with an easy means of retrieving past versions quickly.

Answer replies


  • It's not so much about education as no familiarity with anything but VSS and a lack of time/effort to learn anything else.

  • The xcopy/7-zip approach sounds reasonable I guess but it would quickly take up a lot of room right?

  • As far as source control, I think I'd like the source control to just say that "this is the state of the folder now, I'll deal with that and if I can't match stuff up that's your fault, I'll just start new histories" rather than fail hard.

@Steve M

  • Yeah that's a nicer way of doing it but would require a significant cultural change. Having said that I very much like this approach.


  • Nice, I didn't think about using Rsync to deploy. Does this only upload the differences? Overwriting the entire live directory everytime we make a change would be problematic due to site downtime.

I am still curious to see if there are any more traditional options

Accepted Answer

You can still use SVN, but instead of doing a checkout on your live environment, do an export, that way no .svn directories will be created. The downside, of course, is that no code changes on your live environment can take place. This is a good thing.

As a general rule, code changes on production systems should never be allowed. The change should be made and tested in a development/test/UAT environment, then once confirmed as OK, you can tag that code in SVN with something like RELEASE-x-x-x. Then, on the live system, export the code with that tag.

Written by Steve M
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