How to Install TortoiseSVN and Make Your First Repository Change

This is an introduction to Subversion, using WANdisco’s uberSVN and the trusty Windows client, TortoiseSVN. In fact, you can think of this tutorial as a set of TortoiseSVN water wings, aimed at developers who have been thrown into Subversion at the deep end. As well as getting TortoiseSVN installed, it’ll show you how to get your working copy in place and your first changes made to the repository.

1) Download the latest version of TortoiseSVN

2) Double click the installer file.

3) Click the Run button.

4) You’ll see the welcome screen, which will confirm the version of Tortoise that you’re about to install. Click Next >

5) Read the End-User License Agreement. If you’re happy to proceed, click the ‘I accept the terms…’ radio button and then click Next >.

6) The Custom Setup screen lets you deselect various elements of the install. Unless you are really low on disk space, it isn’t worth worrying about this. When you’re ready to continue, click Next >

7) Click Install.

8 ) Hey presto! Tortoise is now installed. Click Finish.

9) To work with a Subversion repository we first need to download a local copy (called a working copy) of either the full or part of the repository. We start by creating a directory in which we’ll store the working copy.

10) Open Windows Explorer, go to the new directory and right click within the folder space. The Explorer context menu appears, along with Subversion commands that are added with TortoiseSVN. Click on the option ‘SVN Checkout.’

  • URL Repository: This is the URL of the repository on which you want to work. This is the address of the repository, or portion of a repository for which you want to make a working copy. You can get the repository URL from the repository’s screen in uberSVN.
  • Checkout directory: This is the location on your local file system where the checkout will occur. By default it will be the location that you’re currently focused on in Explorer, however you can change it here.
  • Checkout Depth: The Checkout Depth drop-down allows you to limit what you checkout. Useful if you only want to make a change in one directory of a very large repository.
  • Revision: You can get the latest version of the repository, called ‘HEAD’ (most up-to-date version), or select a specific revision to go back to a version before particular changes.
  • When you’ve finished with these options and you’re ready to do the checkout, click OK.

11) You’ll now see the progress of the checkout. All files and folders that are included in the checkout will be logged.

12) Next, it’s time to make a change. The working copy is now in place on your computer, ready to edit and change to your heart’s desire. One of the benefits of Tortoise as a shell replacement is the fact that it can overlay repository files with status icons that tell you the current state of each file.

13) We’ll now make a change to a file. In this example the file ‘system.txt’ will be modified and saved.

14) You’ll notice that once saved, ‘system.txt’ now has a different icon overlain, showing an exclamation mark in a red circle to denote that it has been changed.

15) Having tested the change, it’s time to add it to the repository. To apply changes to the repository that you’ve made in your local copy you need to use the SVN Commit command. You can select individual files or their directories, then right click to get the context menu. On the menu, click SVN Commit….

16) You’ll be prompted for a message to associate with the changes you’ve made. It’s human nature to try to leave this blank because you’re in a hurry and can’t be bothered, but simple log messages can really help with troubleshooting problems at a later date.

17) The outcome of the commit will appear in a dialog window. If the commit was successful the repository’s revision number will increase. Click OK. That’s it, you’re working with version control.

18) Next we’ll add something new to the repository. You see, it’s not possible to commit something unless Subversion already has a record of the file you are adding. So first, right click the file and choose Add… from the Subversion commands.

19) The added elements should now appear in Explorer with the ‘added’ overlay icon. Although Subversion now knows about the file, you still need to perform a commit. So again, right click the file and choose SVN Commit… from the menu.

20) It’s always good practise to leave a note, whenever you do a commit. While Subversion gives you lots of tools for scrutinizing file changes, it’s nice to have a quick summary to look back on. To complete the commit, click OK.

21) You’ll get a log of the commit, confirming that your new files are now part of the new repository revision.

22) That’s all there is to using Subversion with the TortoiseSVN client. Probably 90% of the work you need to do is covered here. If you get stuck though, don’t forget that you can read the user guide by clicking on the Help link in the TortoiseSVN commands menu.


  • Checkout only what you need. If you include a subdirectory in the address, the checkout will ignore anything in the repository that is above the directory. This is very useful as it lets you quickly checkout a small part of a repository that might take a really long time to copy. e.g:
  • Checkout the whole repository:
  • Checkout just a directory:
  • Checkout just a file: Alas, you can’t. Subversion needs to organize working copy data using directories as its own ‘housekeeping’ data needs to live in a hidden subdirectory. There would be no opportunity to create a subdirectory if you checked out only a file. The workaround is to use the “Checkout Depth” option to checkout only directories, then perform selective updates on the things you need.

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