Alternative to VSS for a one man show (army of one?)


I've been programming for 10+ years now for the same employer and only source code control we've ever used is VSS. (Sorry - That's what they had when I started). There's only ever been a few of us; two right now and we usually work alone, so VSS has worked ok for us. So, I have two questions: 1) Should we switch to something else like subversion, git, TFS, etc what exactly and why (please)? 2) Am I beyond all hope and destined to eternal damnation because VSS has corrupted me (as Jeff says) ?

Wow - thanks for all the great responses!

It sounds like I should clearify a few things. We are a MS shop (Gold parntner) and we mostly do VB, ASP.NET, SQL Server, sharepoint & Biztalk work. I have CS degree so I've done x86 assembly C, C++ on DEC Unix and Slackware Linux in a "time out of mind" ...

My concern with VSS is that now I'm working over a VPN a lot more and VSS's performance sux and I'm afraid that our 10+ y/o version 5 VSS database is going to get hoosed... There's the LAN service that's supposed to speed things up, but Ive never used it and I'm not sure it helps with corruption - has anyone used the VSS LAN service? (new with VSS 2005)

2/24/2015 4:56:22 PM

Accepted Answer

I'd probably go with Subversion, if I were you. I'm a total Git fanatic at this point, but Subversion certainly has some advantages:

  • simplicity
  • abundance of interoperable tools
  • active and supportive community
  • portable
  • Has really nice Windows shell integration
  • integrates with visual studio (I think - but surely through a third party)

Git has many, many other advantages, but the above tend to be the ones people care about when asking general questions like the above.

Edit: the company I now work for is using VisualSVN server, which is free. It makes setting up a Subversion repository on a Windows server stupid simple, and on the client we're using TortoiseSVN (for shell integration) and AnkhSVN for Visual Studio support. It's quite good, and should be fairly easy for even VSS users to pick up.

Latter-day Edit: So....nearly eight years later, I would never recommend Subversion to anyone for any reason. I don't really recant, per se, because I think my advice was valid at the time. However, in 2016, Subversion retains almost none of the advantages it used to have over Git. The tooling for Git is superior to (and much more diverse) what it once was, and in particular, there's GitHub and other good Git hosting providers (BitBucket, Beanstalk, Visual Studio Online, just off the top of my head). Visual Studio now has Git support out-of-the-box, and it's actually pretty good. There are even PowerShell modules to give a more native Windows experience to denizens of the console. Git is even easier to set up and use than Subversion and doesn't require a server component. Git has become as ubiquitous as any single tool can be, and you really would only be cheating yourself to not use it (unless you just really want to use something not-Git). Don't misunderstand - this isn't me hating on Subversion, but rather me recognizing that it's a tool from another time, rather like a straight razor for shaving.

1/6/2016 5:03:18 PM

If you're used to the way VSS works, check out (no pun intended) Sourcegear's vault. It's an excellent way to migrate away from VSS as it comes with IDE integration and supports check out / check in, but when you're ready and feel comfortable you can also move to the edit update commit style of programming found in SVN.

It's free for single developers, runs on IIS and is built on .net so it should be a fairly familiar stack for you to switch to.


Whatever you do, don't change for the sake of changing.

If it's working for you and you're not having problems with it, I don't see any reason to switch.


For what it's worth, Perforce is a potential option if you truly stick to 1 or 2 users. Current perforce docs says you have have 2 users and 5 clients without having to start purchasing licenses.

You might have reasons to switch to perforce depending on your workflow and if you have need of branching the way perforce does it. Not being overly familar with some the other products mentioned here, I can't tell you how perforce compares in the feature department for things like branching, etc.

It is speedy, and it's been rock solid for us (300+ developers on a 10+ year old codebase). We store several T of info and it's been quite responsive. With a small number of users, I doubt that you'd experience many performance troubles assuming you had good hardware for your server.

Having used VSS before, I believe that you can get so many benefits out of a better SCM system that switching should be considered regardless of whether you have corruption or not. Branching alone might be worth it for you. A true client/server model, better interfaces (programmatically and command line) are a couple of other things that could really help just improve your workflow and help somewhat with productivity.

In summary, my view of Perforce is:

  • It's fast and quite reliable
  • Plenty of cross platform client tools (windows, unix, mac, etc)
  • it's free for 2 users and 5 clients
  • Integrates into developer studio (and other tools)
  • Has a powerful branching system (that might or might not be right for you).
  • Has several scriptable interfaces (python, perl, ruby, C++)

Certainly YMMV -- I only offer this alternative up as something that might be worthwhile looking into.


VSS is horrible. I may be channelling Spolsky (not sure if he's said this), but using VSS is actually worse than not using source control at all. Despite its name, it isn't safe. It creates the illusion of safety without providing it.

Without VSS, you'd probably be making regular backups of your code. With VSS, you'll think, "Mehh, it's already under source control. Why bother backing up?" Great until it corrupts your entire codebase and you lose everything. (This, incidentally, happened at a company I worked at.)

Get rid of VSS as soon as you can and switch to a real source control solution.


I've recently started using Mercurial for some of my work. It's a distributed system like Git but seems easier to use and seems far better supported on Windows, the latter of which was crucial for me.

With distributed source code control every user has a complete local copy of the repository. If you're the only person working on a project, as you say you often are, this can simplify things a lot since you just create your own repository and do all your commits etc. locally. If you want to bring on other developers later you can just push the full contents of your repository - current versions and all history - to another system, either on a shared server or directly on to another users' workstation.

If you're working only with a local repository remember you'll need a also backup solution as there isn't a copy of all your code on a shared server.

I think that Mercurial has lots of other advantages over Subversion, but it does have a big downside which has already been mentioned as a plus point of Subversion: there a lots of third party tools and integrations for Subversion. As Mercurial hasn't been around nearly as ong the choice is much less. On Windows it seems that you either have to use the command line (my choice) or the TortoiseHg Windows Explorer integration.


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