When it comes to code hosting on The Internets today, GitHub is absolutely the hottest, trendiest service going – but it’s not alone. Right now, the primary direct competitor to GitHub is Bitbucket, and choosing the best service for you or your company can be a less than obvious scenario – so let’s break it down, shall we?
GitHub is generally considered to be the most popular code hosting and collaboration site out there today. They have an excellent track record for innovation and evolution of their service, and they put their money where their mouth is, notably by promoting and releasing their own internal tools into the open source community. Their site offers a buffet of ever-improving facilities for collaborative activity, notably including an integrated issue tracker and excellent code comparison tools, among others. To be fair, not every feature has had the same level of care and attention paid to it, and as a result, some elements feel quite a bit more mature than others; however, again, they never stop trying to make things better.
Bitbucket looks a lot like GitHub. That’s a fact. I don’t honestly know which one came first, but it’s clear that today they’re bouncing off of each other in terms of design, features, and functionality. You can more or less transpose your user experience between the two sites without missing too much of a beat, so for a casual user looking to contribute here and there, you get two learning curves for the price of one (nice). Bitbucket’s pace of evolution is (perhaps) less blistering, but they too are capable of rolling out new and improved toys over time.
let’s get down to brass tacks
Both services offer the same basic functionality, which is the ability to create an account, and associate that account with any number of publicly-accessible repositories; however, if you want a private repository, GitHub will make you pay for it, whereas BitBucket offers it gratis. There, as it is said, lies the rub. More on this later.
One of the big differences between the two services lie in their respective origins: GitHub remains an independent start-up, whereas Bitbucket (although once independent) was acquired by – and is now strongly associated with – Atlassian (of JIRA fame). It is my opinion that this affects the cultural make-up of Bitbucket in subtle ways, leading to a more corporate take on development, deployment, and importantly, community relations and involvement. Take a look at their respective blogs (go ahead, I’ll wait).
A quick scan of the past few months from each blog will reveal some important differences:
- GitHub’s release schedule is more aggressive, with improvements and new features coming more regularly, whereas Bitbucket places greater emphasis on their tight integration with JIRA, Jenkins, and other industry tools.
- Bitbucket advertises paid services and software on their blog, whereas GitHub advertises open source projects.
- Bitbucket’s blog has one recent author, whereas GitHub’s blog has many recent authors.
- GitHub hosts more community events (notably drinkups, heh) over a greater geographic area than Bitbucket (and their posts have more community response overall).
Previously I mentioned that GitHub would like you to pay for private repositories. This is obviously part of their revenue scheme (and who can blame them for wanting to get that cheese?), but it also has the side-effect of making people choose to willingly host their projects publicly. This has ended up creating a (very) large community of active participants representing a variety of languages and interests, which in turn results in more projects, and so on and so forth. This feedback loop is interesting since it auto-builds popularity: as more people use it, the more people will use it.
These observations are, in no way, objective statements of the superiority of one platform over the other – they are, however, indicative of cultural differences between the two companies. This is (or, at least, should be) a non-trivial element when deciding which service is right for you or your organisation. For example, I’m a beer-drinking open source veteran that works in start-ups and small companies, so culturally my preferences are different than those of a suit-wearing system architect, working for a thousand-person consulting firm. One isn’t necessarily better than the other – they’re just not the same (and that’s OK).
but wait, there’s more
Alright, here comes the shocker: for paid services (i.e. private repositories), GitHub is much more expensive than Bitbucket. As in nowhere near the same price. At all. How can this be? Well, I’m not privy to the financials of either company (if I were, I doubt I’d have written this post), but hey, the money for all those great open source projects, drinkups, and (bluntly) salaries have to come from somewhere – and while Bitbucket has Atlassian’s pockets backing them, GitHub has to stand on their own successes, and live with their own failures.
The two services are not dissimilar technically speaking, so it’s really up to you to decide which culture is better suited for your project. Do you just need a spot to put your private project, that you program alone, isolated from the greater Internet? BitBucket. Do you have a public project that you’d like other people to discover, hack on together, and build a community around? GitHub. As for paid services, well I suppose that comes down to whether you want to pay extra to support what GitHub is doing or not.
Now, let’s be fair, for a lot of companies, “culture” is an irrelevant factor in their purchasing department – cost is the only concern. Fair enough. But let’s say you’ve got a team of developers, all of whom already have their own projects on GitHub, are familiar with the tools and processes, and have a network of fellow hackers built-in and ready to go. In that case, perhaps culture is worth something after all.