GitLab vs GitHub: 10 Key Differences in a Version Control Systems Comparison

<p>Have you ever found the two platforms confusing? In this article we are pitting GitLab against GitHub to discover what are the benefits of each, what they have to offer and whether it’s necessary to pay for them.</p>

25 / 10 / 19

GitLab vs GitHub is an argument that never seems to have a resolution. Both offer a way to control the entire software development life cycle (SDLC). A lot of people are confused between the two and with good reason. From an outside perspective, it’s not exactly clear what these platforms are and why do they have such similar names. Both of them are Git repositories. Before making a version control systems comparison let’s start with getting to the bottom of what that means.


What Is a Git?


Git is a system that tracks and manages the changes happening to the source code. In short, every time a developer changes a part of the code, it’s being recorded and others can see exactly how the code was modified. This is the basic principle behind a version control system. Git repositories keep track of such changes, making sure they don’t come into conflict with other iterations.

This approach makes all aspects of coding more streamlined and accessible. The coordinated work between several developers and project managers is substantially easier, as is the control and producing the reports. With the rise of non-linear software development methodologies, Git repositories became even more of a crucial tool in the arsenal of many teams.

Data integrity is another huge benefit of such systems. When a project is based in a repository, it stays consistent across all of the platforms from which it is accessed. That way not only the data is accurate all throughout the life cycle of the project, but it’s secure as well. 


How Does Git Work?


We have covered the fact that it is used to track changes and control different versions of one product. Here is how it’s done in practice. Git is a free open source system. Whenever an element of code is modified it creates a snapshot of the code in its current state. Such snapshots are called commits. The commits of one developer are stored locally in a separate branch that is later integrated into the main repository of the project.

Through these commits you can follow a path of the entire software development life cycle. If something happens you can always rollback to a previous version of the project. As a result, adopting this approach saves a lot of time whenever a serious error hinders the further progress.

Due to its open-source nature, Git has plenty of third-party services that offer additional features such as continuous integration, time tracking, and many more. At this point, it makes sense to cover what do the most popular solutions have to offer.


how git works

What Is GitLab?


This version control system positions itself as a web-based DevOps toolkit with a variety of features for control and management. It has a robust task management functionality that is often used by people who aren’t even connected to development. The ability to assign a status to issues is reportedly one of the reasons for that. The platform is open source. You can integrate it into your existing systems as you please.

The main feature that is treasured by the platform’s adopters is the continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD). Both of them are versions of automatic testing. That means every time a developer makes a commit it is being tested by the platform for any crashes or bugs. 

This system is newer and as a result less popular; however, it is also less expensive. As a result, it’s the go-to for smaller businesses. Even the free plan offers an unlimited number of projects and collaborators. It has an enterprise version too offering more features and more minutes of CI/CD.


What Is GitHub?


GitHub is the largest platform for the storage of development projects. It boasts over 100 million repositories currently hosted on the service. It is indeed the hub you go to when looking for independent open-source software outside of its main version’s control functionality.

However, with this service, you have to consider GitHub Enterprise vs GitHub Free. The former is a combination of the company’s cloud and server solutions. With the paid version you pay for additional security, SAML authentication, and other features geared more for larger organizations, but the free one still allows you to create however many repositories you need. 

Like its competitor, GitHub also provides version control, with extensive bug tracking, task management and other functionality. It has the capability to do practically everything GitLab does with the help of third-party modules and extensions. It’s very easily done due to the open-source nature of both the platform and the tools.





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The Difference Between GitLab and GitHub


  • Continuous integration and continuous delivery. One of the most useful free features GitLab has going for it is these two testing automation solutions. Its competitor only has third-party tools for this task. Testing is one of the most crucial parts of software development and these practices make it easier. 
  • Import and export of data. While GitLab offers more import sources, GitHub is the winning choice. It has a dedicated importing tool and is able to export entire wikis, issues, project uploads, and much more.  
  • Authentication. The two platforms handle permissions in different ways. GitLab has a system of roles, based on which different types of access are granted. In GitHub members of the team are able to give read or write permissions to separate repositories.
  • Inner source. A practice of adopting open-source culture inside one organization. This is another area in which GitLab has an advantage since it natively supports innersourcing.
  • Confidentiality. GitLab has a module that can create confidential issues that need a high permission level to access.
  • Deployment. In terms of a platform for deployment, GitLab has a more streamlined approach with a dedicated service built in. GitHub requires third-party platforms. 
  • Comment tracking. It’s the opposite of the previous point – GitHub offers full support of comment histories, which is not the case for the other service. 
  • Milestones. One more feature that GitHub currently misses. You can assign separate deadlines in a single issue. Also, it helps in the estimation process.
  • Issue priorities. You can assign various levels of importance to different issues. This allows the team to organize the workflow with a clear indicator of what tasks are more urgent than others.
  • Issue transferring. GitLab allows its users to freely transport any issues from project to project along with everything that is attached to them. This includes the whole history, comments and all other elements. Nothing is lost in the transfer.

Overview of Differences


As you can see in this version control systems comparison, a certain pattern emerges. GitLab is striving to perfect its task management feature list. For that purpose, it can even be used by teams that don’t do any development at all and just want to optimize their workflow. GitHub has more of a technical advantage in the sense of version control and repository management capabilities with a huge number of independent tools to further increase its functionality. 

Along with the larger community, this is one of the main reasons for GitHub’s larger popularity. However, as you’ve seen, it doesn’t mean that it is the single superior platform. Another important difference between GitLab and GitHub is pricing. 




GitLab vs GitHub: Pricing


With each service offering different versions, the choice lies not only between GitLab vs GitHub but also between the free and paid varieties of the same platform. Naturally, the latter ones come with more features and offer other bonuses to their adopters. If you’re a part of an organization, higher functionality may be a must-have. First, let’s look at how much they cost.

Comparing the two systems GitHub is substantially more expensive. Its starting price is $7 a month per user against the younger competitor’s starting price of $4. Even at this price it makes the lives of developer teams much easier with features like unlimited collaborators, merge approvals and others. Even at this level, there are some differences though. GitLab offers unlimited private repositories with unlimited contributors by default, while the competitor has removed the limit on private repositories only at the start of 2019 and still allows only 3 contributors in its free plan. 

More expensive options for GitLab come at $19 and $99 per user per month. Along with other perks, the number of continuous integration (CI) pipeline minutes increases from 2,000 to 10,000 and 50,000 respectively. For GitHub enterprise vs GitHub Pro, the prices are $9 for the basic team plan with more expensive ones calculated individually for each enterprise. The difference here is advanced compliance and security as well as deployment control.


Which One Is Better?


It appears that there is a reason why the GitLab vs GitHub argument has no clear winner. Both services do what they are supposed to do well. It largely depends on the type of functionality you intend to use more. If a continuous integration and DevOps focus is more important to you, then choose GitLab. If you need to host your open source project somewhere, then it’s harder to find a better fit than GitHub. Even if you are not that interested in any of these specific use scenarios, then both of the services have something to offer. 

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