Reverting In Svn


An extremely common use for svn merge is to roll back a change that has already been committed. Suppose you're working away happily on a working copy of /calc/trunk, and you discover that the change made way back in revision 303, which changed integer.c, is completely wrong. It never should have been committed. You can use svn merge to “undo” the change in your working copy, and then commit the local modification to the repository. All you need to do is to specify areverse difference. (You can do this by specifying —revision 303:302, or by an equivalent —change -303.)

$ svn merge -c -303
Reverse-merging r303 into 'integer.c':
U    integer.c
$ svn status 
M     .
M      integer.c
$ svn diff…# verify that the change is removed…
$ svn commit -m "Undoing change committed in r303."
Sending        integer.c
 Transmitting file data .
Committed revision 350.

As we mentioned earlier, one way to think about a repository revision is as a specific changeset. By using the -r option, you can ask svn merge to apply a changeset, or a whole range of changesets, to your working copy. In our case of undoing a change, we're asking svn merge to apply changeset #303 to our working copy backward.
Keep in mind that rolling back a change like this is just like any other svn merge operation, so you should use svn status and svn diff to confirm that your work is in the state you want it to be in, and then use svn commit to send the final version to the repository. After committing, this particular changeset is no longer reflected in the HEAD revision.

Again, you may be thinking: well, that really didn't undo the commit, did it? The change still exists in revision 303. If somebody checks out a version of the calc project between revisions 303 and 349, she'll still see the bad change, right?

Yes, that's true. When we talk about “removing” a change, we're really talking about removing it from the HEAD revision. The original change still exists in the repository's history. For most situations, this is good enough. Most people are only interested in tracking the HEAD of a project anyway. There are special cases, however, where you really might want to destroy all evidence of the commit. (Perhaps somebody accidentally committed a confidential document.) This isn't so easy, it turns out, because Subversion was deliberately designed to never lose information. Revisions are immutable trees that build upon one another. Removing a revision from history would cause a domino effect, creating chaos in all subsequent revisions and possibly invalidating all working copies.

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