Get the highlights in your inbox every week.
Get started with Fossil, an alternative to Git | Opensource.com
Get started with Fossil, an alternative to Git
Fossil is an all-in-one version control system, bug tracker, wiki, forum, and documentation solution.
As any programmer knows, there are many reasons it's vital to keep track of code changes. Sometimes you just want a history of how your project started and evolved, as a matter of curiosity or education. Other times, you want to enable other coders to contribute to your project, and you need a reliable way to merge disparate parts. And more critically, sometimes an adjustment you make to fix one problem breaks something else that was working.The Fossil source code management system is an all-in-one version control system, bug tracker, wiki, forum, and documentation solution from the creator of the famous SQLite database.
Fossil is a single, self-contained C program, so you can probably just download Fossil from its website and place it anywhere in your system PATH. For example, assuming
/usr/local/bin is in your path, as it usually is by default:
$ wget https://fossil-scm.org/home/uv/fossil-linux-x64-X.Y.tar.gz
$ sudo tar xvf fossil-linux-x64-X.Y.tar.gz \
You might also find Fossil in your software repository through your package manager, or you can compile it from source code.
Create a Fossil repository
If you have a coding project you want to track with Fossil, the first step is to create a Fossil repository:
$ fossil init myproject.fossil
admin-user: klaatu (initial password is "14b605")
Creating a Fossil repo returns three items: a unique project ID, a unique server ID, and an admin ID and password. The project and server IDs are version numbers. The admin credentials establish your ownership of this repository and can be used if you decide to run Fossil as a server for other users to access.
Work in a Fossil repository
To start working in a Fossil repo, you must create a working location for its data. You might think of this process as creating a virtual environment in Python or unzipping a ZIP file that you intend to zip back up again later.
Create a working directory and change into it:
$ mkdir myprojectdir
$ cd myprojectdir
Open your Fossil repository into the directory you created:
$ fossil open ../myproject
checkout: 9e6cd96dd675544c58a246520ad58cdd460d1559 2020-11-09 04:09:35 UTC
comment: initial empty check-in (user: klaatu)
You might notice that Fossil created a hidden file called
.fossil in your home directory to track your global Fossil preferences. This is not specific to your project; it's just an artifact of the first time you use Fossil.
To add files to your repository, use the
commit subcommands. For example, create a simple README file and add it to the repository:
$ echo "My first Fossil project" > README
$ fossil add README
$ fossil commit -m 'My first commit'
By default, a Fossile repository starts with a main branch called
trunk. You can branch off the trunk when you want to work on code without affecting your primary codebase. Creating a new branch requires the
branch subcommand, along with a new branch name and the branch you want to use as the basis for your new one. In this example, the only branch is
trunk, so try creating a new branch called
$ fossil branch --help
Usage: fossil branch new BRANCH-NAME BASIS ?OPTIONS?
$ fossil branch new dev trunk
New branch: cb90e9c6f23a9c98e0c3656d7e18d320fa52e666700b12b5ebbc4674a0703695
You've created a new branch, but your current branch is still
$ fossil branch current
To make your new
dev branch active, use the
$ fossil checkout dev
Suppose you add an exciting new file to your
dev branch, and having tested it, you're satisfied that it's ready to take its place in
trunk. This is called a merge.
First, change your branch back to your target branch (in this example, that's
$ fossil checkout trunk
Your new file (or any changes you made to an existing file) doesn't exist there yet, but that's what performing the merge will take care of:
$ fossil merge dev
"fossil undo" is available to undo changes to the working checkout.
View the Fossil timeline
To see the history of your repository, use the
timeline option. This shows a detailed list of all activity in your repository, including a hash representing the change, the commit message you provided when committing code, and who made the change:
$ fossil timeline
=== 2020-11-09 ===
06:24:16 [5ef06e668b] added exciting new file (user: klaatu tags: dev)
06:11:19 [cb90e9c6f2] Create new branch named "dev" (user: klaatu tags: dev)
06:08:09 [a2bb73e4a3] *CURRENT* some additions were made (user: klaatu tags: trunk)
06:00:47 [2472a43acd] This is my first commit. (user: klaatu tags: trunk)
04:09:35 [9e6cd96dd6] initial empty check-in (user: klaatu tags: trunk)
+++ no more data (5) +++
Make your Fossil repository public
Because Fossil features a built-in web interface, Fossil doesn't need a hosting service like GitLab or Gitea do. Fossil is its own hosting service, as long as you have a server to put it on. Before making your Fossil project public, though, you must configure some attributes through the web user interface (UI).
Launch a local instance with the
$ fossil ui
Specifically, look at Users and Settings for security, and Configuration for project properties (including a proper title). The web interface isn't just a convenience function. It's intended for actual use and is indeed used as the host for the Fossil project. There are several surprisingly advanced options, from user management (or self-management, if you please) to single-sign-on (SSO) with other Fossil repositories on the same server.
Once you're satisfied with your changes, close the web interface and press Ctrl+C to stop the UI engine from running. Commit your web changes just as you would any other update:
$ fossil commit -m 'web ui updates'
Now you're ready to set up your Fossil server.
- Copy your Fossil repository (in this example,
myproject.fossil) to your server. You only need the single file.
- Install Fossil on your server, if it's not already installed. The process for installing Fossil to your server is the same as it was for your local computer.
- In your
cgi-bindirectory (or the equivalent of that directory, depending upon which HTTP daemon you're running), create a file called
Make the script executable:
$ chmod +x repo_myproject.cgi
That's all there is to it. Your project is now live on the internet.
You can visit the web UI by navigating to your CGI script, such as
Or you can interact with your repository from a terminal through the same URL:
$ fossil clone https://email@example.com/cgi-bin/repo_myproject.cgi
Working with a local clone requires you to use the
push subcommand to send local changes back to your remote repository and the
pull subcommand to get remotely made changes into your local copy:
$ fossil push https://firstname.lastname@example.org/cgi-bin/repo_myproject.cgi
Use Fossil for independent hosting
Fossil places a lot of power into your hands (and the hands of your collaborators) and makes you independent of hosting services. This article only hints at the basics. There's so much more to Fossil that can help you and your teams in your code projects. Give Fossil a try. It won't just change the way you think about version control; it'll help you stop thinking about version control altogether.