Version Control with Git and SVN


Version control helps software teams manage changes to source code over time. Version control software keeps track of every modification to the code in a special kind of database. If a mistake is made, developers can turn back the clock and compare earlier versions of the code to help fix the mistake while minimizing disruption to all team members. Version control systems have been around for a long time but continue to increase in popularity with data science workflows.

The RStudio IDE has integrated support for version control. If you are new to version control, check out our book, video tutorial, and explanation:

Version control is an indispensable tool for coordinating the work of teams and also has many benefits for individual work. The following StackOverflow discussions describe some of these benefits:


RStudio supports the following open source version control systems:

To use version control with RStudio, you should first ensure that you have installed Git and/or Subversion tools on your workstation (details below).

Version control is most useful when used with a remote repository. Remote repositories are typically managed by your company or are hosted in the cloud (e.g. Github). Make sure you have credentials to access these systems. If you only want to learn how to use version control, you can manage a standalone system on your workstation but you will not be able to share code with others.

You should also become familiar with using RStudio Projects (which are required for version control features to be enabled).


Prior to using RStudio's version control features you will need to ensure that you have Git and/or Subversion installed on your system. The following describes how to do this for various platforms.


Prior to using Git with RStudio you should install it using the appropriate method for your platform:

An excellent resource for learning more about Git and how to use it is the Pro Git online book. Another good resource for learning about git is the Git Bootcamp provided by GitHub.


Prior to using Subversion with RStudio you should install it using the appropriate method for your platform:

  • Windows: SilkSVN (or any of the other packages listed here)
  • OSX (≤ v10.7): Not required — already included in versions of OSX 10.7 and before
  • OSX (v10.8+): Install Xcode's Command Line Tools from Apple's developer downloads (requires free Apple Developer ID)
  • Debian/Ubuntu: sudo apt-get install subversion
  • Fedora/RedHat: sudo yum install subversion

An excellent resource for learning more about Subversion and how to use it is the Red Bean online book.

Getting Started

Once you've installed your preferred Version Control system, you'll need to activate it on your system by following these steps:

  1. Go to Global Options (from the Tools menu)
  2. Click Git/SVN
  3. Click Enable version control interface for RStudio projects
  4. If necessary, enter the path for your Git or SVN executable where provided. You can also create or add your RSA key for SSH if necessary.

If you are using RStudio Server, by default RStudio Server will look at the PATH for the first Git executable it finds, and sets that as the default. If you have a specific version that you want to set for all users, the easiest option is to make sure it's the first available on the PATH system-wide.

Alternately, if you are running version 1.4 or above of RStudio Workbench (previously RStudio Server Pro), you can set the default Git version system-wide by setting the git_exe_path option in your system rstudio-prefs.json file. See here for more: 


RStudio's version control features are tied to the use of Projects (which are a way of dividing work into multiple contexts, each with their own working directory).The steps required to use version control with a project vary depending on whether the project is new or existing as well as whether it is already under version control.

Using a directory already under version control

If you have an existing directory which is already under Git or Subversion version control then you simply need to create a new RStudio project for that directory and then version control features will be automatically enabled. To do this:

  1. Execute the New Project command (from the Project menu)
  2. Choose to create a new project from an Existing Directory
  3. Select the appropriate directory and then click Create Project

A new project will be created for the directory and RStudio's version control features will then be available for that directory.

Creating a new project based on a remote Git or Subversion repository

If you have an existing remote Git or Subversion repository that you want to use as the basis for an RStudio project you should:

  1. Execute the New Project command (from the Project menu)
  2. Choose to create a new project from Version Control
  3. Choose Git or Subversion as appropriate
  4. Provide the repository URL (and other appropriate options) and then click Create Project

The remote repository will be cloned into the specified directory and RStudio's version control features will then be available for that directory.

Adding version control to an existing project

Directions for remote repositories

Subversion directories are always paired with an external repository, so cannot be configured for version control without also configuring the external connection. In addition, we recommend that Git repositories always be configured with a remote repository in order to protect your data and maintain a separate backup.

If you have an existing directory that you want to add version control to, you should consult the documentation for Git or Subversion concerning how to initialize a repository (both local commands as well as commands required to connect it to a remote server). See the resources linked above for more on connecting your project to a remote repository.

Once you've configured your project with your repository, RStudio will detect that the project has been added and RStudio's version control features will then be available for that directory.

 Directions for Git (local)

Git repositories can be created in purely local mode (if for example you want to track changes locally but aren't concerned with collaborating and/or syncing between multiple workstations). To add a git repository to an existing project:

  1. Execute the Project Options command (from the Project menu)
  2. Choose Version Control options
  3. Change the version control system from (None) to Git
  4. Confirm that you wish to initialize a new Git repository

A Git repository will be created for the project and you'll be prompted to restart RStudio to enable version control features for the project.

Additional Topics

Using the Shell

RStudio provides an interface to the most common version control operations including managing changelists, diffing files, committing, and viewing history. While these features cover basic everyday use of Git and Subversion, you may also occasionally need to use the system shell to access all of their underlying functionality.

RStudio includes functionality to make it more straightforward to use the shell with projects under version control. This includes:

  • On all platforms, you can use the Terminal to open a new system shell with the working directory already initialized to your project's root directory.
  • On Windows when using Git, the Shell command will open Git Bash, which is a port of the bash shell to Windows specially configured for use with Msys Git (note you can disable this behavior and use the standard Windows command prompt instead using Options -> Version Control).
  • On Windows when using Subversion, RStudio opens a shell with a PATH configured to use a version of ssh.exe which ships with RStudio (required for svn+ssh connections, see below).
  • When running over the web, RStudio provides a web-based shell dialog.


Version control repositories can typically be accessed using a variety of protocols (including http and https). Many repositories can also be accessed using SSH (this is the mode of connection for many hosting services including GitHub and R-Forge).

In many cases the authentication for an SSH connection is done using public/private RSA key pairs. This type of authentication requires two steps:

  1. Generate a public/private key pair
  2. Provide the public key to the hosting provider (e.g. GitHub or R-Forge)

To make working with RSA key pairs more straightforward the RStudio Version Control options panel can be used to both create new RSA public/private key pairs as well as view and copy the current RSA public key.

While Linux and Mac OSX both include SSH as part of the base system, Windows does not. As a result the standard Windows distribution of Git (Msysgit, referenced above) also includes an SSH client.

Subversion for Windows however does not include an SSH client. To overcome this limitation, RStudio includes a version of the Msys SSH client within the RStudio\bin\msys_ssh directory. This directory is automatically added to the PATH (for RStudio only rather than system-wide) and is also available on the PATH for command prompt windows opened using the Tools -> Shell command. A Windows shortcut (SSH Command Prompt) is also provided within the RStudio\bin\msys_ssh directory if you wish to launch a console from the Desktop that supports the svn+ssh protocol.

Need Help?

RStudio Pro customers may open a discussion with RStudio Support at any time.

You may also ask for help from R and RStudio users on Be sure to include a reproducible example of your issue. Click here to start a new community discussion.


  • Avatar
    Michael Tuchman

    "Best Practices: Git and GitHub" link is dated and it 404s. Somewhat related to datedness: The heading for your article says it was written "Today at ..." when actually it was written nine years ago according to the RStudio Search engine. The byline should always carry the static date on which the article was actually written.

  • Avatar
    Cecil Singh

    Hi Michael,

    Thank you for the feedback, we always appreciate improvements to our support articles. I've just tested the link you mentioned, and it seems to work in a couple of different browsers:

    Maybe try clearing your cookies and cache, or possibly trying this in an incognito/inprivate window!

    Typically, the articles date shows when it was last edited. When it refers to "today", that typically means there was an update made on the article today. Good point on having the byline as a static date. We'll note this feedback and see if we can implement this.

    Thanks again for your feedback, we really do appreciate it!