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Man Pages

Manual Reference Pages  -  S4 (1)

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s4 - Wrapper for subversion program



    s4        help

    s4 <any svn command>
       i.e.:  s4 add <file>
              s4 delete <file>
              s4 diff <file>


S4 provides a wrapper to subversion that extends several of the commands. It understands all svn commands; you may simply use s4 whereever you would normally type svn.

In many cases, S4 simply runs svn with the same arguments as you passed to s4. If you want s4 to run a particular version of svn, you can either set the environment variable S4_SVN to the name of the subversion binary, or use --svn=SVN_BINARY to override the default.


Any command not listed here is passed directly to subversion.


Perform normal subversion add, then if the add-fixprop configuration option is set, do a s4 fixprop on all of the new files.

With --no-fixprop, ignore the config setting and run the normal svn add, do not fixprop. With --fixprop, ignore the config setting and fixprop.


Perform a svn cat HEAD if the file has no modifications, else show the local file with modifications. This is a convient way of editing what would otherwise need to be a global file. If the file is unchanged you’ll get HEAD (basically a global file), but you can also edit it locally to make changes.


s4 checkout behaves exactly the same way as svn checkout, unless the top directory that you check out contains a file called Project.viewspec. If Project.viewspec is present, s4 does the following steps instead.

1. Check out/update the top directory with --non-recursive, so that subdirectories are not fetched.

2. Parse the Project.viewspec file to see how the working area should be laid out. Project.viewspec specifies which directories in your working area should be mapped to which URLs in the repository. If any problems are found during viewspec parsing, s4 ends with an error.

3. Do a series of svn switch commands to build the working area. In normal svn, you cannot switch a directory unless it is already in the working copy, and checked in. S4 works around this (see if you must know), so the viewspec can put any directory at any location.


Processes all files and directories passed as arguments.

* Unless --no-ignores is used, any .cvsignore or .gitignore files will be read and set their directory’s svn:ignore property. (See below for the format of .cvsignore or .gitignore).

* Unless --no-keywords is used, any non-binary file which contains a CVS metacomment, and which do not have a svn:keyword property will have the svn:keyword property added.

* Unless --no-autoprops is used, any tsvn:autoprops property on a parent directory will be applied to all files that have no property of the same name already set.

With -N or --non-recursive, don’t recurse across directories.

With --personal, only change files the current user has added, or was the last author of.

help subcommand

Invokes subversion help. With a subcommand modified or specific to s4, also prints s4 help on that command.


Prints a summary of all Subversion and S4 commands.

    commit [-unsafe]

s4 commit generally behaves exactly the same way as svn checkout, unless the following optional configurations are set:

If commit-block-non-top configuration file option is ’yes’, commits will fail if no path is specified and the current directory is not at the top of the checkout tree, for example s4:%Error: Blocked unsafe commit as not committing from top of tree. Use commit --unsafe to override. To override this check use s4 ci . so a specific path is specified, or use --unsafe. This message is suppressed if the directory’s URL is trunk/branches/tags, as it is common to have multiple working areas under a single view, and wish to commit only one of them.

If commit-block-unversioned configuration file option is ’yes’, commits will fail if unversioned (?) or conflict (C) files are present, for example s4: %Error: Blocked unsafe commit as unversioned files present. Add, repair svn:ignore, or use commit --unsafe to override. Ideally the unversioned file should be either added or added to a svn:ignore list so it is no longer unversioned, or alternatively to override this check use s4 ci --unsafe.

info-switches path

Given a working file path, prints a non-recursive svn info at the path specified, plus every switch point under the path. Given an URL prints the info on any views underneath that URL.


s4 merge behaves exactly the same way as svn merge, unless the top directory that you update contains a file called Project.viewspec. If Project.viewspec is present, s4 will print an error message. Merging is not supported in s4 views, as SVN creates many extranious svn:mergeinfo properties. Instead you should checkout a non-viewed area, and merge there.

    quick-commit|qci PATH...

s4 quick-commit, or qci for short, performs a commit of the current tree. Unlike the normal commit command, qci will not create lock files, and so may be significantly faster on large trees. It is semantically equivelent to doing a svn status, then only commiting the files listed as changing rather then committing the entire tree.

    scrub [--revision REV] [--url URL] PATH

s4 scrub turns a used source tree into a pristine one, as efficiently as it can.

WARNING: That means that it will permanently throw away all the changes you’ve made in your working copy. Is that really what you want? If not, stop right here.

It first does a svn status to look for any files that aren’t checked in, anything that has been added but not checked in, etc. and erases/reverts them all. Then it updates the tree to the specified revision. When it’s done, your tree should look exactly like a clean checkout. (If not it’s a bug.)

You probably ask, why not just do svn revert -R or svn update -r. Those commands tend to leave some junk behind, or sometimes they get jammed (e.g. object of the same name already exists). Also svn is understandably very conservative about erasing a file or directory that it is not SURE is checked in already. But this command is not; it’s happy to blow away the changes in your working fact that’s its primary job.

    status [--top]

With --top, update the highest subversion directory found at or above the current directory, rather than the current directory itself.

Otherwise s4 status behaves exactly the same way as svn status.


s4 snapshot generates a compact patch file that describes how to reproduce a svn working copy exactly, including:
- modified files (text or binary)
- files and dirs that are not yet checked in
- inconsistent svn revision numbers throughout the tree
- property changes on files and dirs
- svn switched files and directories
- svn externals

The output of the s4 snapshot command is Bourne shell script that contains commands to create a new working copy or modify an existing one, run some svn commands, and apply all your changes. It is sort of like a super-patch. When the script is done, the new working should match the original in every respect. If anything prevents such a patch from being created, it will die with an error. For example, if your working copy has deleted files or directories, or other unhealthy things, the snapshot code may not know how to recreate it so it will refuse to make a patch.

Snapshots can be useful for backing up your work (without having to check in), for bug reporting, or any time you want to save your state so that you can recreate your area later, or in another place.

Changes in text files appear in svn diff format. Changes in binary files are TARred, base64 encoded, and the encoded text appears in the patch file. I keep calling the output file a patch because in fact it can be used with the patch program. But it’s also a shell script that recreates the svn state as well.

Example of making a snapshot and restoring:
s4 checkout -r22100 svnwebsite
cd svnwebsite
# add some files, modify some files, svn update to other revisions
s4 rm images
cp index.html myindex.html
s4 add myindex.html
echo Finish my new favorite feature >> roadmap.html
echo as soon as possible >> roadmap.html
s4 snap > /tmp/snapshot
# The snapshot is a script to recreate these changes.
# Let’s run it.
s4 revert -R . ; rm -f myindex.html # make it clean again
bash /tmp/snapshot

    update [--top]

s4 update behaves exactly the same way as svn checkout, unless the top directory that you update contains a file called Project.viewspec. If Project.viewspec is present, s4 does the steps described in the checkout section above.

In most updates, the viewspec file has not changed drastically, so there is no need to redo the svn switches, and s4 will do svn update. But if the tree structure changes, s4 will redo the switch commands.

With --top, update the highest subversion directory found at or above the current directory, rather than the current directory itself.

workpropdel propname

s4 workpropdel deletes a work-area property of the given name, if it exists.

workpropget propname

s4 workpropget returns a work-area property of the given name, if it exists, otherwise "".

    workproplist [--xml]

s4 workproplist lists all work area properties, with their values.

workpropset propname propvalue

s4 workpropset sets a work-area property of the given name to the given value. Work area properties are associated and unique to a given work area, and stored in the top level .svn directory.


--help Displays this message and program version and exits.
--orig Pass all commands through to the original version of svn. Useful when svn has been aliased to a different command.
--svn name Name of svn executable, or svn if not specified. See also S4_SVN.
--version Displays program version and exits.


A viewspec file is a text file containing a series of one-line commands. Anything after a # character is considered a comment. Whitespace and blank lines are ignored. The commands must be one of:
set VAR VALUE Set environment variable VAR to VALUE. This is useful for making abbreviations to be used within the viewspec file, for frequently typed things such as the name of the svn repository.
include FILE Read another file that contains viewspec commands. If the filename does not begin with a slash, it is considered to be relative to the directory containing the Project.viewspec.
include URL Read a file out of the SVN repository that contains viewspec commands.
view URL DIR Directory DIR will be svn switched to URL.
view URL/(.*) DIR$1 Directory DIR will be svn switched to URL. URL may contain a parenthesized regexp, which indicates the repository should be searched for matching files/subdirectories with the matching name. If found, $1 will be substituted into DIR. The URL parenthesis must follow all /s, that is they can only match against the final path component, not a mid-level part of the path.
view URL DIR rev REVNUM Directory DIR will be svn switched to URL at revision REVNUM. Note that this is not sticky the way CVS was. Svn updates will override the revision number, while s4 update will not.

REVNUM can also be a date in normal subversion format, as listed here: Example: view URL DIR rev {2006-07-01}

view URL@REVNUM DIR Alternative form of revision pegging. This form must have a numeric revision.
unview DIR Ignore any view/unview commands that came above, for directories that begin with DIR, which may be a Perl regular expression. (The regexp must match everything from the beginning up through the end of the directory name.) This may be useful if you have included a viewspec and want to override some of its view commands.


.cvsignore, .gitignore Used by the fixprop command to specify the contents for the svn:ignore property.

The contents [recursive] indicates that everything following that tag until the end of the file should be applied to all directories underneath this one.

.svn/workprops S4 workprop* commands store the work area properties in a workprops file in the highest .svn directory. This file is in YAML format.
/etc/subversion/config S4 configuration file, also used by Subversion.
~/.subversion/config S4 configuration file, also used by Subversion.


The following svn config file options are added by s4.
[s4] add-fixprop = yes If yes, an add command will also do a fixprop. Note this defaulted to true prior to version 1.041.
[s4] co-under-co = yes If yes, a checkout command will be allowed when inside an existing checkout. Defaults no.
[s4] commit-block-ignores = *.new *.old *.tmp List of glob-style regexps of files to ignore for commit-block-unversioned.
[s4] commit-block-non-top = yes If yes, a commit command will fail when no path is specified and not in the top of the checkout tree. Defaults no.
[s4] commit-block-unversioned = yes If yes, a commit command will fail when unversioned (?) or conflicted (C) files are present. Defaults no.
[s4] merge-under-view = yes If yes, a merge command will be allowed when inside a viewed directory. Defaults no.


RSVN_CALLING_SSH Set by this script to 1. See rsvn for details.
S4_CONFIG Filename of additional configuration options. Processed fourth, in order of /etc/subversion/config, S4_CONFIG_SITE, ~/.subversion/config, and S4_CONFIG files.
S4_CONFIG_SITE Filename of additional site configuration options. Processed second, in order of /etc/subversion/config, S4_CONFIG_SITE, ~/.subversion/config, and S4_CONFIG files.
S4_SVN Name of svn executable, or svn if not specified.


S4 relys on some obscure features of Subversion, in that s4 needs to to modify the .svn directory to create empty directories and svn externals that switch to them. This has only been tested on Subversion 1.1, 1.2, and 1.6.6, newer versions will probably break.


The latest version is available from CPAN and from <>.

Copyright 2005-2015 by Bryce Denney and Wilson Snyder. This package is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of either the GNU Lesser General Public License Version 3 or the Perl Artistic License Version 2.0.


Bryce Denney <> and Wilson Snyder <>


svn, SVN::S4,

rsvn package, which provides rs4 to run s4 on NFS servers.

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