GitHub vs. GitLab: What’s the difference?

GitHub vs. GitLab

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the software development space, you might have heard about GitHub and GitLab. GitHub and GitLab are top-rated source code management platforms for developers. And while their names are strikingly similar, there are some significant differences between the two platforms worth discussing. 

In this post, we’ll give you the lowdown on:

  • What Git is and why version control matters 
  • GitHub features and pricing
  • GitLab features and pricing 
  • The differences between GitHub and GitLab
  • And which of the platforms is better and more popular 

Read on to learn how these tools stack up against one another.

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First, what is Git?

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the products, let’s talk more about Git. If you already have the basics of Git down, go ahead and skip to the next section to learn about the importance of version control.

Linus Torvalds introduced Git in 2005 for the development of the Linux kernel. Git is free, open-source software for version control, which helps developers track and manage changes to their code. Version control systems are essential in enabling programmers to collaborate and revert back to previous versions of code. 

An important thing to know about Git is that it’s a distributed version control system. Every Git directory on every computer has a whole repository with complete history and tracking abilities for your projects. Regardless of network access, developers can access complete repositories independently. You can learn Git through interactive tutorials online.

Why does version control matter?

Version control, also referred to as source control, helps developers track and manage changes to the code in a systematic and organized way, allowing them to work faster and smarter. It allows for branching and merging — or duplicating and merging parts of the code — without removing the history. Developers can track and revert changes when things don’t quite work as expected without disrupting other team members.

The source code is a repository of invaluable knowledge and structure, and version control protects it accordingly. And since many software development teams work on different issues and features simultaneously, version control allows each developer to work on the problem at hand without worrying about conflicting changes or interrupting others.

Now that we have the basics of Git and version control down, let’s take a closer look at GitHub. 

So, what is GitHub?

GitHub is a cloud-based Git repository (or in other words, a centralized location to store software packages and files) for software development and version control. Tom Preston-Werner, Chris Wanstrath, P.J. Hyett, and Scott Chacon launched the site in April 2008. Microsoft acquired GitHub in 2018 and it is now a subsidiary of Microsoft . According to the GitHub website, 73+ million developers use GitHub to build and maintain their software. Developers have created more than 200 million repositories.

If you based your decision on general popularity, GitHub would undoubtedly win your vote. It’s no secret that GitHub is a fan favorite in the developer community. Let’s dive into the features GitHub provides to better understand what makes it popular. 

GitHub features

GitHub provides distributed version control in addition to its own features. GitHub features include:

  • Collaborative coding: Collaborative functionality allows coders to contribute to projects, monitor changes, and build community. Some of the key components in this category include code review, the notifications inbox, code ownership, pull requests, review assignments, and team discussions.  
  • Automation and CI/CD: GitHub offers automation for workflows, API connections, hosted and self-hosted runners, workflow visualizations and templates, and policy controls. 
  • Security: Some of the security features GitHub offers include private repositories, 2FA, required reviews and status checks, dependency graphing, dependabot alerts, and an audit log. Additional security features are available for GitHub Enterprise customers, including SAML, LDAP, and an IP allow list.
  • Client Apps: Developers can take GitHub with them just about anywhere with GitHub Mobile, GitHub CLI, and GitHub Desktop.
  • Project Management: Project tracking, labels, milestones, issue tracking, dependency insights, repo insights, and wikis are all available for streamlined project management within the tool.
  • Team Administration: Users can take control of access and permissions across projects and teams with team administration features. It’s easy to update permissions, send invites, and enable team synchronization between GitHub, Azure, and Okta.
  • Community: The GitHub community includes GitHub Marketplace, sponsors, Learning Lab, Electron, and Atom.

GitHub pricing and plans

GitHub offers three different plans: Free, Team, and Enterprise. As of April 2022, the Team plan costs $40/user per year. The Enterprise plan costs $210/per user per year. Generally speaking, the Free plan is for individual and small teams who want to collaborate. The Team plan offers additional functionality for advanced collaboration amongst groups. And Enterprise includes advanced security features for larger teams and organizations.

Below is a breakdown of the plans and the number of Actions and storage space included:

Certain features aren’t available across all plans, so be sure to check the full plan comparison if there’s something specific you’re looking for.

And how about GitLab?

GitLab, one of GitHub’s primary competitors, is an open-source DevOps platform. Dmitriy Zaporozhets and Sytse Sijbrandij founded GitLab in late 2011 when they made the first commit. In 2021, GitLab celebrated its 10th anniversary, acknowledging more than one million active license users and 30+ million estimated users as of August 2021.

GitLab features

GitLab prides itself on being a complete DevOps platform and organizes its features based on the stages of the DevOps lifecycle. 

GitLab features include:

  • Manage: The features in this category offer insights and visibility into a business. Some of the key features include subgroup creation, project organization, audit events, reports, compliance management, authentication/authorization, user roles, DevOps reports, and value stream analytics.
  • Plan: GitLab offers various planning tools for effective team synchronization, including task lists, labels, due dates, assignees, linked issues, integration with Jira, and more. The tool also includes portfolio management, requirements management, quality management, and design. 
  • Create: Source code management, branching tools, code review, merging, wiki pages, and more allow coders to create and manage project code.
  • Verify: Features in this category support quality standards. GitLab offers continuous integration (CI), pipeline authoring, runners, code testing, performance testing, secrets management, etc. 
  • Package: Built-in package management through package and container registries helps with creating consistent software. 
  • Secure: GitLab provides a range of security features, including static application security testing (SAST), secret detection, code quality, dynamic application security testing (DAST), and vulnerability management.
  • Release: GitLab provides an integrated continuous delivery (CD) solution for releases, along with additional deployment and flagging capabilities. 
  • Configure: With GitLab, developers can configure applications and infrastructure accordingly with Kubernetes management and ChatOps. 
  • Monitor: Incident management capabilities, on-call schedule management, and error tracking help reduce incidents and minimize their impact when they do occur.
  • Protect: Scanning and security network features protect applications and infrastructure from intrusions. 
  • Enablement: This category includes search options, Geo-replication, and disaster recovery support.

You can review the complete list of GitLab features to learn more about each feature set within the DevOps lifecycle. 

GitLab pricing and plans

GitLab offers three different plans: Free, Premium, and Ultimate. As of April 2022, the Premium plan costs $19/per user per month. The Ultimate plan costs $99/per user per month. Similar to GitHub’s plans, the Free plan is perfect for individual users. The Premium plan is great for small teams looking to boost their productivity. And the Ultimate plan offers organization-wide security, compliance, and planning in addition to many other features included in the Free and Premium versions. One important note: all plans have unlimited private repositories. 

Below is a breakdown of the plans and the CI/CD minutes and storage space included: 

People also want to know

1. What’s the difference between GitLab and GitHub?

GitLab and GitHub are similar, yet there are a few key differences to consider based on your needs. It’s important to be aware of the key differences between the platforms to decide which one is best for you. 

First, GitLab has a continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) workflow built-in. It requires little to no setup since it’s integrated into GitLab. The built-in aspect of this workflow streamlines DevOps processes, making it simple to support the full DevOps lifecycle. Users can build CI/CD workflows through GitHub Actions, so this functionality is available on GitHub; however, GitLab is known for its superior CI/CD. GitHub users often work with third-party CI programs such as Jenkins.

Next, the flow of GitHub and GitLab is slightly different. GitHub centers around merging new branches with the main branch. In GitLab, users create multiple branches beyond the main branch, which requires more testing. The overall approach is different, which could impact your preferred working method.

In terms of integrations with other tools, GitHub offers far more integrations than GitLab. The reason is that GitLab strives to provide a complete DevOps solution, whereas GitHub offers fewer services and relies on integration capabilities. Users can integrate with hundreds of programs through the GitHub Marketplace

And finally, it’s clear that the pricing plans differ between GitHub and GitLab, but the pricing structures are different. It’s unfair to say which tool is cheaper than the other since they offer different functionality and capabilities.

2. Is GitHub or GitLab better?

When it comes to which tool is better, the truth is that it depends on what you’re looking for and what your preferences are. GitLab may seem like the obvious, all-in-one choice for a full DevOps platform. Alternatively, GitHub is a great option if you’re looking for more integrations with other apps and need a project management app for collaborative coding. 

3. Why is GitHub more popular than GitLab?

GitHub has been around longer than GitLab, and some would say GitHub is far more popular than GitLab. Since it’s been around longer, many developers have become experts on the tool, which means there is more support from pro-users for developers who need it. 

On top of that, even though it isn’t necessarily a straightforward comparison, GitHub costs less than GitLab, which is appealing to some. But remember, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison in terms of feature functionality, more just a note about which tool will impact your bank account more.

4. Can I use GitLab instead of GitHub?

Sure, you can use GitLab instead of GitHub. GitLab may be particularly valuable to you if you’re looking for a DevOps platform with an integrated CI/CD workflow built into the tool. Read more about the differences between GitLab and GitHub on the GitLab blog to help you decide if GitLab is right for you.

5. What are the alternatives to GitHub and GitLab?

One popular alternative to GitHub and GitLab is Bitbucket by Atlassian.

The bottom line

GitHub and GitLab are source code management platforms for developers. They help with version control, enabling developers to track and manage their changes to source code. GitHub includes a range of features and offers three pricing plans, including a free version. GitLab is a DevOps lifecycle platform and also offers many features, most notably its CI/CD workflow. GitLab also has three plans, including a free version to choose from. The GitLab vs. GitHub debate relies heavily upon what a user’s preferences are, what they are looking for in a tool, and which platform will best support their needs.

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