GitHub vs GitLab: A Comprehensive Comparison and Guide for 2024

Photo of Kacper Rafalski

Kacper Rafalski

Updated Oct 18, 2023 • 21 min read

As we delve into the world of source code management in 2023, two names often come up: GitHub and GitLab. These platforms, while sharing similarities such as Git-based version control systems and extensive collaboration features, have distinct differences that cater to different needs and preferences of users. Understanding these differences is crucial for developers, project managers, and organizations seeking the most suitable tool for their operations.

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the choice between GitHub and GitLab is not a simple one-size-fits-all. Each platform has its unique strengths, features, and pricing structures. Moreover, the impact of Microsoft's acquisition of GitHub and the open-source philosophy of GitLab further complicate the comparison. This comprehensive guide aims to dissect these complexities, offering an in-depth look at these two platforms to help make an informed decision in 2023.

The Genesis of Git: An Introduction to Source Code Management

In the realm of software development, Git has revolutionized the way programmers collaborate and manage code. It's a powerful tool that facilitates efficient code management, allowing developers to track changes, revert to previous versions, and collaborate seamlessly. As a result, it has become the backbone of numerous project management tools, including two of the most popular platforms, GitHub and GitLab.

Both GitHub and GitLab are built on Git's robust framework, offering built-in code review and collaboration tools. For example, both platforms allow for real-time viewing and discussion of pull requests. This feature empowers developers to make changes, review code differences visually, and catch mistakes early, thereby reducing the potential for fatal errors or security flaws.

It's worth noting that both GitHub and GitLab offer powerful code collaboration and review tools. These tools highlight all changes, making it easier for code reviewers to spot discrepancies. This ease of use is part of what makes Git so popular amongst developers and project managers alike.

Furthermore, GitHub and GitLab come equipped with project management tools that enhance the overall development process. In GitLab, for instance, a logical hierarchy between issues can be created, with task lists and descriptions added for clarity. Different developers can also be assigned to different branches, streamlining the workflow and making project management more efficient.

GitHub, on the other hand, offers similar project management functionalities. Issues, pull requests, and notes can be categorized for better organization. Moreover, GitHub's Marketplace offers an array of additional tools and extensions, further enhancing its usability and appeal to developers worldwide.

In conclusion, the genesis of Git has led to the creation of two powerful platforms, GitHub and GitLab. Both offer an array of tools for efficient code management, collaboration, and project management, making them invaluable assets in the world of software development.

Understanding GitLab and GitHub: The Basics for Beginners

GitLab and GitHub are two of the most widely used platforms for managing code repositories and facilitating development operations. Both platforms have grown significantly in popularity among developers, owing to their robust features and user-friendly interfaces. Numerous multinational corporations and organizations, including NVIDIA, Sony, NASA, IBM, and Siemens, have embraced these platforms to manage their software development projects and enable seamless teamwork among their development teams. While both platforms offer similar functionalities such as merge requests and version control, they each have unique features that cater to different user needs and preferences. Understanding the basics of these platforms is crucial for anyone stepping into the world of software development.

An Overview of GitLab

GitLab has carved a significant niche in the realm of source code management, with its suite of features offering a comprehensive solution for software development projects, development operations, and code repositories. A variety of companies, including tech giants like NVIDIA, Sony, and IBM, utilize GitLab for its robust version control processes. The platform facilitates seamless collaboration between international development teams, making it an essential tool for managing software development operations. For instance, NASA employs GitLab to streamline cooperation among teams working on diverse projects, demonstrating the platform's versatility and scalability.

GitHub's popularity stems from its early market presence and the suite of collaboration tools it offers. Launched in 2008, GitHub had a head start over GitLab, which began as an open-source project only in 2011. The platform's built-in continuous integration and free option for private, self-hosted servers allowed it to quickly gain traction with developers. Furthermore, the platform's focus on code collaboration and the use of Git for version control made it an attractive choice for developers, contributing to its market dominance.

Microsoft and GitHub: Unraveling the Connection

The connection between Microsoft and GitHub dates back to 2018 when Microsoft acquired GitHub. Despite initial apprehensions among the developer community, the acquisition did not lead to a significant user exodus. Microsoft's support for open-source methods and software, along with its commitment to enhancing GitHub's functionality, assuaged user concerns. The platform even introduced a two-factor authentication mechanism for enhanced security, further solidifying its stature in the developer community.

The GitLab-GitHub Relationship: Are They Siblings or Competitors?

The relationship between GitLab and GitHub is one of competition rather than sibling rivalry. Both platforms offer robust source code management solutions, vying for user preference in the developer community. Despite their similar offerings, the platforms differentiate themselves through their unique features and benefits, making the choice between them dependent on specific user needs and preferences.

GitHub vs GitLab: Navigating Similarities in the Sea of Differences

GitHub and GitLab, two powerful code repositories, have reshaped the software development landscape. While they share many similarities, such as the use of Git for version control, they also have distinct features that set them apart. GitHub Actions and GitLab's DevOps platform are just a few examples of the unique offerings that differentiate these two platforms. However, the choice between GitHub or GitLab often comes down to user preferences. Factors such as project management tools, third-party integrations, and pricing can influence the decision-making process. Both platforms are committed to facilitating a seamless development process, offering robust customization options, and a user-friendly interface, making them invaluable tools for development teams.

Version Control and Git Functionality: A Common Thread

Both GitHub and GitLab offer a robust version control system, underpinned by the same basic git functionality. The central node of this functionality is the code repository, which serves as the bedrock for software development across distributed teams. Commands such as 'branch', 'fork', 'pull', and 'merge' are integral to either platform, enabling developers to create independent lines of development, experiment on personal copies of the repository, suggest code changes, and resolve merge conflicts. The renaming of 'pull requests' to 'merge' in GitLab is one of the few variations in the user interface of these project management tools.

The Twin Facets of Project Management and Collaboration

GitLab and GitHub excel as project management tools, with built-in collaboration and code review utilities that are essential for modern software development. Both platforms offer real-time visibility and discussion on pull requests, allowing teams to make changes and review code differences seamlessly. This feature aids early detection of errors, bolstering the software's security posture. GitHub extends its project management capabilities through the GitHub Marketplace, offering additional tools and extensions. Similarly, GitLab allows creating a logical hierarchy between issues, assigning developers to different branches, and providing visualization tools for tracking progress.

GitHub Pages and GitLab Pages: A Comparative Analysis

Both GitHub and GitLab extend their functionality beyond code repositories by offering free static web pages. These pages provide information about software projects, allowing anyone on either platform, GitHub or GitLab, to fork the project and make changes. Although neither platform supports dynamic server-side processing like PHP or ASP files, they encourage version control in static website content like HTML and CSS. Users can pull directly from their git repository, making the process of maintaining and updating web pages simpler and more efficient.

Free Plans with Unlimited Repositories: An Unrivalled Advantage

One of the standout features of both GitLab and GitHub is the provision of free plans with unlimited repositories. This offering makes these git platforms highly accessible, particularly for small teams and freelancers. While access to advanced management, security, and compliance features is limited in the free versions, this is typically a greater concern for enterprise users. Thus, the free plans are a significant advantage, providing ample room for code experimentation and development without incurring additional costs.

GitHub vs GitLab: Distinguishing Features and Key Differences

While GitHub and GitLab share many similarities, they have key differences that set them apart. The handling of GitHub issues, for instance, varies from GitLab. GitLab CI, a feature not present on GitHub, sets it apart for continuous integration functionality. The choice between cloud-based storage and self-hosted installation on Linux servers is another differentiating factor. Additionally, the availability of branch versions and the treatment of open-source code also differ between the two platforms. These distinguishing features and differences play a crucial role in deciding which platform suits a team or project's specific needs better.

Continuous Integration: The Crucial Differentiator

One of the most significant differentiators between GitHub and GitLab is their approach to continuous integration (CI). GitLab is widely recognized for its dedication to CI and a DevOps workflow. This integrated approach allows teams to build, stage, and deploy code automatically, eliminating the need for manual updates or clunky integrations with third-party tools. Teams using GitLab can focus on pushing minor updates live multiple times per day, rather than batching them into larger releases. This is facilitated by the platform's automated testing tool that scans code for potential security risks within the GitLab environment.

On the other hand, GitHub requires additional support from a third-party CI tool such as TravisCI or CircleCI to set up a CI/CD workflow. Although this approach offers flexibility, it does not provide the same level of seamless integration between the CI tools and the GitHub repository as GitLab does.

GitHub Flow vs GitLab Flow: A Comparative Study

While the underlying Git technology is virtually identical for both GitHub and GitLab, their recommended workflows are significantly different. GitHub advocates a speedy, feature-focused development approach, in which new branches are swiftly merged with the main branch. This workflow is perfect for smaller Agile teams and projects, where the main branch is always ready to deploy, ensuring rapid rollback to the previous version if something goes wrong.

In contrast, the GitLab workflow emphasizes reliability over speed. It encourages the creation of multiple stable branches, including production and pre-production. This leads to a multiple-step testing process, where a single code review upon the merge request isn't enough. This comprehensive review process can slow down the deployment of new features, but it ensures a more reliable and stable code in production.

The Platform vs Marketplace Debate

Another crucial point of comparison between GitLab and GitHub lies in their approach to integrations. GitLab has positioned itself as a complete, packaged platform, supporting integrations with Microsoft Teams, Asana, Jira, Slack, Gmail, and over 30 other apps and platforms. While this approach provides users with a comprehensive set of tools, it also limits the number of third-party integrations compared to GitHub.

On the other hand, GitHub functions more like a marketplace with numerous free and paid options. It currently boasts 374 free apps, with many paid options as well. These third-party integrations offer a variety of out-of-the-box features, some of which are intrinsic to GitLab, such as continuous integration, time tracking, and backups.

The Advantage of Self-Hosted Installation for Private Server

When it comes to self-hosting, GitLab takes the lead. Initially started as an open-source platform, GitLab offers the option to host a private version of GitLab on your virtual machines, even with a free plan. This feature provides teams with greater control over their data and workflows. In contrast, GitHub reserves self-hosted installation for its enterprise plan, limiting this feature's accessibility to smaller teams or organizations.

The Open Source Debate: GitHub vs GitLab

Both GitHub and GitLab are built on Git, the open-source version control system. However, there are key differences in their approach to open source. GitLab has maintained its open-source roots, offering a self-hosted version of GitLab that allows users to modify the source code. This flexible approach has made GitLab a favorite among developers who prefer to retain full control over their code and workflows.

GitHub, on the other hand, has transitioned from being a purely open-source platform to a more commercial model, especially after its acquisition by Microsoft. While it still supports open-source projects, it has placed more emphasis on providing enterprise-grade features and services. This shift has made GitHub a preferred choice for businesses and organizations looking for a robust and secure platform for their code repositories.

When it comes to the paid plans of GitHub and GitLab, a significant difference in pricing can be observed. Both platforms offer free plans with unlimited public and private repositories but their premium plans differ significantly in cost. GitHub's Team plan begins at $4 per user/month, focusing on advanced collaboration tools, especially for private repositories, along with security and compliance features. The Enterprise plan of GitHub, on the other hand, costs $21 per user/month. In contrast, GitLab's pricing structure is notably more expensive. The GitLab Ultimate plan stands at a hefty $99 per user/month. It's important to note, however, that to match GitHub's security and compliance tools, one would have to opt for GitLab's most expensive plan. Hence, while GitHub positions its free plan as a competitor to GitLab's Team plan, GitLab's Premium plan is viewed as a counterpart to GitHub's Enterprise plan.

Decoding the Popularity of GitHub and GitLab

Exploring the popularity of GitHub and GitLab reveals that both platforms have been embraced by major companies for their software development and version control processes. Companies such as NVIDIA, Sony, NASA, IBM, and Siemens have turned to GitLab for its efficient code management and seamless cooperation among development teams. On the other hand, GitHub, being the market leader, is often the default choice for new developers. The popularity of these platforms is a testament to their robust features and usability.

One key factor contributing to GitHub's greater popularity over GitLab is its earlier inception. GitHub was launched in 2008, giving it a headstart over GitLab, which started as an open source project in 2011. Over time, developers have come to rely on Git for version control, collaboration, and smoother deployment, making GitHub a widely adopted platform. However, GitLab has been gradually gaining ground with its built-in continuous integration features and a free option for private, self-hosted servers. As per a survey, GitLab managed to gain a 4% market share from 2018-19, while GitHub's share slightly declined. Thus, while GitHub remains a dominant choice, GitLab is steadily emerging as a formidable competitor.

Factors Driving GitLab's Growing User Base

As for the growing user base of GitLab, a crucial factor is its out-of-the-box functionality that aligns with industry-standard program and portfolio management. This allows it to offer more value to its users, fostering its popularity and user adoption. Moreover, GitLab's effort to display DevOps data within the Plan that is easy for all personas, including non-developers, to understand, also contributes to its increasing user base. The introduction of flexible, embeddable saved views and queries allows teams and individuals to visualize and track their work, further enhancing its appeal.

The Best Option: GitHub vs GitLab

When it comes to selecting between GitHub and GitLab, there isn't a clear-cut "best choice for everyone". The decision largely depends on the team, larger organization, goals, and unique use cases. In terms of out-of-the-box functionality and self-hosting, GitLab often comes out on top. However, as the market leader, GitHub offers a higher number of integrations and apps. GitLab is a better choice for self-hosted private repositories as it allows users to get started without any monthly subscription fee. Both platforms are excellent for open source projects. GitLab offers premium features for free, while GitHub provides access to a larger pool of active open source developers. For commercial projects, GitHub's significantly cheaper enterprise plan is often more appealing. If your aim is to delve into DevOps, GitLab, which offers thoughtful and likely cheaper choices, could be a better fit.

The Verdict: Which Platform Should You Choose?

Choosing between GitLab and GitHub is not as straightforward as it may seem. Both platforms offer a comprehensive set of features, integrations with apps and platforms like Asana, Jira, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Gmail, and both cater to a wide range of users. GitLab positions itself as a complete, packaged platform, offering a more streamlined experience. However, GitHub's strength lies in the variety of its marketplace, with 374 free apps and numerous paid options, offering users the flexibility to tailor their experience.

The Impact of Pricing on the GitHub vs GitLab Debate

When it comes to pricing, both GitHub and GitLab offer free plans with unlimited public and private repositories, an attractive feature for many users. However, a notable disparity becomes evident when examining the paid plans. The Premium plan for GitLab starts at $19 per user/month, offering advanced project management and code integrity controls. On the other hand, GitHub's Team plan begins at just $4 per user/month. Therefore, the choice may come down to the specific needs and budget of the user.

Understanding GitLab's Pricing Structure

GitLab's pricing structure is defined by its commitment to providing out-of-the-box functionality to its users. Its different plans are designed to cater to a variety of user needs, from basic to advanced. The pricing tiers reflect this, with higher tiers offering more comprehensive features and tools. These include industry-standard program and portfolio management capabilities, the ability to display DevOps data within the Plan, and the introduction of flexible, embeddable saved views and queries.

An Overview of GitHub's Pricing Model

GitHub's pricing model is geared towards a different set of priorities. While the platform does offer a range of plans, including the Ultimate plan, the focus is more on providing a flexible and customizable experience for users. The platform's pricing structure reflects this, with lower-cost plans offering basic functionality and higher-cost plans providing access to advanced features and tools. However, it's worth noting that some users may find GitHub's offering in certain areas, such as Portfolio Management and Team Planning, to be somewhat lacking compared to GitLab's.

GitHub vs GitLab: The 2024 Perspective

As we move into 2024, the debate between GitLab and GitHub continues to be relevant. Both platforms have evolved over the years, continually adding new features and refining existing ones to better serve their user bases. Looking ahead, users can expect both platforms to continue to innovate and adapt to the changing needs of developers and teams. The choice between GitLab and GitHub will thus remain a matter of personal preference, based on specific needs, budgets, and the value placed on certain features and capabilities.

As we navigate through the GitLab vs GitHub debate, future trends for GitHub in 2024 become an essential factor to consider. The platform is anticipated to continue its robust growth, enhancing its features and offerings to meet the evolving needs of developers worldwide. It is speculated that GitHub will focus more on improving its collaboration tools, making it easier for developers to work together on projects. There's also an expectation for advancement in security features, ensuring that code repositories are more secure and resilient against cyber threats. Furthermore, GitHub might also improve their integration with other tools and platforms, providing a more seamless user experience.

Projecting the Future of GitLab in 2024

On the other side of the GitLab vs GitHub argument, GitLab's projection for 2024 is equally promising. It is believed that GitLab will concentrate on expanding its suite of features to facilitate a more comprehensive and integrated DevOps experience. This could include enhancements in continuous integration and deployment tools, providing developers with more efficient and streamlined workflows. Also, GitLab might pay more attention to its self-hosted options, offering organizations more flexibility and control over their development environment. As part of its growth strategy, GitLab could also strengthen its efforts in customer support and community engagement, seeking to attract and retain more users.

GitHub vs GitLab: The Final Showdown

In the final showdown between GitHub and GitLab, there are several key considerations. Both platforms offer a high degree of functionality and flexibility, fulfilling different needs for different users. However, the decision between the two often comes down to the unique requirements of individual developers or organizations. Some might prefer GitHub's popularity and vast community, while others might lean towards GitLab's more extensive features and self-hosted options. Ultimately, the choice between GitHub and GitLab is not a matter of superiority, but a question of which platform best suits the specific needs of the user.

The Ultimate Decision: Choosing Between GitHub and GitLab

Making the ultimate decision between GitHub and GitLab involves a careful evaluation of several factors. These include the ability to collaborate on code, the ease of merging new branches, the availability of deployment tools, the management of multiple branches, and the provision of stringent security. For developers who prioritize collaboration, GitHub's larger community might be more appealing. However, for those who value comprehensive features and control, GitLab could be the preferred choice. Furthermore, the pricing models of both platforms also play a crucial role in the decision-making process. In the end, the choice between GitHub and GitLab should be informed by a careful assessment of individual or organizational needs and priorities.

Wrapping Up: The GitHub vs GitLab Conundrum

Understanding the distinction between Git, GitHub, and GitLab is essential when deciding between GitHub and GitLab. These names may seem similar, but they each represent different aspects of the software development lifecycle. Git is a version control system that enables multiple developers to work on software projects simultaneously. It's the foundation upon which GitHub and GitLab, two popular repository hosting platforms, are built. Each platform, boasting millions of users, offers unique features designed to streamline the software development process.

GitHub, with over 30 million users and 100 million GitHub projects, is renowned for its robust planning and tracking features, making it popular among developers worldwide. On the other hand, GitLab, a powerful DevSecOps platform with a user base in the millions, is prized for its comprehensive integration of the entire software development lifecycle, from planning to deployment. GitHub's connection to Microsoft and GitLab's compatibility with Google Cloud further highlight the unique strengths each platform brings to the table. In the end, choosing between these development platforms should be guided by your specific needs and requirements.

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Kacper Rafalski

Kacper is an experienced digital marketing manager with core expertise built around search engine...
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