GitHub vs. GitLab

Kenny DuMez
Kenny DuMez
Graphite software engineer

If you are planning to create software, one key tool you need is a version control system (VCS) to track and manage changes to your projects' source code over time. Git, a powerful VCS, allows developers to track changes and collaborate conveniently. GitHub and GitLab have both grown to be popular platforms for managing Git repositories and streamlining development workflows.

This article will help you explore these platforms and highlight their strengths, guiding you to choosing the right one for your team's requirements.

Launched in 2008, GitHub started as a platform specifically for code hosting, allowing developers to share and collaborate on open source projects using Git for version control. Over time, it evolved into a comprehensive developer platform, offering workflow and collaboration features beyond basic git hosting.

Some of GitHub's core features include Git repository hosting, which enables developers to track changes and collaborate; issues, which enable developers to track bugs, tasks, feature requests, and more; and pull requests, which are proposals to introduce a set of changes into a branch of a repository from another branch.

GitHub also offers project management capability for organizing tasks, wikis for creating collaborative documentation, and extensive integrations with third-party developer tools. Due to its popularity and position as an open source leader, GitHub hosts a vast and active open source community, making it a hub for open source development and collaboration.

Started in 2011, GitLab emerged as an open source alternative to GitHub, initially focusing on similar version control functionalities. However, over time, GitLab's vision diverged, and it aimed to become a complete DevOps platform, integrating development, operations, and security throughout the software development lifecycle.

Beyond core Git functionalities, GitLab offers built-in continuous integration, continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines for automating code building, testing, and deployment. Like GitHub's issues, GitLab's issue tracking allows teams to manage bugs, tasks, and feature requests in a centralized location.

A key advantage of GitLab is the option for self-hosting on the free plan, giving organizations complete control over their data and platform configuration. GitLab's focus on DevOps workflows provides a comprehensive set of tools for development teams aiming to bring order to their software delivery process.

Here are a few key areas in which GitHub and GitLab differ from each other:

  • Feature set: GitHub emphasizes collaboration features such as pull requests, code review, and project management tools, making it ideal for teams working together on code. GitLab leans more toward DevOps, offering built-in CI/CD pipelines, container registry, and Kubernetes integration for a more streamlined software delivery process. There's some overlap in core functionalities (code repositories and pull requests), but there are differences in the aspects focused on (collaboration vs. DevOps).
  • Pricing: Both offer free plans with unlimited public and private repositories, which are great for small teams or those just trying out the platform. However, these free plans limit storage and advanced features. In paid plans, GitHub focuses on increased storage, security, and deployment controls, while GitLab goes for advanced CI/CD, dedicated support, and robust security solutions.
  • Self-hosting: GitLab offers self-hosting in its free plan, while GitHub requires you to sign up for an Enterprise plan to self-host your repositories. If you are a small team looking for a free self-hosting solution, GitLab makes sense for you. However, if you are looking for an advanced VCS and have a larger budget available, you can consider GitHub's Enterprise Server since, in GitLab, you will have to pay for features such as push rules, code quality reports, and multiple issue assignees, too.
  • Integrations: Both platforms offer a wide range of integrations with third-party developer tools and services. However, GitHub might have a slight advantage due to its larger user base and established integrations with various tools.

While GitLab and GitHub have very similar offerings, the final choice comes down to a few key factors. For open source projects and collaborative coding workflows, GitHub's large community and user-friendly interface might be better. If your focus is on DevOps or self-hosting or if you are looking for a free solution with all essential features, GitLab might make more sense for you. Consider defining your requirements clearly and even trying out both platforms to see which fits best.

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