From RCS to Mercurial

I’ve been a happy user of RCS for years (in fact, my software engineering course at university was held by Walter Tichy, the original author of RCS). The good old Revision Control System may be a dinosaur, but it served me well for my configuration files and scripts.

Over the last few years, however, new and fancy revision control systems have entered the scene. My current choice is Mercurial, because it’s easy to use, popular, and well documented.

Update: Mercurial now supports CVS conversion without using Taylor. See this blog posting or the comments below for instructions.

Since I needed some data to experiment with, I decided to switch my old RCS files over to Mercurial. Of course I wanted to keep the revision history, so a migration path was needed. For the conversion I used Tailor, a tool for converting between various version control systems. RCS is a bit dated, so it isn’t supported directly. But since the RCS file format is used in CVS, too, the natural upgrade path lead me to CVS and from there to Mercurial. This article shows how the conversion can be done.

So, first of all, we create a fresh local CVS repository somewhere:

    cvs -d /var/tmp/cvsroot init

The next step is to create a module inside the repository (scripts in this case), to create the desired directory structure (none in the example) and copy the RCS files there. The RCS files shouldn’t be locked as this could cause trouble.

    cd /var/tmp/cvsroot
    mkdir scripts
    cd scripts
    cp /path/to/repo/servehttp,v .
    cp /path/to/repo/b,v .

If you have a large number of files, it might be a good idea to automatize this using a script. Note that usually it’s no good idea to manipulate a CVS repository manually, but this is only for conversion. To make sure everything worked, we can check out the new module:

    cvs -d :local:/var/tmp/cvsroot co scripts

If everything worked as expected, we have a fully functional CVS repository that can be converted using Tailor.

Unfortunately, tailor-0.9.28 doesn’t work together with Mercurial 0.9.4, which is exactly the situation you find on Ubuntu 7.10. This incompatibility has already been fixed in tailor-0.9.30 and fortunately, you don’t have to install the new version. Extracting the tarball and executing the script from there works fine.

    python tailor -v --source-kind cvs --target-kind hg 
      --repository :local:/var/tmp/cvsroot 
      --module scripts --start-revision INITIAL > scripts.tailor

This creates a configuration file named scripts.tailor that has to be adjusted manually before the actual conversion. According to the documentation the purpose of the call above is to generate a template configuration file.

The configuration file should look like this:

    verbose = True

    target = hg:target
    start-revision = INITIAL
    root-directory = /tmp/tailor-0.9.30
    state-file = tailor.state
    source = cvs:source
    subdir = scripts
    patch-name-format =


    module = scripts
    repository = :local:/var/tmp/cvsroot

The defaults should mostly be finde, all I changed was the subdir setting and the patch-name-format to get better revision logs. More information about this can be found in the Mercurial wiki.

After adjusting the configuration it’s time to actually create the new Mercurial repository (this may take a while):

    python tailor --configfile scripts.tailor

We change to the created repository and make sure all revisions have been migrated:

    cd scripts
    hg log

That’s it. You can remove the CVS directory as soon as you’re confident that everything worked as expected. As a last step you might want to update the .hgignore file.

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5 Responses to From RCS to Mercurial

  1. Dale says:

    Thanks – this is exactly the kind of document I needed. I’ve converted a few repositories now :)

  2. mafr says:

    Great, I’m glad it was useful to someone!

    RCS to Mercurial isn’t exactly a very common use case after all :)

  3. whorfin says:

    Here’s a much easier [and faster] way. Thanks for this,
    it got me started on the path, I’m an old RCS fart.

    First, you’ll need to make sure “convert” is active by adding this to your .hgrc

    Now, to follow your conventions:
    mkdir /var/tmp/mercurial
    mkdir /var/tmp/mercurial/cvsroot
    cvs -d /var/tmp/mercurial/cvsroot init
    cd /var/tmp/mercurial/cvsroot
    [and do all that jazz making a “script” subdir, copying ,v files, etc]
    cd /var/tmp/mercurial
    cvs -d :local:/var/tmp/mercurial/cvsroot co script

    so now you have “script” as a sibling of cvsroot, run convert:

    hg convert script

    and now, behold – hg-script will be your new mercurial repository

    cd hg-script
    hg status
    yep, all there, but need to add
    hg add
    hg commit

    and yer done

  4. mafr says:

    Great, thanks a lot for sharing! I still got some RCS repositories left, so I’ll give it a try :)

  5. Zen of Linux says:

    Hello Matthias,

    good to know there is a migration path from RCS to Mercurial. I’ve just done a writeup about how great hg is, but doing so wondered what the future will bring for a few older rcs repositories.

    A quick lookup at a major search engine brought me over to your post and gave me this good feeling of “oh yes, we can do a migration any time…” Even the idea of continuing use of trusty rcs for simpler tasks appears future proof when knowing that a switch to hg will always be possible without losing rcs revisions information. Thanks!

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