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Dan Luu: Advantages of monolithic version control

Simplified organization

With multiple repos, you typically either have one project per repo, or an umbrella of related projects per repo, but that forces you to define what a “project” is for your particular team or company, and it sometimes forces you to split and merge repos for reasons that are pure overhead. For example, having to split a project because it’s too big or has too much history for your VCS is not optimal.

With a monorepo, projects can be organized and grouped together in whatever way you find to be most logically consistent, and not just because your version control system forces you to organize things in a particular way. Using a single repo also reduces overhead from managing dependencies.

A side effect of the simplified organization is that it’s easier to navigate projects. The monorepos I’ve used let you essentially navigate as if everything is on a networked file system, re-using the idiom that’s used to navigate within projects. Multi repo setups usually have two separate levels of navigation – the filesystem idiom that’s used inside projects, and then a meta-level for navigating between projects.

A side effect of that side effect is that, with monorepos, it’s often the case that it’s very easy to get a dev environment set up to run builds and tests. If you expect to be able to navigate between projects with the equivalent of cd, you also expect to be able to do cd; make. Since it seems weird for that to not work, it usually works, and whatever tooling effort is necessary to make it work gets done1. While it’s technically possible to get that kind of ease in multiple repos, it’s not as natural, which means that the necessary work isn’t done as often.

Dan Luu

npm: lerna
Tool for manageing JavaScript projects with multiple packages

While developing Babel I followed a monorepo approach where the entire project was split into individual packages but everything lived in the same repo. This was great. It allowed super easy modularisation which meant the core was easier to approach and meant others could use the useful parts of Babel in their own projects.

This tool was abstracted out of that and deals with bootstrapping packages by linking them together as well as publishing them to npm. You can see the Babel repo for an example of a large Lerna project.



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