GitLab Vs GitHub: Key Differences, Similarities, And Which One To Choose?

Brian Bojan Dordevic
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Are you wrestling with the question of GitLab vs GitHub, trying to determine which platform would be the best fit for you and your team? Choosing between these prominent platforms is a common problem in software development and git repository management.

As both GitLab and GitHub offer potent tools for version control, issue tracking, and collaborative workflows, it’s no surprise that the choice isn’t straightforward. However, the nuances between these two cloud platforms can be instrumental in improving your team’s productivity and streamlining your development process.

By understanding the difference between GitLab and GitHub, you can pick the platform that resonates with your needs and goals.

So, let’s dive deep into the heart of the matter, dissecting the key features, the pricing, and the crucial similarities and differences between GitLab and GitHub. With this information, you’ll be well-equipped to make the right choice.

Table of Contents:

Understanding The Basics Of Git And Cloud-Based Git Repositories

Git is an open-source version control system (VCS) that has revolutionized the software development process. Imagine working on your software project and being able to take “snapshots” of its progression at any point. That’s what Git enables. It’s like having a time machine for your software development journey – you can revisit any point and see exactly what changes were made.

Git stands apart from traditional control systems by empowering you to work on different software branches simultaneously. Think of these branches as parallel universes where you can play with different features or fixes without disrupting the mainline development. Once satisfied with a branch, you can merge it into the main line, knowing it’s been thoroughly tested and proven.

So, Git is like having your personal software development playground. It’s an invaluable tool for teams focused on feature-based development or continuous improvement. However, with Git, everything happens locally on your computer.

That’s where cloud-based Git repositories like GitLab and GitHub come into play. These platforms are like a grand expansion of your playground, providing unlimited cloud-based storage for your repositories. Cloud repository acts as a bridge connecting developers worldwide, fostering easy collaboration on code without the need for manual sharing or setting up a virtual Local Area Network (LAN).

GitLab and GitHub are not just about cloud storage, though. They take the basic Git functionality and elevate it by integrating collaboration, deployment, and project management features.

In this GitLab vs GitHub article, I’ll explain the similarities and differences between these platforms, so you can decide which suits you and your team better.

GitLab vs GitHub: The Basics You Must Know

Ready to delve into the heart of the matter? Let’s equip ourselves with basic knowledge about GitHub vs GitLab first. 

What Is GitLab?

GitLab is much more than just a cloud-based Git repository. Sure, it started as a humble open-source alternative to GitHub, focusing on repository management. But under the vision of its creator, Dmitriy Zaporozhets, and current CEO, Sid Sijbrandij, GitLab has evolved into a holistic DevOps and DevSecOps platform.

From its roots as a project geared towards fostering collaboration, GitLab has always had Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) at its core. It’s not just about hosting your code; it’s about streamlining your software development process and boosting productivity.

Today, GitLab offers many DevOps features, including continuous integration, application security testing, app deployment tools, and crucial project management capabilities. These features equip teams to monitor, test, and deploy their code effectively and manage their members efficiently.

In essence, GitLab is an all-in-one platform where software development, testing, and deployment happen cohesively. It helps teams reduce product life cycles and create more customer value.

As GitLab grew in popularity, it split into two code bases:

  • The Community edition for individuals and open-source projects
  • The Enterprise edition for businesses

Despite its growth, GitLab has remained true to its open-source roots, offering a free version alongside its paid Software as a Service (SaaS) plans.

Simply put, GitLab is not just a Git version control system for your software’s source code; it’s a comprehensive platform that enhances the collaborative workflow and propels your software development process. It has come a long way from its simple origins and is now a robust platform that’s contributing significantly to the world of software development.

What Is GitHub?

In the realm of cloud-based Git platforms, GitHub reigns as one of the pioneers. It has been providing developers with a robust platform for hosting, monitoring, and managing their code changes since its inception in 2008. But GitHub, founded by Chris Wanstrath, P. J. Hyett, Tom Preston-Werner, and Scott Chacon, has become more than just a code repository.

GitHub has become so intertwined with Git that, for many, it’s almost a synonym. It hosts a vast majority of open-source code repositories, which proves its popularity and robustness. In the first year of its launch, it hosted an impressive number of 46,000 repositories, which doubled by the end of the second year. These figures are indicative of its strong community of developers.

Unlike GitLab’s “ready-made” approach, GitHub encourages its vibrant community of developers to flex their creativity. It offers a marketplace for apps and integrations, empowering developers to tailor their development environment to their needs. GitHub focuses on flexibility, allowing developers to customize their software development journey.

An important turning point in GitHub’s journey was its acquisition by Microsoft in 2018. This acquisition ushered in significant changes, including the provision of free private repositories without limitations and the introduction of CI/CD integration in late 2019. Even though GitHub was late to the CI/CD game compared to GitLab, developers had been using Jenkins with their GitHub repositories for a long time.

Is The Same Company Behind Both GitLab and GitHub?

In the spirit of dispelling misconceptions, let me clarify – no, GitLab and GitHub are not owned by the same company. They might be fierce competitors in the domain of Git repository management, but they originate from two entirely different entities.

GitLab Inc., with its remote-first approach, is a privately owned company. As of 2023, it boasts a team of 2,170 employees spread across the globe, according to Macrotrends. The company’s ethos of flexibility and collaboration is reflected in its structure and work culture. It’s worth noting that despite its size, GitLab Inc. has managed to maintain the essence of a fully remote company.

On the other hand, GitHub is a subsidiary of tech giant Microsoft. Its main office resides in the heart of San Francisco, and it currently has around 5,210 employees worldwide, according to Craft. The acquisition by Microsoft has infused GitHub with the resources and backing of one of the world’s most renowned tech companies.

GitLab and GitHub similarities.

GitLab vs GitHub: What Makes Them Similar?

As the owner of a web development agency in Chicago, I have a chance to see both GitLab and GitHub in action. And I can tell you that while those are two completely different platforms, there are also many similarities GitLab and GitHub share.

Quick Overview – Major Features Are Similar On Both GitLab and GitHub

Despite their differences, both GitLab and GitHub offer a robust suite of features designed to facilitate efficient software development and version control. Here’s a quick comparison to highlight how each platform stacks up:

  • Git Functionality: Both GitLab and GitHub come equipped with full-fledged Git functionality, providing the bedrock for your project’s version control system.
  • Self-hosted Version: You can opt for self-hosting with both GitLab and GitHub. However, with GitHub, this option comes only with the Enterprise plan.
  • Continuous Integration and Delivery (CI/CD): GitLab has built-in CI/CD, while GitHub necessitates the use of third-party applications or its Actions feature.
  • Preview Code Changes: Both GitLab and GitHub offer the functionality to preview code changes before committing them, fostering a more precise development process.
  • Issue Tracker: They both provide issue-tracking features, helping teams stay organized and manage bugs or improvements systematically.
  • Code Review: Both platforms have tools for conducting code reviews, promoting high-quality code, and a collaborative culture.
  • Project Management Boards: Both GitLab and GitHub offer project management boards, enabling visual tracking of tasks and milestones.
  • Team Discussions: You can conduct team discussions on both platforms, facilitating a clear, consolidated, and contextual communication trail.
  • Multiple Issue Assignees: With GitLab, this is available on paid plans, while GitHub allows it only for public repositories on the free plan.
  • Security and Compliance Tools: Both GitLab and GitHub emphasize security and compliance, although the specific tools and offerings vary.
  • Wiki-based Documentation: Both platforms allow you to create and maintain documentation using their wiki feature, ensuring that knowledge is accessible and up-to-date.
  • Load Performance Testing: Both platforms support load performance testing, but GitLab offers this only in the paid plan, whereas GitHub requires an additional app.
  • Time Tracking: GitLab has an inbuilt time tracking feature, while GitHub requires a third-party app.
  • Browser Performance Testing: Similar to load performance testing, this feature is available in GitLab’s paid plan, while GitHub requires an app.
  • Iterations and Sprint Planning: You can plan your iterations and sprints, including burndown charts, with GitLab’s paid plan and GitHub’s app-based feature.
  • Issue Dependencies: This feature is available in GitLab’s paid plan, while GitHub provides it across different plans.

As you can see, both GitLab and GitHub offer a comprehensive set of features and share many configuration similarities. However, the way to access and utilize these features can vary, with GitHub often requiring third-party integrations or apps. We will delve deeper into these differences in the coming sections so that you can get a clearer picture of the GitLab vs GitHub landscape.

Git Functionality and Version Control Are Mostly The Same

At their core, both GitLab and GitHub serve as comprehensive DevOps platforms. They offer extensive Git functionality and robust version control capabilities. The essential Git commands are mostly identical across the two platforms, including:

Branch

This command enables developers to create an independent line of development, potentially representing a minor feature, a developmental version, or the main branch.

Fork

A fork is essentially a personal copy of a code repository. It offers developers a sandbox environment to experiment with, even if they’re not part of the original development team. Modifications made within a fork can later be proposed to be merged with another branch.

Pull

On GitHub, a pull request is a proposed set of code changes to an edited branch. Once approved, it integrates these alterations into the corresponding branch. Typically, a senior developer or QA team reviews and tests any changes before incorporating them into the main branch.

Merge

GitLab uses the term ‘merge’ instead of ‘pull request,’ but the functionality remains identical.

Both GitLab and GitHub adhere to version control concepts that allow you to easily navigate different versions of your code. Sometimes, there may be instances when you need to discard changes in your working directory and forcefully checkout a branch, overriding any local changes. This is where the ‘Git force checkout’ comes into play.

Beyond these foundational functionalities, including the ability to push an empty commit in Git, both platforms provide a comprehensive set of features aimed at streamlining the software development process. This encompasses various collaboration, code review, and project management tools that aid in creating an efficient DevOps workflow.

However, while the Git functionality might be similar, the recommended workflows utilizing these features can significantly vary between GitLab and GitHub. Both platforms have different perspectives on what constitutes an ideal software development workflow. This is a crucial factor to consider, especially if you’re eyeing the Ultimate Plan on GitLab or a similar tier on GitHub.

Both Platforms Provide Collaboration and Code Review Tools

Effective collaboration and detailed code reviews are at the heart of every successful development project, and both GitLab and GitHub recognize this. That’s why these platforms have integrated powerful collaboration and code review tools into their free versions.

For instance, both platforms facilitate real-time discussions on pull (or merge) requests, allowing team members to propose changes and provide a comprehensive visual overview of code differences. These tools illuminate all modifications, making code review a seamless process for the reviewer. The likelihood of serious errors or potential security vulnerabilities cropping up in the production code is significantly reduced by catching mistakes early on.

GitLab’s code review capabilities are on par with GitHub’s. Both platforms extend beyond simple code collaboration to offer fundamental project management tools, each with unique capabilities. For instance, GitLab allows you to establish a logical hierarchy among issues, generate task lists and descriptions, and assign different developers to separate branches. It also equips project managers with visualization tools, including progress tracking via burndown charts.

On the other hand, GitHub enables you to categorize issues, pull requests, and notes into specific projects. Furthermore, you can set and track project milestones and analyze productivity through various charts and reports. To enhance the platform’s versatility further, GitHub provides access to over 500 project management apps and integrations via its marketplace.

Regardless of whether you lean towards the GitHub or GitLab, both platforms serve as comprehensive solutions that cater to the needs of a well-rounded DevOps workflow.

Free Static Web Pages

GitHub and GitLab both furnish their users with the capability to host free static web pages, providing a public face for your software project and repository. This feature allows developers to effortlessly fork the project and commence with their experiments and modifications.

GitHub provides a basic setup tutorial with a few minimalist themes to assist in creating your site. It’s important to note that while you cannot directly transfer your WordPress site to GitHub or GitLab, you can maintain version control in WordPress with the correct setup. As an experienced WordPress developer in Chicago, I’d be more than happy to assist you with it.

Unlimited Repositories Come With Free Plans

Both GitHub and GitLab deliver the boon of unlimited repositories in their free plans, meaning you can house an infinite number of GitHub repositories or GitLab repositories without worrying about any constraints. Whether you want to keep your work public or prefer to have private projects, both platforms give you options.

However, the privilege of certain advanced management tools, enhanced security measures, and compliance features is reserved for the premium plans. These sophisticated tools are crucial to an enterprise’s DevOps platform but might not hold the same importance for small teams and individual developers.

So, although GitHub and GitLab seem very much alike, especially in their provision of unlimited repositories, there are nuanced differences that could impact your DevOps workflow. In order to choose the ultimate plan that perfectly fits you, it’s essential to delve deeper into the specifics of these Git platforms.

GitLab Vs GitHub: What Makes Them Different?

While GitHub and GitLab share many similarities as comprehensive DevOps platforms, they diverge on certain features, workflows, and pricing strategies. Delving into these differences — from project management approaches to integration capabilities and the business models underpinning their respective offerings — will shed more light on which platform best fits your needs. Let’s explore these distinct aspects in detail.

Continuous Integration Is Easier On GitLab

Among the key distinguishing factors is GitLab’s commitment to Continuous Integration (CI) and a Continuous Delivery (CD) oriented DevOps workflow. GitLab’s platform makes these version control concepts effortless to implement.

GitLab’s CI tools enable you to construct, stage, and deploy code automatically, bypassing the need for manual updates or cumbersome, custom-built integrations. If you use a Platform as a Service (PaaS) solution like Kubernetes, GitLab’s integration facilitates automatic deployment, staging, testing, and scaling of your applications.

This means your development team can concentrate on frequently delivering minor updates rather than amassing them into large releases. A pivotal element facilitating this is the automated testing tool that scans code for potential security risks seamlessly.

While you can establish a CI/CD workflow with GitHub, it necessitates the use of a third-party CI tool like TravisCI or CircleCI. GitHub does not offer the same extensive platform of CI features that interact directly with your GitHub repository.

Different Workflows – Speed vs Reliability

While both GitHub and GitLab share virtually identical Git features and technologies, they recommend different workflow configurations. GitHub values speed, and GitLab emphasizes reliability.

GitHub promotes a fast, feature-focused development approach, swiftly merging new branches with the main branch, an ideal development workflow for smaller Agile teams and projects. The main branch is always deployment-ready, meaning in case of any issues, the previous version can be reinstated quickly, maintaining the status quo.

On the other hand, GitLab’s workflow involves creating multiple stable branches beyond the master, generally including production and pre-production. This leads to a multi-step testing process, where a single code review upon the merge request doesn’t suffice. While this can slow down the process for smaller teams, it provides more security and reliability, especially with a dedicated QA team. It allows your R&D team to work freely on new features without worrying about testing every minute code change.

While some might see GitLab as a more security-conscious Git platform due to this approach, it’s worth noting that GitHub also supports this workflow – it just doesn’t officially recommend it.

And if you’re wondering “how can a DevOps team take advantage of artificial intelligence” using GitLab or GitHub, the answer is positive for both platforms. GitHub’s Copilot is an AI pair programmer that helps to suggest new code, and GitLab is also working on AI-powered features.

GitLab Is a Complete Platform – GitHub Offers More Freedom (With Cost)

GitLab positions itself as a comprehensive, out-of-the-box DevOps platform, while GitHub provides more freedom to build your own platform, although with potentially additional costs.

This platform is packed with default features such as continuous integration, time tracking, and backups, providing a seamless DevOps workflow without necessitating external integrations. However, it doesn’t completely exclude external applications – it supports integrations with Asana, Jira, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Gmail, and over 30 other platforms.

In contrast, GitHub adopts a more modular approach. You can find 374 free apps on its marketplace and numerous paid options. This vast array of integrations offers flexibility to customize your GitHub repository to your specific needs, but some of GitLab’s default features require third-party apps on GitHub. For instance, while GitLab has built-in continuous integration, you might need a free CI app like Jenkins on GitHub. GitHub Actions allow for CI/CD automation without external tools, but the oversight level might not be as comprehensive as on GitLab.

It’s crucial to note that even if a GitHub app is free, the corresponding third-party service might entail additional costs. This trade-off between a pre-packaged solution and the freedom to customize is a critical differentiator between the two platforms.

Hosting a Private Server

While both GitLab and GitHub offer server hosting options, there’s a fundamental difference in accessibility. GitLab, originating as a self-hosted open source platform, allows you to host a private version on your virtual machines even with its free plan.

On the other hand, GitHub reserves this capability for its enterprise-level plans, making self-hosting exclusive to larger organizations or teams willing to invest in GitHub’s premium offering. This divergence underscores GitLab’s commitment to accessibility and openness from its inception.

Open-Source

Both GitLab and GitHub demonstrate a strong affinity for open-source projects, albeit in slightly different ways. GitLab, which itself is open source software, offers organizations or small teams working on open-source software free access to its enterprise features and up to 50,000 CI minutes. Its approach follows an open-core business model wherein the GitLab Community Edition is open source and free, while the Enterprise Edition offers more features and support.

Conversely, GitHub, which integrates some open-source code, isn’t entirely an open-source project. However, it provides a vast playground for open source developers and routinely encourages contributions to open source projects.

Fundamentally, both platforms extend web-based repositories with open-source, Git-based code management. So, for those seeking basic Git functionality coupled with the assurance of a reliable, externally managed Git service, both platforms offer a suitable environment.

Pricing Difference Between GitHub And GitLab

The pricing models for GitHub and GitLab highlight some significant differences between these platforms. Both offer free plans with unlimited public and private repositories, ideal for individual programmers or small teams. However, if you’re part of an organization where coding is a significant aspect of your business operations, you’ll likely need more.

GitLab’s Premium plan, priced at $19 per user/month, caters to managers by providing access to project management and code integrity controls. Their Ultimate plan, priced at a heftier $99 per user/month, competes directly with the GitHub Enterprise plan in terms of security and compliance tools.

On the other hand, GitHub’s pricing is more tiered. Their Team plan, starting at $4 per user/month, focuses on enhanced collaboration tools, mainly for private repositories, as well as security and compliance features. For more advanced functionalities, GitHub offers the Enterprise plan, costing $21 per user/month.

However, drawing direct price comparisons between GitLab vs GitHub can be tricky due to the differences in the specifics of what they offer. I advise you to start with their free plans to get a feel of each platform’s workflow is recommended before making a decision. Ultimately, the choice between GitLab and GitHub should not merely hinge on cost. Try understanding which version control system offers tools and services that better suit your software development process.

GitHub vs GitLab – Which Is The Better Option For You?

When choosing between “GitLab vs GitHub,” the “better” option is subjective and depends on your team’s unique needs, goals, and existing workflows. I’ve been using both platforms, and I can tell you that they both offer compelling features. But their application can vary considerably.

GitLab is the ideal choice if you’re looking for out-of-the-box functionality and self-hosting capabilities. It stands out with a comprehensive platform that supports a DevOps workflow, making it a thoughtful and cost-effective choice, especially as you can get started for free without depending on other paid services. It’s also a preferred choice for self-hosted private repositories, as you can set these up without incurring a monthly subscription fee. For open-source projects, GitLab’s free access to premium features is another benefit.

On the other hand, GitHub commands an extensive array of integrations and apps, potentially over 300 more than GitLab. This breadth can make GitHub an obvious choice if your team frequently uses a tool that only integrates with this platform. For commercial projects, GitHub’s enterprise plan is competitively priced, offering significant value. Also, if you focus on a broader outreach to active open-source developers, GitHub’s extensive community is a valuable asset.

So, when choosing between “GitLab vs GitHub,” you must understand your team’s needs, evaluate both platforms based on your specific use cases, and then decide which offers the most beneficial combination of features, cost, and integrations. The right choice will make web development less stressful for you and your team.

In some cases, a trial of both platforms could provide valuable insights to guide your final decision. After all, there’s a reason both GitHub and GitLab have a huge user base.

Conclusion

In reflecting on our deep dive into the “GitHub vs GitLab” debate, I want to share from my own experience. Each platform shines in its own way, with distinct features and capabilities tailored to different needs and goals. Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed teams excelling on both platforms. It all comes down to your unique needs and the desired workflow.

You might be sitting there now, having absorbed all this information, and still find yourself undecided. That’s completely normal! It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. The platform you choose profoundly impacts your team’s workflows, your efficiency, and ultimately your project’s success.

If all of this still sounds overwhelming to you, feel free to schedule a call with me so I can help you and your operation teams find the best option and enhance your development journey.

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