Know the Technical Difference Between GitHub vs GitLab

Version control has become a critical tool for software teams, allowing developers to collaborate asynchronously on code. Rather than emailing files back and forth or working on isolated copies, version control like Git enables developers to branch off, work independently, and merge changes back to a shared codebase. This parallel workflow fueled the rise of hosted Git services like GitHub and GitLab. When comparing GitLab vs GitHub, both platforms offer similar version control functionalities but differ in their features, integrations, and pricing models, leading teams to choose the one that best fits their specific needs and preferences.

These SaaS platforms made version control collaboration seamless by providing cloud repositories, facilitating code review, automating builds, and more. GitHub pioneered the space, offering free accounts and a simple UI that enabled open source to flourish. However, GitLab has emerged as a formidable competitor, with an integrated DevOps platform tailored for enterprises.

The choice between GitLab and GitHub involves evaluating unique strengths around the ecosystem, CI/CD features, security, integrations, and pricing models. As engineering teams grow, most leverage both platforms for version control in some capacity. While GitHub leads in popularity, GitLab offers enterprise-grade capabilities around code collaboration and continuous integration that may be a better long-term fit for some organizations.

What is Git?

Git is an open-source distributed version control system developed in 2005 by Linus Torvalds – the creator of Linux. It enables developers to keep track of changes made to code over time. Git tracks the changes by taking code snapshots each time a change occurs.

Key features and capabilities of Git include:

  • Distributed Architecture: Git follows a distributed architecture, with every developer having a complete local copy of the code repository with entire history and version tracking capabilities. It allows developers to work offline and without relying on a central server.
  • Branching and Merging: Git makes it easy to create independent branches to experiment with new features without impacting the main codebase. Changes made on branches can be easily merged back to the main branch.
  • Version History: Git maintains the complete version history of code changes, enabling easy rollback or reference to old versions if needed.
  • Open Source: Git is open, making it accessible to all developers. A large community of developers actively maintains the source code.
While Git provides indispensable version control capabilities, managing Git repositories directly on local servers comes with challenges. It led to the rise of cloud-based Git repository hosting services like GitHub and GitLab.

Cloud-based Git Repositories

The rise of cloud-based code collaboration has transformed how developers manage and share projects. Rather than relying on in-house servers, teams now utilize hosted Git platforms that provide robust version control capabilities without the overhead of maintaining infrastructure.

These cloud Git services bring key advantages:

  • Access repositories anywhere through a web browser – no need to be in the exact physical location as a server. It enables a distributed workforce.
  • Built-in collaboration features eliminate friction when working across time zones and locations. Code reviews, task management, wikis, and pull requests power modern development workflows.
  • Flexible permission schemes and role-based access provide fine-grained control over who can view, edit, merge, or administer repositories.
  • Integration with CI/CD pipelines, project boards, and chat tools creates an end-to-end dev environment tailored to team needs.
  • The reliability and scalability of cloud infrastructure mean high uptime and no worries about capacity planning.

With millions of users, GitHub and GitLab lead among the cloud Git hosting options. Their communities, third-party integrations, and rich features explain their popularity. At their core, they enable centralized collaboration while still retaining the distributed nature of Git itself.

Cloud repos have become the expected norm for software teams. They remove the drudgery of server maintenance and give developers the freedom to create from anywhere.

GitLab vs GitHub: The Basics

Before we compare features, let’s first briefly understand what GitHub and GitLab are at their core.

What is GitLab?

GitLab is a web-based DevOps platform delivered as a single application for managing Git repositories. It provides integrated CI/CD pipelines, issue tracking, reports, and more, as well as code hosting capabilities.

GitLab

Some key facts about GitLab:

  • Started in 2011 by Dmitriy Zaporozhets and Valery Sizov and is headquartered in San Francisco.
  • Available in free and paid tiers for individual developers and enterprise teams.
  • Used by Sony, NASA, Alibaba, IBM, SpaceX, Oracle, etc.
  • Provides unlimited private/public repositories and collaborators for all paid tiers.
  • Has over 30 million registered users.
  • GitLab Inc., the company behind GitLab, is valued at $6 billion as of July 2020.

Now that we know the basics of GitHub and GitLab, let’s compare them in-depth across various parameters like features, pricing, use cases, and pros and cons.

What is GitHub?

GitHub is a web-based platform built around Git for hosting and managing software projects. It provides developers with cloud-based Git repositories for storing, tracking, and collaborating on code.

Launched in 2008, GitHub has become the world’s largest developer community, with over 73 million users working across 200 million repositories.

GitHub

Some key facts about GitHub:

  • Created by Chris Wanstrath, PJ Hyett, Tom Preston-Werner, and Scott Chacon in 2008 and is headquartered in San Francisco.
  • Acquired by Microsoft in 2018 for $7.5 billion.
  • Provides free and paid plans for cloud-based Git repository hosting.
  • Used by individual developers, startups, and large enterprises like Google, Facebook, Amazon, SAP, IBM, PayPal, Uber, and more.
  • It has a large open-source community, with most open-source projects hosted on GitHub.

Extensive collaboration, code review, access control, project management, and CI/CD capabilities.

Pros and Cons of GitLab

Let’s first understand the key advantages and limitations of using GitLab:

Pros of GitLab

  • All-in-one DevOps Platform: GitLab goes beyond code hosting to provide an integrated solution for the entire DevOps lifecycle, including code hosting, CI/CD, monitoring, and more.
  • Unlimited Private Repositories: Paid GitLab plans provide unlimited private repositories and collaborators. It makes GitLab better suited for enterprises.
  • Built-in Container Registry: GitLab has an integrated container registry that enables easy management and deployment of docker containers.
  • Superior UI: Many users find GitLab’s modern, intuitive user interface easier to navigate than GitHub.
  • Native CI/CD: GitLab has a built-in CI/CD engine, providing a seamless coder for deployment workflows.
  • Cost-effective: GitLab’s higher tier plans provide more value than GitHub’s price.

Cons of GitLab

  • Steep Learning Curve: GitLab has a vast scope with many integrated tools. Learning to leverage all of GitLab’s capabilities requires time.
  • Smaller Community: GitHub has a much larger user community of over 73 million than GitLab’s 30 million. For open-source projects, GitHub is usually preferred.
  • No Free Private Repos: Free GitHub accounts get unlimited private repositories, unlike GitLab, which limits you to public repos on the free tier.

Pros and Cons of GitHub

Now let’s look at the key advantages and limitations of GitHub:

Pros of GitHub

  • Largest Developer Community: As the world’s largest developer hub with over 73 million users, GitHub makes collaborating on projects more accessible.
  • Popularity with Open Source: Most open-source projects are hosted on GitHub, making it the de facto platform for the open-source community.
  • Third-party Integrations: GitHub provides an extensive integrations directory with 1000+ third-party apps and tools that extend its capabilities.
  • GitHub Pages: Hosting static websites via GitHub Pages is easy and free.
  • GitHub Actions: Automate software workflows to build end-to-end CI/CD pipelines with GitHub Actions.
  • GitHub Marketplace: Discover and purchase cloud tools from Microsoft, AWS, Google Cloud, etc on the GitHub Marketplace.

Cons of GitHub

  • No Integrated Tools: GitHub provides code hosting capabilities, unlike GitLab. Additional tools for CI/CD monitoring have to be acquired separately.
  • Complex Pricing: GitHub’s pricing and licensing models are relatively complex, with repo limits and varying levels of access controls.
  • No On-prem Option: GitHub is only a SaaS (cloud-based) offering. GitLab offers both SaaS and on-prem options.
  • Limited Support Options: GitHub provides limited professional services and premium support options compared to GitLab.

GitLab vs GitHub: Similarities

Despite being competitors, GitLab and GitHub have several similarities:

  • Both provide cloud-based Git repositories for managing source code.
  • Offer free and paid plans tailored for individuals, teams, and enterprises.
  • Provide issue-tracking tools to manage bugs/feature requests.
  • Have wikis and documentation capabilities for projects.
  • Enable pull requests for code reviews.
  • Have role-based access control to manage user permissions.
  • Offer APIs and webhook integrations.
  • They are backed by well-funded companies, Microsoft and GitLab, respectively.
  • Have mobile apps to access repositories on the go.

So, for basic code hosting and collaboration, GitHub and GitLab offer similar capabilities. The differences lie in their additional features, tools, and integrations.

GitLab vs GitHub: Key Differences

Let’s look at some of the key differences between GitHub and GitLab:

GitLab GitHub
Offers an integrated DevOps platform with built-in CI/CD, monitoring, and more. Focused solely on code hosting capabilities.
Has unlimited private repositories and collaborators on paid plans. Has limited private repositories on free plans with per-user pricing for paid plans.
Integrated container registry. No built-in container registry.
CI/CD is part of GitLab. Uses GitHub Actions for CI/CD.
Issue boards and epics for enhanced project management. Issue boards are an add-on with GitHub Enterprise.
Comes with time-tracking functionality. Time tracking requires integration with third-party tools.
Has a greater focus on enterprise features. Originated as a platform for individual developers and OSS projects.
Offers both SaaS and self-managed enterprise editions. Available only as a SaaS offering.

Significant Key Differences between GitHub vs GitLab

  • Code Hosting
  • Integrated Tools
  • Project Management
  • Access Control
  • CI/CD
  • Deployment Options

Code Hosting

For core code hosting capabilities, GitHub and GitLab are comparable. But GitLab’s unlimited private repositories across paid tiers make it more scalable for large teams. For open-source projects, though, GitHub’s massive community gives it an edge.

Integrated Tools

GitLab delivers an integrated DevSecOps platform with CI/CD, monitoring, security scanning, and more built-in. GitHub relies heavily on third-party integrations for most additional capabilities.

Project Management

GitLab has more mature project management functionality like multiple issue boards, epics, roadmaps, time tracking, etc. GitHub project management features are still evolving.

Access Control

Both services provide role-based access control capabilities at the repository level. GitLab offers additional control, like environment-based access control.

CI/CD

GitLab comes integrated with its own CI/CD engine. GitHub requires using GitHub Actions to create CI/CD workflows. Each has its unique advantages.

Deployment Options

GitHub can only be used as a hosted SaaS service, while GitLab offers both cloud-hosted and self-managed enterprise versions. The latter allows hosting GitLab on your own servers or cloud infrastructure.

GitLab vs GitHub: Pricing

Pricing is an important criterion when comparing GitHub and GitLab. Let’s compare their pricing models:

GitLab’s Free Plan:

  • 400 mins CI/CD
  • 10GB storage
  • Unlimited public repos + collaborators

GitLab’s Starter Plan:

  • $19/month
  • Unlimited users
  • Unlimited repos
  • 2,500 CI/CD mins

GitLab’s Standard Plan:

  • $99/month
  • Unlimited users
  • Unlimited repos
  • 10,000 CI/CD mins

GitLab’s Premium Plan:

  • $199/month
  • Unlimited users
  • Unlimited repos 30,000 CI/CD mins

GitHub’s Free Plan:

  • Unlimited public repos
  • Unlimited private repos (max 3 collaborators)

GitHub’s Starter Plan:

  • $4/month (per user)
  • Unlimited private repos

GitHub’s Standard Plan:

  • $6/month (per user)
  • 2,000 Actions minutes/month
  • Advanced security and compliance
  • Advanced tools

GitHub’s Premium Plan:

  • $12/month (per user)
  • 3,000 Actions minutes/month
  • Advanced security and compliance
  • Advanced tools
  • Premium features

Key Differences Between Pricing

GitHub has unlimited private repositories on the Free plan but with a limit of 3 collaborators. GitLab limits you to only public repos on the Free plan.

  • GitHub pricing is per user, while GitLab prices tiers per instance, allowing unlimited users.
  • GitLab’s plans provide more value in terms of features than GitHub’s plans for the price.
  • GitLab Premium supports up to 30k CI/CD pipeline minutes compared to 3k on GitHub Premium.

GitHub Free may suffice if you need private repositories for a small team. But for larger teams and enterprise use, GitLab’s pricing provides better value. Also, note GitHub has separate pricing for Teams (slack-style communication).

GitLab vs GitHub: CI/CD Capabilities

CI/CD, i.e., continuous integration and delivery, has become integral to the DevOps toolchain. Both GitLab and GitHub offer strong CI/CD capabilities:

GitLab CI/CD

GitLab CI/CD is a powerful engine for software delivery embedded natively within GitLab. Features include:

  • It comes pre-configured – push the code to trigger CI/CD workflows.
  • Supports a wide range of languages and frameworks.
  • Schedule pipelines through a web interface or API.
  • Visualized pipeline graphs.
  • Traceability through logs.
  • Integrates with container registries.
  • Ability to deploy across multiple environments.
  • GitLab Auto DevOps provides pre-defined pipelines for faster setup.

GitHub Actions

GitHub Actions provides workflow automation capabilities to build end-to-end CI/CD pipelines directly integrated with your repositories. Features include:

  • Automate every step in your software delivery processes.
  • Get started fast with pre-built actions and templates.
  • Built-in support for JavaScript, Python, Java, Ruby, and PHP runtimes.
  • Share and reuse workflows across repositories.
  • Monitor workflow runs on the GitHub interface.

Both tools support commonly used languages/frameworks, cloud platforms, docker integration, reporting, etc. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses regarding ergonomics, configuration, templates, governance, etc.

For most use cases, either GitHub Actions or GitLab CI/CD will suffice based on project preference. In some cases, integration between the two is also an option.

GitHub vs GitLab vs Bitbucket

Feature GitHub GitLab Bitbucket
Code hosting Yes Yes Yes
Issue tracking Yes Yes Yes
Pull requests Yes Yes Yes
Wikis/Documentation Yes Yes Yes
Access controls Yes Yes Yes
CI/CD pipelines Via GitHub Actions Built-in Via Pipelines
Container registry Via GitHub Packages Built-in Via Bitbucket Pipelines
Code search Yes Yes Yes
Code scanning Yes Yes Yes
Snippets Yes Yes Yes
Webhooks & API Yes Yes Yes
Markdown support Yes Yes Yes
GraphQL API Yes Yes Yes
Desktop apps Yes Yes Yes
Mobile apps Yes Yes Yes

GitLab vs GitHub: Which Is The Best Option?

So which is better, GitHub vs GitLab? There is no unanimous answer, as both have their pros and cons.

GitHub is the de facto platform for open-source projects because that’s where most of the OS community is already. The network effects are enormous.

For private repositories used within teams, GitLab has some advantages regarding integrated DevOps tools, unlimited private repos on paid plans, more enterprise-friendly features, etc.

Small teams may find GitHub’s free private repositories sufficient, but larger teams will benefit from GitLab’s capabilities and pricing. Ultimately, it depends on your specific needs.

Also, using both GitHub and GitLab is an option. You can use GitHub for public open-source repos and GitLab for private repos. Or use GitHub for source code hosting and GitLab for CI/CD. Both integrate well with each other.

Final Thoughts on GitLab vs GitHub

GitHub and GitLab have more similarities than differences regarding core code hosting and collaboration capabilities.

Where they diverge is in the additional tools provided beyond git repository management. GitHub positions itself as a home for open-source hosting git repos. GitLab aims to be an integrated DevOps platform with built-in CI/CD, monitoring, security, etc.

For managing private source code repositories at scale, GitLab provides better value with unlimited repos across paid plans and more controls. But GitHub wins when hosting open-source projects because of its massive community network effects.

So, evaluate each solution based on your specific needs. Small teams may find GitHub’s free tier sufficient, while larger teams will benefit from GitLab’s scalability. For most use cases, you can use GitHub or GitLab as your code hosting platform.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is GitHub better than GitLab?

There is no clear winner between GitHub and GitLab. GitHub is better suited for public open-source projects due to its vast community. With its integrated tools, GitLab provides more value for private repos and enterprise DevOps use cases.

Is GitLab cheaper than GitHub?

GitLab can be more cost-effective than GitHub for larger teams because of its unlimited private repositories across paid plans. But for small teams, GitHub’s free private repos tier is unbeatable.

Does GitLab have free private repos?

No, GitLab does not offer any free private repositories. Private repos require upgrading to a paid plan starting at $19/month. GitHub provides unlimited free private repos but is limited to 3 collaborators.

Can I use both GitHub and GitLab?

Yes, GitHub and GitLab integrate well with each other. Many developers use GitHub to host their public open-source code while using GitLab privately within their company for proprietary code.

Other common ways to leverage both platforms include:

  • Use GitLab for CI/CD and GitHub for code hosting
  • Mirror repositories between GitHub and GitLab
  • Import projects from one platform to another

So, using both GitHub and GitLab together is a valid and standard option. You can leverage the strengths of each platform based on your specific needs.

Is GitLab better for CI/CD?

Since GitLab has a baked-in CI/CD engine, it has a slight edge over GitHub regarding continuous integration and delivery. Setting up pipelines and workflows is seamless with native CI/CD.

However, GitHub Actions rapidly evolves and provides robust CI/CD capabilities. Both tools are quite capable of building end-to-end CI/CD workflows today.

Can I self-host GitLab?

Yes, GitLab is available in both SaaS and self-managed enterprise editions. The latter can be installed on your own infrastructure or cloud platform. GitHub is available only as a hosted SaaS service.

Is GitLab more secure than GitHub?

Both GitLab and GitHub employ best-in-class security practices with advanced authentication, role-based access control, audit logs, encrypted data transfers, etc.

That said, GitLab offers additional enterprise security capabilities like cluster-based access controls, security dashboards, container scanning, etc. But GitHub also has advanced security features like dependable, secret scanning, code scanning, etc.

So, the platforms are comparable in security, each with unique strengths. For the highest security requirements, GitLab Enterprise Edition is better equipped.

What is the most popular – GitHub vs GitLab vs Bitbucket?

By registered users, GitHub is the most popular, with over 73 million users. GitLab is second, with around 30 million users. Bitbucket trails at 10 million users.

GitHub hosts most public open-source projects. However, GitLab adoption is vital for private repos within companies and enterprises, especially among larger organizations. Bitbucket has a smaller footprint overall.

Which is easier to learn – GitHub or GitLab?

For essential git repository management, both GitHub and GitLab have a similar learning curve. But GitLab has a broader scope spanning the entire DevOps lifecycle. Learning GitLab end-to-end requires more time compared to just core GitHub capabilities.

Can I import repos from GitHub to GitLab?

Yes, GitLab provides a built-in tool to import repositories from GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab.com, and other sources. The import process is relatively quick and seamless.

So you can migrate repos from GitHub to GitLab if needed. The other way around is also possible by using GitHub importer for GitLab.

Which free plan is better – GitHub or GitLab?

GitHub’s free plan provides unlimited public and private repositories but is limited to 3 collaborators for private repos.

GitLab’s free plan allows unlimited collaborators, but only for public repositories. Private repos require a paid plan.

So GitHub’s free tier is very generous for individuals and small teams. For open-source projects, GitLab’s unlimited collaborators on public repos are attractive.

Choose the free offering that best meets your needs based on your needs.

Amelie Lamb

Amelie Lamb

Amelie Lamb is an experienced technical content writer at SoftwareStack.co who specializes in distilling complex software topics into clear, concise explanations. She has a talent for taking dense technical jargon and making it engaging and understandable for readers through her informative, lively writing style.

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