In the dynamic landscape of software development, version control systems (VCSs) play a pivotal role in ensuring collaborative and efficient source code management. Git, made to keep track of changes to a repository throughout all its versions, forms the technological backbone, while GitHub and GitLab are the two most prominent platform services leveraging this system.
While they're both Git-based services, GitHub and GitLab are not the same; they both have their own distinctive characteristics and philosophies. As integral components of collaborative workflows, they facilitate simultaneous work on coding projects while preserving the integrity of the source code.
It's clear the choice between GitHub and GitLab is crucial for IT teams in 2024. So, let’s take a closer look at these two incredibly useful tools—their user experience, integrations, pricing and hosting options, and CI/CD capabilities—to help you figure out which works best for your organisation.
Get to know GitLab
GitLab stands out as an all-encompassing DevOps platform. Since 2011, it’s been unifying various stages of the software development lifecycle in a single interface, offering features to support planning, design, implementation, testing, deployment, and maintenance.
What does GitLab offer?
This all-in-one platform enables issue tracking and project management, fostering unparalleled efficiency throughout the entire DevOps life cycle. Unlike traditional fragmented workflows, GitLab seamlessly integrates features like project management, continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines (see below), issue tracking, and more.
With three versions available, Free, Premium, and Ultimate, GitLab empowers developers worldwide to contribute to software solutions collaboratively, emphasising an open-source ethos and offering crucial advantages like self-hosting capabilities, user-friendly package distribution services, and robust CI/CD support.
Get to know GitHub
GitHub, meanwhile, has been around since 2008 and operates as a cloud-based Git repository hosting service with a user-friendly interface and strong developer community. It excels in code review and collaboration tools, making it a preferred choice for open-source projects and enterprises.
What does GitHub offer?
Like GitLab, GitHub leverages Git technology for seamless collaboration and tracking of source code changes. Traditionally, this tool focused on code hosting and collaboration. In 2018, it expanded to include automated CI/CD workflows (GitHub Actions), and in 2021, it announced beta features for GitHub Issues, enabling better project planning and tracking.
With over 40 million users globally, GitHub enables both private and public projects (so you can share your code with the world). Beyond its foundational code repository role, it supports documentation, issue tracking, and wikis. It can also host websites, making it a comprehensive development platform with an extensive marketplace for integrations and apps.
Going head to head: GitLab vs GitHub
Now you're prepped on what these two awesome tools are all about, let's compare them across five core areas: user experience, hosting, integrations, CI/CD, and pricing.
Both GitLab and GitHub provide consolidated platforms for collaborative coding, but how they go about it differs slightly. GitLab puts the emphasis on providing an all-encompassing development environment with a suite of associated tools for project management, issue tracking, and workflow automation. It also stands out for integrating seamlessly with other critical tools, like Jira and Slack.
If you go with GitHub, you'll get a clean and intuitive design that works for users of all skill levels. GitHub is also notable for its comprehensive ecosystem of third-party integrations, available through GitHub Marketplace. This is ideal for customising workflows that adapt to your existing tech stacks.
When it comes to hosting, both services offer a range of cloud-based and self-hosted options to suit your own preferences and needs. Your choice will probably come down to scalability and security needs, compliance requirements, and the amount of control you want over the environment.
GitLab offers you a cloud-hosted version (GitLab.com) with a fully managed platform, automatic updates and scaling, and a self-hosted on-prem version (GitLab Self-Managed). The latter gives you complete control over your infrastructure and means you can customise the environment to suit your needs.
Meanwhile, GitHub also has a user-friendly cloud offering (GitHub.com), which is fully managed and makes project set-up easy. GitHub Enterprise is its self-hosted option, which gives you more control over your data, security, and customisation.
Both GitLab and GitHub are set up with a wide range of integration solutions so you can add the functionality you need to make either service work better for you, whether increasing automation or improving collaboration between teams.
With GitLab, you get ready-made integrations for popular tools, like Kubernetes and Jira Software, and an API to set up your own custom integrations. With GitHub, you get the GitHub Marketplace, where you can access a wide range of integrations from third-party suppliers, such as Slack and AWS, among many more.
Whichever VCS you use, you're going to need an effective CI/CD pipeline in place to build, test, deliver, and deploy code changes automatically. Together with your VCS, this enables a continuous and instant feedback loop that helps you deliver real value more quickly to customers.
With GitLab, you get a free integrated CI/CD solution. It supports pipeline configuration, promotes customisation, and lets you monitor pipeline progress. In the past, GitHub relied on third-party technologies like Heroku to support CI/CD, but since late 2018, it has GitLab Actions, a CI/CD tool that integrates with version control and makes it much easier to automate workflows and build custom pipelines.
Now you know what these tools are capable of, let's look a bit closer at what they cost. First up, both GitLab and GitHub offer free plans with unlimited public and private repositories. If you’re a small team or just want to test the platforms out, these are great options. However, if you're looking for more advanced features and storage capabilities, you’re going to need to get your wallet out.
GitLab offers two paid options:
- Premium (starting at $19/user/month) gives you access to code review, issue tracking, advanced automation, release controls, CI/CD features, and dedicated support.
- Ultimate (starting at $99/user/month), on top of the above, includes enterprise-level security, compliance, governance, vulnerability management, and free guest users.
And GitHub gives you the choice of three:
- Team (starting from $4/user/month) offers features like private repositories, advanced tools, protected branches, and 2GB of storage per user on top of the free plan features.
- Enterprise (starting at $21/user/month) is designed for larger organisations wanting enhanced security, compliance, and management features. It also includes user provisioning and audit log API.
So GitLab or GitHub?
Still a little unsure? Don't worry. To sum up, here are some good indications to give you an idea of which service to choose.
Go with GitLab if:
- You're working with a private repository. GitLab has robust tools to help here, giving you control over user access.
- You're prioritising security features. Set on stringent security protocols? GitLab has mandatory code and access control options to help keep your code safe.
- You want more features without third-party provisioning. You can get CI/CD, code review, issue tracking, and heaps of other built-in features (depending on your chosen plan) rather than relying on third-party tools.
- You care about customisation. You can add to the GitLab platform to make it work how you want—ideal if you have specific needs.
- Budget is an issue. With no limit on free private repositories, GitLab might make more sense for your finances.
Go with GitHub if:
- Community is crucial. If you're working on an open-source project or want to contribute to other initiatives, then this community of coders stands out.
- You're moving to the cloud. GitHub might be the way to go if you're set on a cloud-based infrastructure and have no need for self-hosting.
- Coding is your focus. With GitHub, you can cut operational overheads and centre coding in your strategy above infrastructure management.
If you still need an expert's take to figure out which VCS tool to take up, then Adaptavist can help. As a GitLab Select and Professional Services partner, we're up to speed (and then some!) on all things GitLab, GitHub, and associated tools.
It's all part of our mission to deliver end-to-end DevOps services and solutions to help you build and implement CI/CD systems. Whether it's DevOps implementation, strategic guidance, assessments, coaching and training, or DevOps as a Service that you need, we're ready and waiting to support your transformation.