GitHub vs GitLab: How to Choose the Best Code Repository

GitHub vs GitLab: How to Choose the Best Code Repository

Two names come up every now and then while discussing software development processes and source management platforms – GitHub and GitLab. While they share quite a few similarities like Git-based version control systems and robust collaboration features, they have different capabilities that serve varying needs and preferences of users.


In this article, we look into the details of GitHub and GitLab and discuss which one you should opt for and why.


Table of Contents:

1. An Overview of Git and Source Code Management


In the field of software development, Git has brought massive upheavals in the way programmers work collaboratively and manage code.


Git is a powerful version control system that tracks changes in computer files and is used to manage code during the process of software development. It is a potent tool that promotes smooth code management and enables developers to monitor changes, restore previous versions, and work effectively as a team. In simple words, it is like a time machine for your code.


Git serves as the backbone of several popular enterprise mobility solutions and project management tools, two of the most popular platforms being GitHub and GitLab.


Both GitHub and GitLab are based on Git’s extensive framework and offer built-in code review and teamwork tools. For instance, both GitHub and GitLab enable you to view and discuss pull requests in real-time.


This feature allows developers to make alterations, review code differences visually, and spot errors early on, reducing the chances for serious mistakes and security lapses. These platforms highlight all changes and make it simpler for code reviewers to identify differences. User-friendliness is a chief reason for Git’s popularity among developers and project managers alike.


1.1 Understanding GitHub


GitHub was created by Chris Wanstrath, Scott Chacon, P.J. Hyett, and Tom Preston-Werner using Ruby on Rails (RoR in February 2008). It is a Git-based repository hosting platform with over 40 million users worldwide.


GitHub was built to provide a platform that would make it easier for developers to collaborate and share their code. With GitHub, you can make your projects public and the code can be open to all.


You can also use GitHub for private projects and use it for issue tracking, documentation, and wikis. It offers cloud computing services and gives developers the liberty to select and use integrations and applications on the GitHub marketplace.


GitHub – Features

  • Defined categories and target points for your projects
  • Easy to compare different parts and get a complete analysis
  • Ability to publish or host websites
  • Syntax highlight – one of its most prominent features
  • Integrate third-party APIs (application programming interfaces) for cloud hosting or tracking bugs


Advantages of GitHub

  • Facilitates easier sharing of documentation
  • Offers a strong foundation for open-source code
  • Provides fast and advanced search capabilities within the repository
  • Enables seamless integration with third-party providers
  • Offers extensive support for SVN, HG, and TFS
  • Provides both paid and free service options


Challenges of GitHub

  • Lacks efficient development of REST and RESTful APIs
  • Can be costly when opting for a private repository
  • Limited range of development functionalities
  • Not entirely free of charge
  • Has space constraints


1.2 What is GitLab?

GitLab was built by Valery Sizov and Dimitry Zaporozhets in 2011 as a set of project collaboration tools and code repository services. It allows developers to smoothly test, monitor, and deploy code. Earlier, a cloud-based repository was the highlighting feature of GitLab. Gradually it evolved in its capabilities and became a driving force in modern software development.


Now, GitLab provides a wide range of development and operations (DevOps) features such as security, continuous integration and continuous development (CI/CD), and various application development tools. It started as an open-source and self-hosted alternative to GitHub.


Numerous top companies including tech giants NVIDIA, IBM, and Sony use GitLab for its easy-to-use version control processes. It accelerates collaboration between international development teams, making it an essential tool for DevOps engineers and project managers.


For example, NASA uses GitLab to facilitate cooperation and communication among teams working on various projects, democratizing its versatility and scalability.


GitLab – Features

  • Allows importing code repositories from Bitbucket or Google Code
  • Offers a community edition open-source repository platform
  • Provides seamless repository maintenance on a server
  • Includes multiple tools for time tracking, group milestones, issue tracking, and more
  • Features a robust user interface and authentication options
  • Offers enhanced branch protection and user permission settings


Advantages of GitLab

  • Utilizes an open-source license
  • Supports self-hosting capabilities on all plans
  • Provides user-friendly package distribution services
  • Offers supported CI/CD lifecycle management
  • Brings you top-notch application testing and QA services
  • Facilitates easy code maintenance


Disadvantages of GitLab

  • The interface tends to be slower compared to others
  • Requires managing bugs throughout the software lifecycle
  • Lacks some enterprise-level software development features
  • Repositories may encounter common issues frequently


Are GitLab and GitHub the same?

GitLab and GitHub are distinct platforms. These two online code repository services are provided by separate companies. GitLab is developed by GitLab Inc., a fully remote and privately owned company with a team of 1303 individuals.


Conversely, GitHub, a subsidiary of Microsoft, is headquartered in San Francisco and has over 1600 staff worldwide. While both companies compete in the same market, they are not affiliated in any way beyond their status as competitors.


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2. Difference Between GitHub and GitLab

As you’ve likely gathered, GitHub and GitLab share commonalities and overlap in many areas. However, they also possess unique features that set them apart. Before going into a detailed side-by-side comparison, let’s briefly contrast GitHub and GitLab.


  • GitHub offers users a free private repository with a maximum of three collaborators, whereas GitLab provides a free private repository with no restrictions.


  • In terms of functionality, GitLab serves as a repository hosting manager tool primarily used in the software development process, while GitHub functions as a service for hosting repositories, emphasizing access control and collaboration.


  • GitHub prioritizes user-friendly navigation, while GitLab offers additional navigation features within the repository.


  • A significant discrepancy between GitHub and GitLab lies in their approach to Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD). GitHub allows users to select their CI/CD services and tools post-integration, whereas GitLab comes with integrated CI/CD tools and DevOps workflows.


  • Regarding user permissions, GitLab permits users to set and modify permission roles, whereas GitHub offers accessibility options for reading or writing to a repository.


  • In terms of performance focus, GitHub emphasizes speed, whereas GitLab prioritizes reliability.


  • When it comes to security considerations, GitLab is deemed more secure than GitHub due to its inclusion of License Compliance features.


  • Another noteworthy contrast is that GitLab is a cloud-native application, while GitHub is primarily utilized for sharing work publicly.


2.1 GitLab vs GitHub – Table of Analysis

If you are wondering which platform is better – GitLab or GitHub, neither is a cookie-cutter option that fits everywhere. Although similar in many aspects, they have distinctive capabilities that are applicable according to the requirements of the software development process.


  • For individual developers or open-source projects. – GitHub is a great starting point with its large community and user-friendly interface.


  • For Teams or companies with Complex Workflows – GitLab offers a wider range of features and better scalability for large projects.


Let’s analyze their respective features and capacities.


Parameter GitLab GitHub
Authentication Levels Setting and adjusting access and permissions is straightforward based on different roles and duties. You can choose whether to grant read or write access to your team members.
CI/CD Services GitLab offers built-in CI for free, providing automation solutions for DevOps engineers. GitHub lacks detailed documentation for popular Git repositories.
Import and Export GitLab provides comprehensive documentation on importing and exporting data from various vendors. GitHub does not offer detailed documentation for popular Git repositories.
Workflow Emphasizes workflow reliability. Prioritizes workflow speed.
Complete Platform Offers a packaged complete platform, eliminating the need to choose from different apps. GitHub’s marketplace contains 374 free apps and numerous paid options.
Self-hosted installation You can host a private GitLab version on your virtual machine with a free GitLab plan. Hosting a private server is only feasible with the GitHub enterprise plan.
Open-sourced GitLab is open-source for its community edition. GitHub’s core is closed-source and not available for public viewing.
Public Repository Developers can create public repositories. Developers can utilize unlimited free repositories.
Project Analysis Users can assess project development charts. Users can access commit history but lack detailed project analysis.
Owner Owned by GitLab Inc. Owned by Microsoft.
Programming Language Developed using Ruby, Go, and Vue.js. Developed using Ruby.
Ideal for Suited for complete DevOps lifecycle implementation. Attracts a major portion of the development community.
Who won’t benefit Not suitable for big open-source projects or projects that need to keep code out of third-party services. Projects that require keeping code out of third-party services or large open-source projects may not find it ideal.
Companies using the platform Utilized by GitLab Inc. and Microsoft. Used by Microsoft.
Free private repositories Unlimited. Unlimited.
Free public repositories Unlimited. Unlimited.
Storage limit 5GB. 500MB.
Integrations Integrates with Bugzilla, Jira, and Custom Issue Tracker. Integrates with Microsoft Teams, Slack, Jira, and Microsoft Azure.
Issue templates or merge requests Provided by GitLab Inc. Users can request issue templates or merge requests.
Integrated CI Offers Integrated CI functionality within the platform. CI functionalities can be leveraged using third-party apps.
Navigation usability Incorporates navigation usability as a functionality. Features navigation usability.


3. Comparison of GitHub and GitLab Pricing in 2024

As of 2024, GitHub and GitLab remain the leading platforms for hosting Git repositories, providing DevOps engineers with a wide array of features and tools for managing their code projects. However, when considering pricing, differences exist between the two platforms.


GitHub offers several pricing plans tailored to diverse requirements, including:


  • Free plan – Basic features such as public repositories, unlimited collaborators, and 500MB of storage.
  • Team plan – Starting at $4 per user per month, it includes additional features like private repositories, advanced tools, and 2GB of storage per user.
  • Enterprise plan – Designed for larger organizations, it offers better security, compliance, and management features, with pricing starting at $21 per user per month.
  • GitHub One plan – Aimed at businesses needing enterprise-level solutions across all GitHub accounts, starting at $21 per user per month.


GitLab offers three pricing options – free, premium, and ultimate.


  • Free plan – Unlimited private repositories, unlimited collaborators, and 10GB of storage.
  • Premium plan – Starting at $19 per user per month, it provides additional features like code review, issue tracking, and CI/CD pipelines.
  • Ultimate plan – Offering advanced features such as enterprise-grade security and governance, with pricing starting at $99 per user per month.


While GitHub is generally more cost-effective than GitLab, some of GitLab’s standout features are exclusively available in the Ultimate plan. Comparable features in GitHub are accessible only through Enterprise Cloud or Advanced Security Enterprise Server.


In short, both GitHub and GitLab offer different pricing plans that cater to various needs. GitHub tends to be more affordable for small to medium-sized teams, whereas GitLab presents more sophisticated features tailored to larger organizations.


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4. GitLab vs GitHub: Which One to Choose?

Both GitHub and GitLab serve as effective enterprise mobility solutions for code management and collaboration on software projects. Deciding between them hinges entirely on your individual needs and preferences.


When should you opt for GitHub over GitLab?

  • For open-source projects or contributing to them, GitHub is often preferred due to its extensive community of open-source developers and its status as the primary platform for open-source development.


  • If cost is a concern, GitLab may be the better choice, offering unlimited free private repositories.


  • GitLab excels in providing pre-built features like continuous integration and deployment, project management, and issue tracking. Thus, if advanced features are paramount, GitLab is the preferable option.


  • With its robust security features such as mandatory code reviews and fine-grained access controls, GitLab is the superior choice if implementing high-end security measures is essential.


When should you favor GitLab over GitHub?


  • GitLab offers more advanced tools for private repositories and offers greater control over user access, making it ideal for private projects.


  • Since GitLab can be self-hosted on your servers, providing more control over repositories and data, it is preferable for those who prioritize autonomy.


  • With its comprehensive suite of features including built-in CI/CD, code review, and issue tracking, GitLab offers an all-in-one solution, while GitHub often requires integration with third-party tools for similar functionality.


  • GitLab boasts high levels of customization, catering to specific needs, whereas GitHub offers more limited customization options. Therefore, if tailored requirements are a priority, GitLab is the preferred choice.


Final Insights

Understanding the differences is crucial when choosing between GitHub and GitLab. GitHub has north of 30 million people and hosts over 100 million projects. It is preferred for its effective tools to plan and track the progress of projects – hence, developers all around the world like it.


On the flip side, GitLab is also really powerful and has a vast user base. You can use it to handle every step of making software, from planning and development to testing and implementation.


GitHub’s affiliation with Microsoft and GitLab’s compatibility with Google Cloud emphasize the distinct advantages each platform offers. Ultimately, the decision between these platforms should be based on what you need for your specific project.


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