GitLab vs GitHub: Here’s What You Need to Know

As a newbie to the collaborative programming world, you might be wondering what the difference between GitLab and GitHub is—heck, you might still be working out what a Git is! This article is designed to help you navigate these initially opaque terms so that you can make the right decision for your team and grow into the flourishing world of programming management. 

These repositories all have to do with code creation and management as part of the Software Development Lifecycle—also known as SDLC—because minor edits, major feature additions, and minimal tweaks to “get it just right” are a given in the world of a programmer. The thing is, with any large enterprise, or even small scale private task management functions, all these changes can start to pile up. Massive software development projects like an overhaul to Google code or beginner development for an introductory computer science class learning to deploy a virtual machine can both benefit in spades from the control that a repository like Bitbucket or GitHub can provide—although, for the latter, a free plan might be better suited. 

Development teams often make dozens of major additions to a project and even more minor patches every single day, making it difficult to track which version you are working on at any given time, or even following the swath of changes made just yesterday. This is where repository management services come into the picture; essentially, a repository allows for easy access to change logs, keeping you in control of the edits you are making rather than having to search through the haystack of code located throughout your own server in order to discover the overlap that is causing a delay or crash in your project. Here, teams are able to set milestones and track assignments using Jira or other project management plugins, however, the bulk of the power that flows from either of these major repository trackers is the DevOps tracking ability and unparalleled access to real-time code updates. A Code repository, such a GitHub or GitLab gives you access to change tracking so you know exactly where the issue will lie, saving critical time in the development process. While there are other Git repositories like Bitbucket or Docker, the main competitors (GitHub vs GitLab) remain the most prominently used sources of repository management services.

What is Git?

First of all, “Git” is a version control system, created in 2005 by Linus Torvalds—the mind behind Linux. All this means is that Git is a platform used to track changes to code, much the same way a content editor might track notes and changes to a text article or a student doing research might keep tabs on a series of evolving drafts and markups. So Git is a system that helps you to streamline your workflow and ensure that your source code doesn’t require major overhauls or rewrites each time you or a programmer on your team makes a change. This is essential for small teams, but absolutely necessary for larger groups that might consist of team members residing remotely or across departments in a single office. A version control system maintains a record of each change, fork, or build so that you are able to revert to a previous version in the event of a bug hindering a new feature deployment or code confusion in the rollout that renders the API unusable or wracked by errors.

Furthermore, Git is the industry standard for version control and thus whether your team is working with a private repository or is creating as an open-source project for, it is a great benefit to your contributors if your code review is done using a Git version control method rather than another platform to review code, even if it contains numerous similarities to the standard GitHub or GitLab version control system that is known and loved across the DevOps world.

So what is the difference, anyway?

GitLab Revolution

GitLab is the newer entrant into version control and is self-contained, being offered in the enterprise (GitLab EE) and core (GitLab CE) editions. It is a product of Ukrainian developers Dmitriy Zaporozhets and Valery Sizov and has grown from its humble beginnings as a complete DevOps platform in 2013 to include giants such as Alibaba and SpaceX. Gitlab is written in the Ruby programming language, a “dynamic, open-source programming language” that is infinitely powerful yet intuitively designed for easy readability, like the Python scripting language. GitLab’s popular platform benefits from the Ruby language’s community sourcing because each application—the version control software and the open-source programming language—is fortunate to have a vast community of collaborative users. These communities are very active in uploading workflows, documentation, and new public projects available to anyone looking for inspiration or for help with launching their own code.

Integrated GitLab features are equally impressive; the repository management platform handles software development processes admirably: from wikis, CI runner, release management, and Jira integration, GitLab is a powerful tool.

GitLab has been growing steadily over the past few years, and surpassed GitHub, becoming the highest-ranked developer tool in 2019. Likewise, hundreds of thousands of small teams and massive corporate organizations alike utilize the ease of access and fluidity of the continuous delivery that has become the mainstay of either rollout of GitLab software. Whether you are working on a private project on your own or a part of a large undertaking, either the enterprise or open-source model will do your programming justice.

GitHub, the Mainstay of Repository Management

GitHub is an open-source, web-based issue tracker that maintains a wide variety of compatible plugins. This online service provides version control for small or larger teams of software developers and since it resides online with a social media-esque UI, it couldn’t be easier for your programmers to access the platform and participate in the group’s collaboration efforts, from absolutely anywhere. Founded in an effort to function as a team handy assistants by Chris Wanstrath and Tom Preston-Werner in 2008, it has since been bought by Microsoft for $7.5 billion! GitHub, like GitLab, also offers an upgraded license: GitHub Enterprise (see github.com for more info on this). The enterprise edition offers better security integration, customized builds that reside on top of the line IBM or HP cloud servers, your personal business network, or a combination that suits your preference.

GitHub’s claim to fame its streamlining; it does not offer vast integrated resources, instead of relying on third parties like Jenkins to provide feature requests to its users. However, it succeeds at bundling all these additional plugins in a central place so that you can focus on building software rather than signing in to a half-dozen browser pages in the background to keep track of due dates, security testing, or wikis.

GitHub vs GitLab: Head to Head

The bottom line is that GitHub has consistently maintained its respectable status as a web-based repository management system, but while it maintains high availability and expert reliability, the plugin power of GitLab makes it a far more versatile tool in managing whatever projects come across your desk. This is where the major differences lie. Assignees are granted access similarly in both platforms, however, GitLab allows for segmentation with confidential issues and authentication levels that are not integrated based on tags, roles, or titles in GitHub’s repository management. Similarly, GitHub relies on third party integration in order to provide additional services (Atlassian for Jira management, or its Fogbugz alternative, and CircleCI for continuous integration and delivery) whereas GitLab deploys a swath of internally available capabilities covering each of these critical requirements. Both are capable of initiating pull requests of this nature—partly why the two constitute the most popular platforms public repository capabilities —however, GitLab CI is integrated within the free plan and beyond capable of achieving seamless reports and milestone updates. GitHub is adept at managing plugins for these essential tertiary functions, but GitLab has no need for it in the first place. Data management and Git repository access are also far easier with GitLab over GitHub, whether creating an open-source project or a private project that you want to maintain securely until it is time for the launch.

Each system has its unique perks, but the self-contained improvements included with GitLab give it a unique edge over its competitors.