Vcstool is a command line tool designed to make working with multiple repositories easier
Python Other
Clone or download


What is vcstool?

Vcstool is a version control system (VCS) tool, designed to make working with multiple repositories easier.


This tool should not be confused with vcstools (with a trailing s) which provides a Python API for interacting with different version control systems. The biggest differences between the two are:

  • vcstool doesn't use any state beside the repository working copies available in the filesystem.
  • The file format of vcstool export uses the relative paths of the repositories as keys in YAML which avoids collisions by design.
  • vcstool has significantly less lines of code than vcstools including the command line tools built on top.

How does it work?

Vcstool operates on any folder from where it recursively searches for supported repositories. On these repositories vcstool invokes the native VCS client with the requested command (i.e. diff).

Which VCS types are supported?

Vcstool supports Git, Mercurial, Subversion, Bazaar.

How to use vcstool?

The script vcs can be used similar to the VCS clients git, hg etc. The help command provides a list of available commands with an additional description:

vcs help

By default vcstool searches for repositories under the current folder. Optionally one path (or multiple paths) can be passed to search for repositories at different locations:

vcs status /path/to/several/repos /path/to/other/repos /path/to/single/repo

Exporting and importing sets of repositories

Vcstool can export and import all the information required to reproduce the versions of a set of repositories. Vcstool uses a simple YAML format to encode this information. This format includes a root key repositories under which each local repository is described by a dictionary keyed by its relative path. Each of these dictionaries contains keys type, url, and version.

This results in something similar to the following for a set of two repositories (vcstool cloned via Git and rosinstall checked out via Subversion):

    type: git
    version: master
    type: svn
    version: 748

Export set of repositories

The vcs export command outputs the path, vcs type, URL and version information for all repositories in YAML format. The output is usually piped to a file:

vcs export > my.repos

If the repository is currently on the tip of a branch the branch is followed. This implies that a later import might fetch a newer revision if the branch has evolved in the meantime. Furthermore if the local branch has evolved from the remote repository an import might not result in the exact same state.

To make sure to store the exact revision in the exported data use the command line argument --exact. Since a specific revision is not tied to neither a branch nor a remote (for Git and Mercurial) the tool will check if the current hash exists in any of the remotes. If it exists in multiple the remotes origin and upstream are considered before any other in alphabetical order.

Import set of repositories

The vcs import command clones all repositories which are passed in via stdin in YAML format. Usually the data of a previously exported file is piped in:

vcs import < my.repos

The import command also supports input in the rosinstall file format.

Only for this command vcstool supports the pseudo clients tar and zip which fetch a tarball / zipfile from an URL and unpack its content. For those two types the version key is optional. If specified only entries from the archive which are in the subfolder specified by the version value are being extracted.

Advanced features

Show log since last tag

The vcs log command supports the argument --limit-untagged which will output the log for all commits since the last tag.

Run arbitrary comands

The vcs custom command enables to pass arbitrary user-specified arguments to the vcs invocation. The set of repositories to operate on can optionally be restricted by the type:

vcs custom --git --args log --oneline -n 10

If the command should work on multiple repositories make sure to pass only generic arguments which work for all of these repository types.

How to install vcstool?

On Debian-based platforms the recommended method is to install the package python3-vcstool. On Ubuntu this is done using apt-get:

sudo sh -c 'echo "deb $(lsb_release -sc) main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/ros-latest.list'
sudo apt-key adv --keyserver hkp:// --recv-key 0xB01FA116
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install python3-vcstool

On other Systems, use the PyPI package:

sudo pip install vcstool

Setup auto-completion

For the shells bash, tcsh and zsh vcstool can provide auto-completion of the various VCS commands. In order to enable that feature the shell specific completion file must be sourced.

For bash append the following line to the ~/.bashrc file:

source /usr/share/vcstool-completion/vcs.bash

For tcsh append the following line to the ~/.cshrc file:

source /usr/share/vcstool-completion/vcs.tcsh

For zsh append the following line to the ~/.zshrc file:

source /usr/share/vcstool-completion/vcs.zsh

How to contribute?

How to report problems?

Before reporting a problem please make sure to use the latest version. Issues can be filled on GitHub after making sure that this problem has not yet been reported.

Please make sure to include as much information, i.e. version numbers from vcstool, operating system, Python and a reproducible example of the commands which expose the problem.

How to try the latest changes?

Sourcing the file prepends the src folder to the PYTHONPATH and the scripts folder to the PATH. Then vcstool can be used with the commands vcs-COMMAND (note the hyphen between vcs and command instead of a space).

Alternatively the develop command from Python setuptools can be used:
sudo python develop