GitLab and GitHub are perhaps the two most well-known repositories for open source and private software projects.
Despite the similar names, they are different platforms, and each website has certain advantages and disadvantages compared to the other.
It can be hard to decide which one to use for your project, but this article should help you. I will go over the differences between the two platforms and help you decide which one is best for you.
Let us get into it.
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GitLab is a web-based repository for code management and file storage. Both GitLab and GitHub have the term Git in their names.
Git refers to the ability to track changes made to the code by any developer. Often, projects will have multiple developers working on the code at once, which is why a Git-based repository such as GitLab is so important — it allows developers to keep track of changes and modifications made.
In turn, that helps developers steer clear of making modifications that could clash with modifications made by other developers. Not all modifications will be compatible with each other, and some can produce errors and bugs, so knowing which modifications were already made is so important.
Another term often used for this type of system is VCS, or Version Control System. Git-based repositories such as GitHub and GitLab allow for version control, so devs don’t make modifications that are incompatible with an existing version, something important in open source and even private team projects.
GitLab was founded in 2011, while GitHub was founded a few years earlier, in 2008. Because of that, GitHub has had more time to grow and expand; as a result, it is more well known.
However, that does not necessarily mean that GitHub is better.
Let us get into the comparison.
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Is the source code of GitLab or GitHub open source? I’m not talking about hosting an open source project on GitHub; I’m talking about the actual source code of either project being open source.
Also, does GitHub or GitLab allow for self-managed solutions?
Yes, GitLab’s code is open source. In addition, GitLab allows for self hosting, with both free and paid self-hosting plans available.
Instead of using space from GitLab, you can host it on your own computer.
GitHub, on the other hand, is not open source. You can use it to host open source projects, but that is a different matter; the actual GitHub code is not open source.
GitHub is now owned by Microsoft. It does not allow for self hosting, at least not on the free plan; you will need an Enterprise plan to get self hosting on GitHub.
If you are looking for an open source repository platform, or if you want to self host a repository for free on your own server, GitLab is a better choice. Check out this post if you want to explore alternatives to Github.
Does GitHub or GitLab offer free private repositories for projects you want to keep private?
GitLab has always offered free private repositories. On the free plan, you can create a private repository with an unlimited number of contributors.
Since the repository will be private, only people you invite to the project will be able to work on it.
In the past, GitHub did not offer free private repositories. You will still see many blog posts and forum comments claiming that GitLab provides free private repositories while GitHub does not, but that is no longer accurate.
GitLab’s competition became too strong, forcing GitHub to start offering free private repositories as well. In the past, they only allowed up to three collaborators (devs) on a free private repository, but now they also allow an unlimited number of devs on such a repository.
So, like GitLab, GitHub allows you to set up unlimited free repositories with an unlimited number of collaborators.
However, that does not mean you won’t face any limitations. There are features ONLY available for public repositories if you are on the GitHub free plan, such as protected branches.
The protected branches feature allows you to add development branches only available to select users, excluding other users who can still access the project as a whole.
On GitHub, you can only do that on public repositories if you are on the free plan, but GitLab allows you to do that on private repositories for free as well.
In the past, only GitLab offered CI/CD (Continuous Integration and Delivery). Just like with free private repositories, however, GitHub was forced to adapt to the competition and now offers CI/CD as well — but is it any good?
GitLab is generally considered to be the superior product when it comes to CI/CD pipelines. There are quite a few features and capabilities possible in GitLab that are not present in GitHub.
For example, parent and child pipelines can run at the same time in GitLab. However, GitHub does not allow that, which means pipelines end up running longer.
Not only that, but GitHub does not offer pre-configured pipeline configurations, which means you will have to spend more time setting up and configuring pipelines. GitLab, on the other hand, does provide them.
Some other features missing in GitHub include the lack of built-in CI with no need for third-party plugins and components, the ability to preview apps before merging, the ability to create subgroups within groups to manage large projects, and the ability to create a drop-down menu for those subgroups, so you can find them easily.
There are other problems with CI/CD in GitHub Actions, which GitLab does not have. For example, in GitHub, you can not access actions across private repositories in the same organization, which means you will not be able to reuse code easily.
You also can not delete failed workflow runs, which means those runs can accumulate and add clutter. You also can not rerun a single job in a flow or a single failed test, which means you will have to rerun the entire workflow and all the jobs in it, which will take up a lot more time than necessary.
To sum it up in more simple words, here are some key differences between GitLab and GitHub when it comes to CI and CD:
- Plugins Required: GitHub requires third-party plugin integration for full CD support. On the other hand, GitLab does not require that, which makes GitLab a cheaper and more straightforward option to maintain.
- Preconfigured pipelines: GitLab gives you pre-configured pipelines that you can customize based on your needs, while GitHub does not.
- Security scanning: GitLab provides built-in security scanning for your pipelines, while GitHub requires you to install third-party plugins for certain scans.
- Kubernetes deployment and monitoring: GitLab supports more streamlined Kubernetes deployment, allowing you to deploy apps to the cloud with one touchpoint.
- Container registry: With GitLab, it is integrated into the CI/CD pipeline, while GitHub requires you to use a third-party tool.
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GitLab has an Auto DevOps feature that makes much of this possible. With Auto DevOps, you can scan for security issues, flaws, and licensing issues, as well as deploy your application and monitor in real time, and a lot more!
Auto DevOps auto detects your source code and provides default CI/CD templates based on your code language. It makes the entire process easier and simpler, but you can disable Auto DevOps if you want.
GitLab’s Auto DevOps is usually seen as one of the things making it superior to GitHub.
Also, when considering the free plans, GitLab offers CI/CD build minutes for BOTH private and public repositories on the free plan, something that GitHub does not offer for private repositories.
In addition, GitLab offers more build minutes: 50,000 for public repositories and 400 build minutes for private repositories, while GitHub Actions include 2,000 free minutes for public repositories.
As mentioned, GitHub’s CI/CD support is generally considered inferior to GitLab. However, there are still a lot of plugins in the CI section of the GitHub marketplace that you can use for CI/CD support.
For example, there is CircleCI, LayerCI, and more.
How much storage space for your packages does GitLab or GitHub give you?
GitLab, by default, gives you 10 GB of storage on each plan, including the free plan. For each repository, you will have 10 GB of free storage.
If you want more storage, you will be able to buy extra storage separately, which will come at an additional cost.
GitHub, on the other hand, offers you a measly amount of storage compared to GitLab. On the free plan, you will get a mere 500 MB of storage, 1/20th of what GitLab gives you!
Not only that, but even on the basic paid plan, you will only get 2 GB of storage. You will need the Enterprise plan for any considerable amount of storage.
So, when it comes to storage, GitLab is superior, giving you more space.
Not only that, but GitHub limits you to 1 GB of free bandwidth a month! You will have to purchase additional bandwidth if you want to continue using Git LFS (Large File Storage) for the rest of the month after using your initial bandwidth allocation.
Let’s examine how GitLab and GitHub compare in terms of DevSecOps and security scanning.
GitLab has a number of features that GitHub is missing, making GitLab a better choice for DevSecOps. For example, with the security dashboard in GitLab, you can view all security issues in a single pane.
With dynamic application security testing, you can test apps currently running for problems.
When it comes to security scanning, GitLab and GitHub share some similar functions, but GitLab does have an edge in a number of areas.
For example, GitLab allows for vulnerability filtering based on threshold, while GitHub does not. GitLab also enables auto SAST configuration, while GitHub does not.
At the same time, GitHub does win against GitLab in some areas related to DevSecOps and security scanning. For example, when it comes to security scanning, GitHub allows for event-triggered scans, which can help beef up your security.
On the other hand, GitLab does not allow you to set up event-triggered scans. It is in the works, and support for event-triggered scans should be implemented in the future, but as of now, it is not enabled.
While GitHub, like GitLab, allows for SAST, it does not allow for auto SAST setup. In addition, it does not include DAST, container scanning, license compliance, and fuzz testing built into the platform as GitLab does.
That is not to say you can’t do those actions, but you will need to install third-party plugins to do that, making things a little more complicated.
GitHub also does not provide vulnerability risk indicators, which can help you get an understanding of how severe a particular risk is. GitLab, on the other hand, has a four-tier system to help you understand how severe a risk is:
GitLab also makes it possible to run scans on some self-managed offline deployments, while GitHub does not.
Then, there are a lot of features that GitHub has that GitLab has as well. For example, both of them allow you to schedule scans to run automatically at set times, and both of them allow for custom vulnerability definitions.
To summarize, I think the winner here is GitLab. While GitHub does win some points in certain areas, GitLab wins overall.
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What if you want to import data from repositories hosted on other platforms to GitHub or GitLab?
GitLab makes it incredibly easy to migrate from another software to GitLab. There is documentation on migration from:
And many others! All of this extensive documentation makes migration easy.
GitHub does have a tool called GitHub Importer, which makes it easy to import data from other repositories, such as Subversion and Mercurial.
In terms of importing, they are somewhat equal. Both make it easy to import data from other sources.
However, when it comes to exporting, GitLab wins, as it makes it easy to export data to other systems, while GitHub does not allow that.
GitHub has a Teams plan, designed to allow teams to work on projects. Does GitLab offer a team plan, and if they do, is it as good as GitHub’s?
GitLab offers a free plan, which can compete with GitHub Teams any day. I will explain more in the next section.
GitHub has a Team plan, which costs $4/month. Although teams can now work on private repositories in the GitHub Free plan, with an unlimited number of collaborators allowed, GitHub Team includes features that are not included in the free plan for private repositories, such as protected branches.
If you have been reading this article until now, you will remember that protected branches refer to branches that are only available to specific team members (if it is a private repository) as opposed to the entire team, or to specific people if the repository is public.
However, protected branches are not available for private repositories in the GitHub Free plan, only in the Team’s plan.
Other features included in the team plan include draft pull requests, multiple reviewers in pull requests, and Pages and Wikis support in repositories.
However, GitLab’s free plan can compete with GitHub’s Teams plan. If you look closely, GitHub Teams is not that much different from GitHub Free.
GitHub Free, as I explained, allows both private and public repositories. However, many features, like protected branches, are limited to private repositories.
What GitHub Teams basically does is make those features available to private repositories as well. However, as I explained earlier, GitLab Free does not include the same restrictions on private repositories that GitHub Free does, which makes the need for a GitLab equivalent to the GitHub Teams plan irrelevant.
Another issue is that even with GitHub Teams, a self-hosted option is still not available. You will have to sign up to the Enterprise plan to run a self-managed solution, as I explained earlier.
GitLab, on the other hand, allows even free members to run self-hosted solutions. In that regard, GitLab Free is actually superior to GitHub Teams.
Although GitHub Teams costs money, it still limits you, and you will have to sign up for the Enterprise plan to enjoy features such as push rules.
It sounds a little astonishing to say it, but GitLab Free is superior to GitHub Teams in many ways.
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Which platform is more popular, GitHub or GitLab?
GitLab is not nearly as popular as GitHub.
GitHub wins in the popularity department. Most developers and code enthusiasts will have heard about GitHub and know what you are talking about when you mention it.
On the other hand, GitLab is not as well known, and even many developers may not have heard of it. But again, popularity does not translate into superiority.
Finally, let us focus on pricing and premium plans to see how GitLab measures up to GitHub.
GitLab has three main pricing options:
- Premium, at $19/month per user
- Ultimate, at $99/month per user
GitHub has three main pricing plans:
- Teams, at $4/month per user
- Enterprise, at $21/month per user
You will need the Enterprise plan for features such as Audit Log API and GitHub Connect.
Remember that GitHub Teams and Enterprise are priced per user. Three users on GitHub Teams will cost $12/month in total, for example, and $63 in total on Enterprise.
Overall, GitHub Enterprise and GitLab Premium measure up pretty well. GitLab Premium is a little cheaper than GitHub Enterprise, but if you really want everything GitLab has to offer, you will have to upgrade to the Ultimate plan, which will cost a lot more.
GitHub Enterprise gives you 50,000 free action minutes for public repositories, while GitLab Premium gives you 10,000 CI/CD minutes.
However, there are some things not available on GitHub Enterprise either, and you will have to pay extra for them as well. For example, if you want code scanning, secret scanning, or dependency review, you will have to purchase Advanced Security.
For dependency review, you will need GitHub Advanced Security as well.
Some features are only available with GitHub Enterprise Cloud (the cloud-hosted option, not the self-managed/self-hosted option). For example, an IP Allow List is only available with such a plan.
That being said, a lot of GitLab’s amazing features are only available on the GitLab Ultimate plan as well. For example, container scanning, fuzz testing, and dependency scanning are only available on the Ultimate plan (though GitHub doesn’t even offer built-in fuzz testing, as mentioned above).
As a result, it is hard to say which one wins. If you want all of GitLab’s features, GitLab can be a bit more expensive considering GitLab’s Ultimate plan cost, but overall, GitLab has better features, and it is worth paying a little extra for.
If you only need the GitHub Enterprise Plan, however, you can just go with GitLab Premium, which costs a little less. And if you only need the GitHub Teams plan, you can just go with GitLabs’ free plan.
As a result, I think GitLab wins in terms of pricing.
|Free Private Repositories
|✓ (Limited Features)
|Free Public Repositories
|Better Security and DevSecOps
|Free Self-Hosted Option
|Paid Self-Hosted Option
|✓ (ALL Plans)
|✓ (Enterprise Plan ONLY)
|Need Third-Party Plugins
|✗ (Not As Much)
|✓ (Yes, For A Lot Of Things)
|✓ (Only Public Repositories On Free Plan)
Even though GitHub is more popular, I would have to go with GitLab as the better option.
It is more secure, supports more streamlined and improved CI/CD support, and is a better solution overall (it is also open source, while GitHub is owned by Microsoft).
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.