GitHub vs GitLab in 2023: Which Code Repository Is Right For You?

Developers today rely on version control systems and online repository platforms as the backbone of their application development lifecycle. These services have progressed far beyond just storing source code – transforming into sophisticated collaboration hubs complete with community chat features, project roadmaps, CI/CD pipelines and advanced access controls.

According to the annual State of Octoverse report, over 90 million developers now use GitHub to manage and collaborate on private or public repositories. While GitLab may cater to a smaller slice of the overall pie, the platform has also witnessed rocket-ship style adoption – reaching over 30 million registered users as of 2020.

So both GitHub and GitLab have proven their mettle when it comes to repository management at scale. However, each platform also brings a somewhat unique philosophy that influences its feature set and areas of strength relative to the other. This creates a common dilemma for engineering and product leaders when embarking on new projects:

GitHub or GitLab – which code repository is the ideal home for our next big initiative?

This expansive, side-by-side guide answers that question by benchmarking GitHub and GitLab across 7 key dimensions – complete with statistics, expert insights and recommendations:

A Quick Understanding of GitHub and GitLab Popularity

As the first mover in applying social coding principles to open source repository hosting, GitHub pioneered many developer collaboration workflows that are now taken for granted (pull requests, fork & merge etc). From nascent roots in 2008, GitHub witnessed astronomic growth over the following decade:

  • 2009 – Support for private repositories introduced as GitHub raises Series A funding
  • 2012 – 1 million users with 3 million repositories hosted on GitHub
  • 2015 – $2 billion valuation with 10 million registered users reached
  • 2018 – Acquired by Microsoft for $7.5 billion, cementing developer popularity
  • 2022 – Exceeds 100 million registered developers across a whopping 320 million repositories!

Spurred by growing enterprise demand for improved collaboration and CI/CD tooling, GitLab entered the market in 2014 as both an open source alternative to GitHub and integrated DevOps platform play.

While adoption was initially slow, over the past 5 years GitLab has also seen exponential increases in its global user base:

  • 2018 – 1 million users signed up and 38,000 repositories created
  • 2019 – $2.75 billion valuation reached thanks to strong enterprise sales
  • 2021 – Support for 50 million registered users and 100 million repositories
  • 2022 – Now serves over 30 million registered developers globally

This expansion indicates that while GitHub continues to dominate based on user count, GitLab carves out a lucrative niche by positioning itself as the leading single application for DevOps.

Now that we‘ve touched on the history and swelling popularity of both platforms – let‘s explore how each one functions at a fundamental level.

Core Philosophies and Key Differences in Functionality

Although GitHub and GitLab share many similarities in helping teams leverage Git for version control workflows, there are some foundational differences:

GitHub Collaboration Focus Vs GitLab CI/CD Focus Feature Positioning

GitHub extends upon core Git functionality by adding an accessible graphical interface, community forums and third party integrations. The aim is to enhance social coding collaboration without disrupting developer preferences for existing toolchains.

  • 85% of survey respondents praise GitHub‘s familiar user experience
  • Top integrations focus on CI/CD, project management & code quality

GitLab delivers Git version control as part of a consolidated DevOps platform – combining workflow orchestration, CI/CD and security tooling in one interface. This shifts the focus towards automating and accelerating development lifecycles.

  • 62% of polled users highlight improved productivity within a year
  • Over 50% of teams now take a DevOps approach to software delivery

This key divergence shows up in the evolution of features beyond core repository management over time:

GitHub Roadmap

  • 2010 – Introduction of organization accounts
  • 2012 – Addition of GitHub Pages for hosting web content
  • 2016 – GitHub Classroom for education launched
  • 2019 – Security vulnerability alerts and Dependabot added
  • 2022 – Discussions feature to enable community Q&A

GitLab Roadmap

  • 2015 – Built-in CI/CD pipelines for testing automation
  • 2016 – Release of auto devops for streamlining deployment
  • 2018 – Addition of license compliance and audit capabilities
  • 2020 – Planning features to connect issues with epics
  • 2022 – Further improvements to hierarchy view and approvals

So while GitHub prioritizes social community and an open ecosystem, GitLab favors higher levels of native tool consolidation catering to DevOps practices.

These differences in turn influence strengths and weaknesses when it comes to supporting collaboration, CI/CD, issue tracking and other repository usage scenarios.

Facilitating Code Sharing and Collaboration

Let‘s now analyze key collaboration differentiators that should guide your choice between GitHub or GitLab:

Comparison of collaboration features in GitHub and GitLab

Pull requests and code reviews are central for developers to share proposed changes before merging updates back to the main branch.

  • Both platforms make collaborating seamlessly on code just as natural as solo coding.
  • GitHub has more mature community discovery features like follower counts.
  • GitLab offers epics and milestones for higher-level planning.

Statistics reveal GitHub edges out GitLab when it comes to community activity

  • 320 million repositories in GitHub vs 220 million in GitLab
  • Over 2.9 billion pull request reviews completed on GitHub vs 550 million MRs in GitLab

For public open source projects, GitHub also tends to attract much higher followers, contributors and engagement.

However, GitLab isn‘t far behind in supporting dedicated collaborative coding features:

  • Code owner approvals before accepting MR changes
  • Side-by-side code review experience
  • Granular control over who can view, comment or approve merge requests

So if your priorities lean towards community growth and contributor engagement – GitHub has the advantage. But for governing collaboration workflows within organizations, GitLab competes head-to-head.

Now let‘s evaluate integrated CI/CD and DevOps differences.

Comparing CI/CD and DevOps Capabilities

Continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) now serves as the engine driving developer productivity by applying automation across build, test and release processes.

Key CI/CD adoption trends among developer teams:

  • 52% of organizations now take a DevOps approach integrating their development and IT workflows
  • 76% of developer teams leverage some form of CI/CD tools or pipelines

But while CI/CD started as an additional capability requiring external tools, modern repository platforms like GitHub and GitLab now offer native options.

Let‘s analyze the contrast in CI/CD feature maturity:

Comparison CI/CD GitHub vs GitLab

GitHub CI/CD Capabilities

  • 2016 – GitHub Actions beta for build automation
  • 2019 – GitHub Actions GA introduced (but still requires external runners)
  • Fully open ecosystem supporting dozens of CI/CD integrations

GitLab CI/CD Capabilities

  • 2015 – Built-in pipelines for committing, testing and deploying applications
  • Also provides managed runners and cluster management
  • Tight coordination between planning, code review and deployment

This shows that GitLab has prioritized embedded CI/CD from much earlier – while GitHub opted for an open ecosystem that still relies on external configuration of pipelines.

The net result according to various surveys is:

  • 62% find it faster to set up CI/CD in GitLab vs 47% for GitHub
  • But GitHub offers more flexibility to customize pipelines with external tools

So if your priority is instantly usable CI/CD tightly coupled to issues and planning – GitLab is likely the simpler option. But developers desiring maximum choice and plugin integrations can better leverage GitHub‘s open ecosystem.

Now let‘s evaluate how each platform approaches project tracking and ticketing management.

Issue Tracking and Project Management Capabilities

Issues represent the tactical tasks, feature requests and bug tickets that translate high-level software plans into executable items for developers.

Sophisticated issue tracking ensures every item or job flowing through development pipelines has accountability:

GitHub vs GitLab Issue Tracking Feature Comparison

  • 75% of developers now rely extensively on issue tracking for coordinations
  • Top features include assignment, categorization, due dates and reporting

Both GitHub and GitLab provide capable issue tracking suites covering the basics like:

  • Creating and managing issues
  • Assigning issues to developers
  • Labeling for categorization
  • Searching and filtering options
  • Due dates for tracking progress

However, there are some differences when integrating issue management with planning:

  • GitHub enables connecting issues to milestones and projects. Reporting remains isolated per repository.
  • GitLab offers group level milestones and epics to aggregate issues from multiple repositories in portfolio views.

This allows GitLab to provide portfolio roll-ups for multi-project scenarios – while GitHub forces fragmentation of reporting.

From an ecosystem perspective for issue tracking though:

  • GitHub enables deeper support for external issue providers like Jira or Azure Boards.
  • GitLab limits third-party issue capabilities to maintain tighter platform cohesion.

So if you anticipate reliance on external issue providers like Jira or have single repository scenarios, GitHub has an advantage. But GitLab shines for aggregated multi-project reporting.

Now let‘s move on to evaluating extensibility and integration capabilities…

Comparing Extensibility and Ecosystem Integration

While core repository functionality remains table-stakes, custom integrations serve as the biggest differentiation for modern DevOps platforms.

These integrations span areas like code quality, security, collaboration, test automation, pipeline management and countless other disciplines.

According to developer surveys:

  • 68% believe integration capabilities drive platform stickiness
  • Easy integrations ranked second only to reliability in platform selection factors

Measured purely in terms of breadth of integrations options:

GitHub Integrations Marketplace Platform Ecosystem Niche

  • GitHub supports over 5,000 apps via its Marketplace ecosystem
  • GitLab offers a couple hundred validated integrations with Bonus programs for partners

This reveals GitHub maintains dominance in ease of integrating external tools. So those desiring maximum flexibility thrive with GitHub.

However, GitLab compensates by taking an extensible "app store" approach focused on:

  • Vertical solutions targeting value streams rather than disparate tools
  • Bidirectional connectivity ensuring consistency between systems
  • Admin control enforcing validations like security

So organizations willing to tradeoff some app choice in return for better institutional controls may still gain advantage from GitLab.

Now that we‘ve covered key differentiators, let‘s shift our discussion towards contrasting major use cases.

Head-to-Head Comparison of Major GitHub and GitLab Use Cases

While similarities exist across providers for core repository usage, important nuances guide which platform better serves:

Use case comparison between GitHub and GitLab

Open Source Community Projects

For public repositories aimed at soliciting external contributions, GitHub maintains dominance.

Metrics revealing GitHub‘s open source advantage:

  • 99% of popular open source projects hosted on GitHub
  • 3X more contributors and stars for same public projects in GitHub over GitLab
  • More accessible for casual developers to discover and contribute

So those focused on building external engagement have a clear choice with GitHub.

Private Small Team Repositories

Both GitHub and GitLab compete closely for private repositories used by typical small teams.

However, some considerations sway choices:

  • Leaning towards community options still? Prefer GitHub
  • Require built-in CI/CD with pipeline visibility? Lean GitLab
  • Budget conscious but need multiple private repos? Choose GitHub free tier

So team size, collaboration needs and technical preferences guide choices here.

Mid-Market Software Companies

For mid-size ISVs, developer tools vendors and digital agencies building well-scoped solutions across a portfolio of repositories for clients – GitLab edges out.

Key GitLab advantages in this scenario include:

  • Improved hierarchy mapping issues from executables to epics
  • Tighter coupling between issues, MRs, deployments and planning
  • Streamlined group level visibility and reporting

Large Enterprises With Audit Requirements

Complex development landscapes across very large enterprises often demand stricter oversight.

For example, regulated industries like financial services and insurance operate under compliance rules requiring more stringent audits.

In these use cases, GitLab has the upper hand thanks to features like:

  • Enforcing merge request approvals from designated code owners
  • Visibility permissions restricting access to confidential repositories
  • Built-in audit event logs monitoring all repository changes

So when institutional controls and security take precedence, GitLab better delivers.

Recommendations Summary: When to Choose GitHub vs GitLab

Now that we‘ve fully reviewed key differences along collaboration, CI/CD, issues, integrations and major use cases – here‘s a summary cheat sheet covering guidelines on when to choose GitHub over GitLab for your next project:

Quick recommendations Whether to Choose GitHub or GitLab for projects

And if visual decision support with AI is more your speed, try this interactive GitLab vs GitHub recommendation tool:

GitLab vs GitHub Recommendation Tool

The bottom line suggestion based on this comprehensive side-by-side analysis:

If your priorities lean towards public community engagement, maximizing integrations, developer familiarity or budget flexibility – GitHub is still the best choice for most teams.

But for organizations focused on institutional oversight with built-in DevOps accelerators – GitLab deserves strong consideration as an alternative to GitHub.

So choose the platform aligning closest to your specific collaboration, visibility and delivery requirements.

Summary: Key Takeaways from Comparing GitHub and GitLab

Version control repository and collaboration needs have expanded well beyond just hosting and managing source code history. Modern developer teams also rely on these platforms to simplify social coding, automation tooling and visibility across projects.

In response to these expansive demands, both GitHub and GitLab evolved from simple Git GUI wrappers into full-fledged ecosystem hubs enabling integration across people, processes and tools required in application lifecycles.

Yet as this extensive comparison reveals, GitHub and GitLab made different strategic bets on areas of emphasis:

GitHub Strengths

  • Massive ecosystem of app and community integrations
  • Familiarity with vast majority of developers
  • Unlimited free private repositories

GitLab Advantages

  • Single application cohesion across DevOps lifecycle
  • Built-in CI/CD automation
  • Audit controls and compliance reporting

Ultimately there is no one-size fits all answer to the GitHub vs GitLab dilemma. Align your choice to where strengths best map to immediate team priorities and use cases. Both platforms will serve you well.

Yet developers enjoy evaluating and comparing new tools – so the broader value comes from understanding how GitHub and GitLab differ under the hood. Hopefully this guide served that purpose!

Now why not put your expanded knowledge into practice by setting up trial repositories in both GitHub and GitLab? You can then experience first-hand what resonates with your coding style through hands-on usage.