History of Software Configuration Management (SCM)

Software Configuration Management (SCM), simply put, involves everything related to management of evolving Software Projects’ Code. Software Configuration Management is today a mature software engineering discipline and essential part of every software development team, just like Quality Assurance. Let’s take a quick trip through evolution of SCM to understand why it was needed at first place.

History of Software Configuration Management (SCM)

The need for formalizing and taking SCM seriously, arose when rightly named “Software Crisis” was identified back in late 70s and early 80s. It was realized that mere software programming is not everything in Software Engineering (SE). There were other serious issues that were hindering software development including architecture of the software, source integration from multiple developers, building projects, incorporating ongoing changes and so on.

In late 70s and early 80s, Software development started taking first steps towards programming large software solutions. Thus very first concerns of SCM were versioning of incrementing software, rebuilding and managing composition of complex systems.

The first SCM systems of early 80s were developed in house and their primary focus was on file control. Most of them were built as a set of Unix scripts over RCS (a simple version control tool) and Make (for derived object control).

Some other worth mentioning tools of that period are; DSEE, the only serious commercial product, which introduced the system model concept which was an Architecture Description Language ancestor; NSE, which introduced workspace and cooperative work control; Adele, which introduced a specialized product model with automatic configuration building, and Aides de Camp (now TRUE software) which introduced the change set.

In early 90s, as software and hardware industry matured, software vendors became capable of developing many projects simultaneously. Thus SCM in that era addressed issues around process support for developing multiple projects at a time, and concurrent engineering.

The first real SCM products appeared in the early 90s. These systems were much better. They often used a relational database but still relied on file control, they provided workspace support, but no or built-in process support. This generation included Clear Case (DSEE successor) which introduced the virtual file system and Continues which introduced, with Adele, explicit process support. Continues and Clear Case are currently the market leaders.

In late 90s, with the advent of web, remote programming became viable thus gave rise to issues pertaining to management of code submitted by remote teams. SCM in that period expanded its scope to support programming in the web.

During this period process support was added and most products matured. This period saw the sanctification of SCM, as a mature, reliable and essential technology for successful software development; the SCM market was over $1 billion sales in 1998. Many observers consider SCM as one of the very few Software Engineering successes.

Post 2000 period brought further optimizations and innovations in the working of SCM systems and also brought new SCM solutions like Subversion with improved memory utilization, atomic commits and much more. Another relatively new but innovative entry in SCM domain is Git. Git introduced the innovation of treating every clone as a full-fledged repository with complete history and full revision tracking capabilities.

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