SOFTWARE ENGINEERING blog & .lessons_learned
manuel aldana
Manuel Aldana

March 19th, 2009 · No Comments

Reasons NOT to use ClearCase

After 3 years of working with ClearCase SCM tool I came to the point that you should not use it for developing software. Surely it has its moments: The branching and merging capabilities are good and the graphical version tree is nice. Also the concept of the config-spec, which is a kind of query-language for an scm-configuration (the set of checked out artifacts) is powerful. But there also many shootout reasons, why it is bad.

No atomic commits

Once you checked in files it is very hard to revert to a certain state, because atomic commits aren’t supported. When checking in multiple files, each file gets a new revision (similar to CVS) and not the check-in itself. I think this is a crucial feature, because you hardly want revert single files but complete commit actions (which should map tasks). With ClearCase you can only revert to certain states by using Labels. In practice using ClearCase Labels for each check-in is overkill and thus not done.

Crappy user interface

The GUI of ClearCase Explorer is just a big joke. Horrible in usability and ugly looking. Different and often necessary functions aren’t provided (e.g. recursively checking in worked on artifacts). Command line tool cleartool used with cygwin is much better, but still some things aren’t available like recursively adding new files/folders to source control. I have to laugh my head off if I read a 50 lines of code long script to workaround this.

High administration efforts

Administrating ClearCase beast is far from obvious or lightweight (in difference to other scm-systems like CVS, subversion or Git). Expect to put quite a few dedicated ClearCase experts to just keep it running.

Horrible performance

Nothing is worse as making your developers wait while interfacing with SCM-tool, it is like driving with hand brakes enabled. It slows down your brain and also your work. Getting fresh new files to your snapshot view takes around 30 minutes for 10K artifacts. An update (no artifacts were changed) for the same amount takes roughly 5 minutes. When experimenting a lot and jumping between different up-to-date views means a lot of waiting. It gets even worse, when you’re working on files and you want to check-in or update them. Check-out, check-in and adding to source control cycles take around 10-15 seconds which is obviously a nightmare. It gets very annoying when you’re refactoring renaming/moving types or methods (many files can be affected).

Lack of support of distributed development

Today software development is often a distributed thing (developers are spread around the world working on the same product/project). ClearCase definetely isn’t suitable for this, because it is badly suited for offline work. Doing a check-out (action before you can edit a file/folder) requires that you are network connected. Here you could use the hijack option but this is rather a workaround as a feature (you basically just unlock the file on the filesystem). If your development sites are far away from your ClearCase server the check-in/check-out latency can even increase so dramatically that it is not usable at all. There are workarounds for that like using ClearCase Multisite (scm DB replica technology), but you have to pay extra for it and is not trivial to adminstrate.

Git as alternative

Though being a big fan+supporter of Open Source I am still willing to pay money for good software. But looking at IBM-monster ClearCase I wouldn’t invest my money here, it has all these discussed shortcomings, and further more IBM doesn’t seem to invest money to improve their product significantly. Recently I had a look a Git scm which looks very good, especially for its branching+merging features, where ClearCase has its major strengths.

Tags: Technologies/Tools

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