Migrating from Perforce Helix

Perforce Helix provides a set of tools which also include a centralized, proprietary version control system similar to Git.

Perforce vs Git

The following list illustrates the main differences between Perforce Helix and Git:

  1. In general the biggest difference is that Perforce branching is heavyweight compared to Git's lightweight branching. When you create a branch in Perforce, it creates an integration record in their proprietary database for every file in the branch, regardless how many were actually changed. Whereas Git was implemented with a different architecture so that a single SHA acts as a pointer to the state of the whole repo after the changes, making it very easy to branch. This is what made feature branching workflows so easy to adopt with Git.
  2. Also, context switching between branches is much easier in Git. If your manager said 'You need to stop work on that new feature and fix this security vulnerability' you can do so very easily in Git.
  3. Having a complete copy of the project and its history on your local machine means every transaction is superfast and Git provides that. You can branch/merge and experiment in isolation, then clean up your mess before sharing your new cool stuff with everyone.
  4. Git also made code review simple because you could share your changes without merging them to master, whereas Perforce had to implement a Shelving feature on the server so others could review changes before merging.

Why migrate

Perforce Helix can be difficult to manage both from a user and an admin perspective. Migrating to Git/GitLab there is:

  • No licensing costs, Git is GPL while Perforce Helix is proprietary.
  • Shorter learning curve, Git has a big community and a vast number of tutorials to get you started.
  • Integration with modern tools, migrating to Git and GitLab you can have an open source end-to-end software development platform with built-in version control, issue tracking, code review, CI/CD, and more.

How to migrate

Git includes a built-in mechanism (git p4) to pull code from Perforce and to submit back from Git to Perforce.

Here's a few links to get you started:

Note that git p4 and git filter-branch are not very good at creating small and efficient Git pack files. So it might be a good idea to spend time and CPU to properly repack your repository before sending it for the first time to your GitLab server. See this StackOverflow question.