Checking Out A Working Copy

To obtain a working copy you need to do a checkout from a repository.

Select a directory in windows explorer where you want to place your working copy. Right click to pop up the context menu and select the command TortoiseSVNCheckout..., which brings up the following dialog box:

Figure 4.7. The Checkout dialog

The Checkout dialog

If you enter a folder name that does not yet exist, then a directory with that name is created.


In the default setting, the checkout menu item is not located in the TortoiseSVN submenu but is shown at the top explorer menu. TortoiseSVN commands that are not in the submenu have SVN prepended: SVN Checkout...

Checkout Depth

You can choose the depth you want to checkout, which allows you to specify the depth of recursion into child folders. If you want just a few sections of a large tree, You can checkout the top level folder only, then update selected folders recursively.

Fully recursive

Checkout the entire tree, including all child folders and sub-folders.

Immediate children, including folders

Checkout the specified directory, including all files and child folders, but do not populate the child folders.

Only file children

Checkout the specified directory, including all files but do not checkout any child folders.

Only this item

Checkout the directory only. Do not populate it with files or child folders.

Working copy

Retain the depth specified in the working copy. This option is not used in the checkout dialog, but it is the default in all other dialogs which have a depth setting.


Used to reduce working copy depth after a folder has already been populated. This option is only available in the Update to revision dialog.

To easily select only the items you want for the checkout and force the resulting working copy to keep only those items, click the Choose items... button. This opens a new dialog where you can check all items you want in your working copy and uncheck all the items you don't want. The resulting working copy is then known as a sparse checkout. An update of such a working copy will not fetch the missing files and folders but only update what you already have in your working copy.

If you check out a sparse working copy (i.e., by choosing something other than fully recursive for the checkout depth), you can easily add or remove sub-folders later using one of the following methods.

Sparse Update using Update to Revision

Right click on the checked out folder, then use TortoiseSVNUpdate to Revision and select Choose items.... This opens the same dialog that was available in the original checkout and allows you to select or deselect items to include in the checkout. This method is very flexible but can be slow as every item in the folder is updated individually.

Sparse Update using Repo Browser

Right click on the checked out folder, then use TortoiseSVNRepo-Browser to bring up the repository browser. Find the sub-folder you would like to add to your working copy, then use Context MenuUpdate item to revision....

Sparse Update using Check for Modifications

In the check for modifications dialog, first shift click on the button Check repository. The dialog will show all the files and folders which are in the repository but which you have not checked out as remotely added. Right click on the folder(s) you would like to add to your working copy, then use Context menuUpdate.

This feature is very useful when you only want to checkout parts of a large tree, but you want the convenience of updating a single working copy. Suppose you have a large tree which has sub-folders Project01 to Project99, and you only want to checkout Project03, Project25 and Project76/SubProj. Use these steps:

  1. Checkout the parent folder with depth Only this item You now have an empty top level folder.

  2. Select the new folder and use TortoiseSVNRepo browser to display the repository content.

  3. Right click on Project03 and Context menuUpdate item to revision.... Keep the default settings and click on OK. You now have that folder fully populated.

    Repeat the same process for Project25.

  4. Navigate to Project76/SubProj and do the same. This time note that the Project76 folder has no content except for SubProj, which itself is fully populated. Subversion has created the intermediate folders for you without populating them.

Changing working copy depth

Once you have checked out a working copy to a particular depth you can change that depth later to get more or less content using Context menuUpdate item to revision.... In that dialog, be sure to check the Make depth sticky checkbox.

Using an older server

Pre-1.5 servers do not understand the working copy depth request, so they cannot always deal with requests efficiently. The command will still work, but an older server may send all the data, leaving the client to filter out what is not required, which may mean a lot of network traffic. If possible you should upgrade your server to at least 1.5.

If the project contains references to external projects which you do not want checked out at the same time, use the Omit externals checkbox.


If Omit externals is checked, or if you wish to increase the depth value, you will have to perform updates to your working copy using TortoiseSVNUpdate to Revision... instead of TortoiseSVNUpdate. The standard update will include all externals and keep the existing depth.

It is recommended that you check out only the trunk part of the directory tree, or lower. If you specify the parent path of the directory tree in the URL then you might end up with a full hard disk since you will get a copy of the entire repository tree including every branch and tag of your project!


Sometimes you may want to create a local copy without any of those .svn directories, e.g. to create a zipped tarball of your source. Read the section called “Exporting a Subversion Working Copy” to find out how to do that.