GitLab vs GitHub: Key differences & similarities

GitLab vs GitHub: Key differences & similarities

Version Control repository management services are a key component in the software development workflow. In the last few years, there’s been much debate about GitLab vs GitHub, as they positioned themselves as handy assistants for developers, particularly when working in large teams.

With the latest release of GitLab 10.0, GitLab took a major leap forward from code management, to deployment and monitoring. GitLab calls it Complete DevOps. They aim for the entire software development, deployment, and DevOps market.

That means when talking about the differences and similarities of GitLab vs GitHub, we need to look beyond code repositories and take a look at the entire process.


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Both, GitLab and GitHub are web-based Git repositories.

What is a Git Repository?

The aim of Git is to manage software development projects and its files, as they are changing over time. Git stores this information in a data structure called a repository.

Such a git repository contains a set of commit objects and a set of references to commit objects.

A git repository is a central place where developers store, share, test and collaborate on web projects.

Screenshot explaining the concept of git

More than a Git repository: How to Complete DevOps

Nowadays, GitLab and GitHub are more than “just” git repositories for developers.

GitLab says about their recently announce Complete DevOps vision:

Now, we’re taking it a step further to unite development and operations in one user experience.

GitLab realized the need for better and deeper integrations between development and DevOps toolchains. With the latest release of 10.0, GitLab rethinks the scope of tooling for both developers and operation teams.

The Basics of GitHub and GitLab

Let’s start with the basics. GitHub is a Git-based repository hosting platform with 40 million users (January 2020) making it the largest source code globally. Originally, GitHub launched in 2008 and was founded by Tom Preston-Werner, Chris Wanstrath, and PJ Hyett.

GitHub projects can be made public and every publicly shared code is freely open to everyone. You can have private projects as well, but only 3 collaborators are allowed on the free plan.

Public repositories on GitHub are often used to share open-source software. Besides the basic code repository, GitHub can be used for issue tracking, documentation, and wikis.

Overall, more than 100 million repositories have been created on GitHub in 2017.

Most used repositories on GitHub.com
Most used repository tags on Github.com

Similar to GitHub, GitLab is a repository manager which lets teams collaborate on code. Written in Ruby and Go, GitLab offers some similar features for issue tracking and project management as GitHub.

Founded by Dmitriy Zaporozhets and Valery Sizov in 2011, GitLab employs more than 1,300 people and according to Wikipedia, GitLab has 100,000 users (March 2017) and is used by enterprises such as IBM, Sony, and NASA.

Key differences and similarities: GitLab vs GitHub

According to various sources and our own experience, we identified the following key differences you should know when making the decision: GitLab vs GitHub.

✨ PSA: Want to setup CI/CD in GitLab and GitHub? We got you covered with an e-book below ✨

Authentication Levels

With GitLab, you can set and modify people’s permissions according to their roles. In GitHub, you can decide if someone gets read or write access to a repository.

With GitLab, you can provide access to the issue tracker (for example) without giving permission to the source code. This is obviously great for larger teams and enterprises with role-based contributors.

GitLab CI vs GitHub Actions

One of the big differences between GitLab and GitHub is the built-in Continuous Integration/Delivery of GitLab. CI is a huge time saver for many development teams and a great way of QA (nobody likes pull requests that break your application).

GitLab offers its very own CI for free. No need to use an external CI service. And if you are already used to an external CI, you can obviously integrate with Jenkins, Codeship, and others.

GitLab has clearly been addressing the DevOps market earlier than its competitor as well as offering an operations dashboard that lets you understand the dependencies of your development and DevOps efforts.

Screenshot of devops and operations dashboard at gitlab
Operations Dashboard, source: gitlab.com

GitLab CI offers Auto DevOps which automatically runs CI/CD without a human being actually setting it up.

But, really, every project should be running some kind of CI. So, why don’t we just detect when you’ve pushed up a project; we’ll just build it, and we’ll go and test it, because we know how to do UAT testing.
Mark Pundsack, source: gitlab.com

So, how does CI / CD work inside the GitHub universe? GitHub released Actions in late 2019, which essentially allows you to write tasks that automate and custom the development workflow. It’s also free to get started.

But GitHub does not come with a deployment platform and needs additional applications, such as Heroku.

Download for free this step-by-step CI/CD pipeline setup guide with GitLab vs. GitHub & Travis CI.

Issue Tracking

GitLab, as well as GitHub, provide a simple issue tracker that lets you change status and assignee for multiple issues at the same time.

Both are great issue trackers, especially when connected with a visual bug tracker like Usersnap. While your developers still enjoy the great issue tracking interface of GitLab and GitHub, your testers, colleagues, and clients can simply report bugs through the Usersnap widget.

Bug reports and user feedback can automatically be sent to GitLab or GitHub. Or you can pre-filter those tickets inside Usersnap and manually send them to your development project.

screenshot of GitHub issue tracking
Incoming bug reports displayed in your GitHub repository
Screenshot of gitlab issue tracking
Incoming bug reports displayed in your GitLab repository

Import & Export

When thinking about moving to GitLab or GitHub, you should also consider the setup costs and resources needed for getting started. In that regard, the topic of available import and export features is pretty important.

GitLab offers detailed documentation on how to import your data from other vendors – such as GitHub, Bitbucket – to GitLab.

Screenshot of Import and Export to GitLab
Import projects from 3rd parties, source:gitlab.com

GitHub, on the other hand, does not offer such detailed documentation for the most common git repositories. However, GitHub offers to use GitHub Importer if you have your source code in Subversion, Mercurial, Azure DevOps, and others.

Also when it comes to exporting data, GitLab seems to do a pretty solid job, offering you the ability to export your projects including the following data:

  • Wiki and project repositories
  • Project uploads
  • The configuration including webhooks and services
  • Issues with comments, merge requests with diffs and comments, labels, milestones, snippets, and other project entities

GitHub, on the other hand, seems to be more restrictive when it comes to the export features of existing GitHub repositories.


Both GitLab and GitHub offer a wide range of 3rd party integrations. Integrating your version control system with other applications enriches your workflows and can boost productivity for your developers and your non-developers.

In order to check out if your favorite apps are compatible with GitLab and GitHub, I recommend checking out the documentation of GitLab and GitHub.

Besides the available integration partners, GitHub launched their GitHub marketplace in May 2017 offering you selected tools and applications.

GitLab took a similar path and offers multiple integrations for development and DevOps teams.

The GitHub community

GitHub positioned itself among its community of developers. And its popularity is mainly driven by the highly active GitHub community of millions of developers. You can discuss problems and maybe learn a few unofficial but awesome hacks there. On the other hand, GitLab undertook some great activities, such as hosting community events and connecting open source contributors.

If you’re looking for the biggest community of developers, chances are high that GitHub is the better place to be.

GitLab Enterprise vs GitHub Enterprise

On an enterprise-level, you should consider further factors when making an informed decision of whether to use GitLab vs GitHub.

GitHub is highly popular among developers, and over the last few years, it gained popularity among larger development teams and organizations too.

Screenshot of GitLab enterprise vs github
Custom enterprise features of GitHub

On the other hand, GitLab is pretty strong on enterprise features, too. With different enterprise plans available, GitLab is particularly popular among larger development teams.

Here is, how GitLab and GitHub compare on pricing.

While GitHub’s enterprise plan starts at 2,500 USD per 10 users per year (= 250 USD per user), GitLab’s enterprise starter plan is 39 USD per user/per year.

Features GitLab GitHub
released September 2011 April 2008
Free plans Unlimited public and private repositories Free for public repositories only
Paid plans Starts at $39 per user per year Starts at $84 per user per year
Code review features yes yes
Wiki yes yes
Bug & issue tracking yes yes
Private branch yes yes
Build system yes yes (with 3rd party service)
Import projects yes no
Export projects yes no
Time tracking yes no
Web-hosting yes yes]
Self-hosting yes yes (with enterprise plan)
Popularity 546.000+ projects 69.000.000+ projects

Wrapping it up

Undoubtedly, GitHub is still the most popular git repository with the largest number of users and projects. However, GitLab is doing a fantastic job offering your entire development (and DevOps) teams great tools for more efficient workflows.

Bonus tip: Get user feedback & bug reports with Usersnap

Last but not least, I wanted to give you a heads-up on Usersnap, which is our very own visual user feedback and bug tracking tool, used by companies like Facebook and Microsoft.

And the best part? You can connect GitHub issues or GitLab issues with Usersnap to get visual bug reports directly sent to your preferred system.

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