Productive teams invest not just in their members, but in their most important tools as well. For sales teams, this tool is a CRM. For content teams, it’s a CMS. And for developers, it’s a code repository, the topic of this post.
A code repository is a place to store code files for easy collaboration and review. On top of being a centralized location to put your team’s code, repository tools have ways to track changes over time (i.e., version control), detect and fix bugs, and share projects with more collaborators and a wider audience.
If you’re a developer or development-team-adjacent, you’ll be spending a lot of time in your repository platform, whether you’re pushing code for your new website or web app, overseeing projects, or flagging and resolving issues. It’s well worth your time to research your options before picking one.
After some research, you’ll likely learn about two of the biggest names in the space: GitHub and Bitbucket. Together, These platforms support over 50 million users and software projects in the hundreds of millions.
Both Bitbucket and GitHub are high-reputable tools for developers, but what sets them apart from each other? In this guide, we’ll explore their key differences and which one you should pick for your team.
Bitbucket vs. GitHub
Bitbucket and GitHub are two repository hosting services that allow developers to store their source code online and collaborate with others on the code. While they offer similar tools and features, the main difference between these services is that GitHub tends to host public repositories while Bitbucket more commonly hosts private repositories.
You can create both public and private repositories with either platform. But, GitHub’s use cases lean more toward public projects, whereas Bitbucket aims more at private projects among business teams.
This distinction is made pretty clear by each company’s marketing. Here is Bitbucket’s homepage:
And here is GitHub’s:
Beyond this main difference, both services offer similar tools to store your code, track changes, collaborate with teammates (or anyone, really), and resolve issues in the code. In the following sections, I’ll cover both of these in more detail, starting with GitHub.
GitHub is a repository hosting platform for independent developers and software teams to create both public and private repositories. Since its founding in 2004, GitHub has acquired over 40 million users and nearly 200 million repositories, making it the most popular service of its kind. This is largely due to its standing in the open-source community — GitHub specializes in public projects, including website builds, applications, frameworks, datasets, and a lot more.
GitHub has also worked to create a robust community of developers around its product. GitHub encourages users to build profiles to showcase their projects and skills, and allows for unlimited public repositories and collaborators (as well as, more recently, unlimited private repositories). Plus, GitHub actively promotes trending repositories on its platform. Over time, this helped GitHub gain the numbers that make it, in effect, the leader in open-source repositories.
As far as features go, GitHub offers enough to support both open-source and proprietary projects. It gives users essential collaboration functionality, including branching, pulling, cloning, and merging repositories. Users may also report issues and view version histories of code files to track changes. With GitHub, you can also publish a website for free with GitHub pages, summarize your project in a wiki, and leverage any of its integrations available in the marketplace.
It’s worth noting that Microsoft acquired GitHub in 2018, a move that drew criticism from the GitHub community for compromising its open-source principles. However, GitHub hasn’t walked back on its open-source features in the years since the acquisition and remains highly reputable among developers.
To learn more about GitHub and how to get started, check out our beginners’ guide to using GitHub.
Bitbucket is a repository hosting platform and a main competitor of GitHub. The company was founded in 2008 and acquired by Atlassian, known for its B2B software development products.
Bitbucket has built a user base primarily of business teams working on private code, rather than independent contributors (though open-source projects certainly do exist on the platform). Given this, it makes sense that Bitbucket’s reach is smaller than GitHub’s, though still significant — around 10 million users are on the platform.
Bitbucket sports comparable features to GitHub: Free users are allowed unlimited public and private repositories (the latter being a key advantage before GitHub itself introduced unlimited private repos in 2019), and a wealth of tools for reviewing, modifying, and collaborating on code, and integrations with other Atlassian products like Jira and Trello.
Key Differences Between GitHub and Bitbucket
As mentioned, the primary difference between GitHub and Bitbucket is user base: GitHub is known for its open-source projects and independent contributors, and Bitbucket is known more as an enterprise tool for making proprietary software.
Additionally, there are smaller but important differences between the platforms that you might be curious about. To wrap up our comparison, let’s look at how Bitbucket and GitHub differ across five areas: ease of use, collaboration tools, integrations, community, and pricing.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is perhaps one of the most important factors to consider when choosing your repository platform given how much time you’ll spend inside it. The simpler your tool is to learn and use day-to-day, the more time you can devote to perfecting your code.
Fortunately, both Bitbucket and GitHub have clean interfaces and are both generally deemed to be intuitive and user-friendly. Starting with Bitbucket, the interface is very tidy and minimal. Your most important options are laid out in the sidebar, which you can collapse for more viewing space.
In addition, the code editor resembles a classic text editor, with minor display customizations, and lets you quickly make changes to files from your Bitbucket dashboard.
GitHub’s repository interface has a bit more going on — there are more menus and buttons to engage with, and many of your options are presented horizontally rather than vertically.
To a beginner, this might seem intimidating, but you learn where to find your go-to tools with some practice — it’s nothing too technical. Plus, it’s more convenient to be able to access more features in fewer clicks as you become more familiar with GitHub.
Both GitHub and Bitbucket use the version control system Git, which is widely popular among developers. In all likelihood, you and your team will prefer to work in a code editor or IDE and will be pushing to your repository through a command-line interface. If so, the visuals of each product’s dashboard will matter less to you.
Still, a preference for either setup should guide your decision if you’re spending a lot of time reviewing code, reporting issues, and generally collaborating through your repository service.
Lastly, both tools offer free desktop clients for Windows and macOS, allowing you to access your online account and make changes outside of a web browser. GitHub has its own desktop client, and Bitbucket can be accessed with another Atlassian product called SourceTree. These are great alternatives to the command line if you prefer to do your work in a desktop application.
Collaboration is a fundamental aspect of both GitHub and Bitbucket — both tools let you share repositories with teammates, friends, or the wider developer community, and both include sufficient code management and version control tools to power collaborative projects. These include repository cloning, pull requests, forking and branching, merging, issue tracking, and diff checkers (which allow you to compare files side-by-side for discrepancies).
One notable exception has to do with branching, in which a user creates a copy of a project’s files to work on the project in parallel with others. Branching lets collaborators work on different parts of a program simultaneously, then merge their branches back to the main branch when completed.
Both Bitbucket and GitHub allow project owners to allow access to specific branches of a project — for example, you may want to provide someone access to a branch, but not to your entire repository. Bitbucket lets you do this for free on public and private repositories. On GitHub, branch permissions are available for free on public repositories, but you’ll have to upgrade to a paid plan to do the same on private repositories.
Also, both platforms have different approaches to Kanban-style project boards, which provide a high-level look at project progress. Every repository in GitHub comes with a “Projects” tab that contains project boards, whereas Bitbucket integrates with Trello, another Atlassian product, for its Kanban boards. Since Trello is its own full-fledged application, you’ll get more from it than GitHub Projects. Still, GitHub’s built-in solution is clean, simple, and free, plus you can also integrate GitHub with Trello.
Lastly, it’s worthwhile to consider how each platform handles wikis. A wiki contains documentation for your repository so that current and potential collaborators can understand your project at a glance. Wikis are key for keeping collaborators aligned and effective.
Another advantage of Bitbucket over GitHub is that it allows any repository to have a wiki, regardless of your plan or the repo’s public/private status, and choose to make the wikis themselves public or private. GitHub gives every public repository a wiki, but only allows wikis on private repos for paying users. GitHub’s wikis are also set to public or private based on the repository’s own settings.
To sum up, Bitbucket and GitHub are competitive with collaboration tools unless you want free private repositories — Bitbucket has a leg up here in terms of what you can do without subscribing to a plan.
Your code repository probably isn’t the only tool you use to move your projects forward. More likely, you’ve also incorporated software for project management, automated workflows, error reporting, and issue tracking into your routine. To keep your information synced, your repository needs robust integrations.
On GitHub, integrations are available through the GitHub Marketplace, a collection of about 500 apps. These include GitHub-exclusive add-ons and apps to sync your GitHub account with a third-party tool like Slack or Microsoft Azure. If you’re new to Git, GitHub, and perhaps programming in general, the GitHub Learning Lab app takes you through some simple projects to learn the basics.
Being an Atlassian tool, Bitbucket integrates seamlessly with the rest of Atlassian’s suite of developer products. We’ve mentioned its Trello integration already, and Bitbucket also makes a great companion to the issue tracking software Jira.
Bitbucket also features integrations with dozens of other third-party tools like Docker, Amazon Web Services, and NPM. It’s not as many as GitHub, but Bitbucket has the benefit of being a part of a popular developer suite.
This is one area with a clear frontrunner: When talking about the developer community, we have to hand it to GitHub, its massive user base of 40 million developers, and its hold on the industry as a whole.
GitHub has built a reputation as the platform for open-source development. If you want to share your code with the world — whether you’re showcasing your work or looking to collaborate — it’s basically a given that you’ll post it on GitHub where other developers can find it.
GitHub isn’t just for independent programmers or freelancers either. The platform is home to many big-name companies and projects, from the widely adopted React and Bootstrap frameworks to the 2048 game. Even HubSpot has its own account. It’s just the norm.
For open-source projects, this makes GitHub the better choice if you want to get your code in front of the largest audience possible — Bitbucket doesn’t really compare in terms of open-source community. This isn’t surprising considering that, again, Bitbucket targets businesses and proprietary projects. It doesn’t lean into collaboration or community nearly as much as GitHub. Still, 10 million users is nothing to sneeze at.
Finally, we get to pricing. Let me start by saying you can get a lot of mileage from both services’ free plans alone if you’re a casual user, solo freelancer, or a small team. They both let you create unlimited public and private repositories for free. However, functionality on public repositories is much more limited in each’s free plan.
If you want private repositories and are working with anything beyond a small team, you can expect to pay regardless of the platform you choose. Your pricing will depend on what specific features you need from either service.
Starting with GitHub, there are three plans to choose from: Free, Team ($4 per user per month), and Enterprise ($21 per user per month):
On the Free plan, you’ll get unlimited public and private repositories, with unlimited collaborators and 500 MB of file storage allowed on private repositories. Upgrading to Team or Enterprise gets you more storage, enhanced security features and developer tools, tighter control of permissions for private repositories, and premium support. GitHub enterprise also has a self-hosted version for faster performance and more security.
Bitbucket also prices its services on three tiers: Free, Standard ($3 per user per month), and Premium ($6 per user per month):
With Bitbucket’s Free plan, repositories are also unlimited, but you’re capped at five users. Compared to GitHub, Bitbucket’s plans are cheaper at the comparable tiers and come with premium support, more large file storage, and more time provided for automated workflows that you run on the platform.
Bitbucket and GitHub: Finding the Right Repo
GitHub and Bitbucket are both robust, reliable, and relatively easy to learn — all of which have helped make them the biggest repository management platforms on the market. There’s also a lot of overlap in functionality, which makes choosing between them tricky.
To summarize, Bitbucket is best for teams collaborating on private software, while GitHub is the de facto leader in open-source. This difference is made clearer by their features, pricing, and communities.
If you sit somewhere in between these user types, the good news is that you can sample both services for free to get a feel for each, then commit to one as your go-to repository platform (and keep your free account of the other, if you’d like).