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12. Keyword substitution

As long as you edit source files inside a working directory you can always find out the state of your files via `cvs status' and `cvs log'. But as soon as you export the files from your development environment it becomes harder to identify which revisions they are.

CVS can use a mechanism known as keyword substitution (or keyword expansion) to help identifying the files. Embedded strings of the form $keyword$ and $keyword:…$ in a file are replaced with strings of the form $keyword:value$ whenever you obtain a new revision of the file.

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12.1 Keyword List

This is a list of the keywords:


The login name of the user who checked in the revision.


A standard header (similar to $Header$, but with the CVS root stripped off). It contains the relative pathname of the RCS file to the CVS root, the revision number, the date (UTC), the author, the state, and the locker (if locked). Files will normally never be locked when you use CVS.

Note that this keyword has only been recently introduced to CVS and may cause problems with existing installations if $CVSHeader$ is already in the files for a different purpose. This keyword may be excluded using the KeywordExpand=eCVSHeader in the `CVSROOT/config' file. See Configuring Keyword Expansion for more details.


The date and time (UTC) the revision was checked in.


A standard header containing the full pathname of the RCS file, the revision number, the date (UTC), the author, the state, and the locker (if locked). Files will normally never be locked when you use CVS.


Same as $Header$, except that the RCS filename is without a path.


Tag name used to check out this file. The keyword is expanded only if one checks out with an explicit tag name. For example, when running the command cvs co -r first, the keyword expands to `Name: first'.


The login name of the user who locked the revision (empty if not locked, which is the normal case unless cvs admin -l is in use).


The log message supplied during commit, preceded by a header containing the RCS filename, the revision number, the author, and the date (UTC). Existing log messages are not replaced. Instead, the new log message is inserted after $Log:…$. By default, each new line is prefixed with the same string which precedes the $Log$ keyword, unless it exceeds the MaxCommentLeaderLength set in `CVSROOT/config'.

For example, if the file contains:

  /* Here is what people have been up to:
   * $Log: frob.c,v $
   * Revision 1.1  1997/01/03 14:23:51  joe
   * Add the superfrobnicate option

then additional lines which are added when expanding the $Log$ keyword will be preceded by ` * '. Unlike previous versions of CVS and RCS, the comment leader from the RCS file is not used. The $Log$ keyword is useful for accumulating a complete change log in a source file, but for several reasons it can be problematic.

If the prefix of the $Log$ keyword turns out to be longer than MaxCommentLeaderLength, CVS will skip expansion of this keyword unless UseArchiveCommentLeader is also set in `CVSROOT/config' and a `comment leader' is set in the RCS archive file, in which case the comment leader will be used instead. For more on setting the comment leader in the RCS archive file, See section admin—Administration. For more on configuring the default $Log$ substitution behavior, See section The CVSROOT/config configuration file.

See section Problems with the $Log$ keyword..


The name of the RCS file without a path.


The revision number assigned to the revision.


The full pathname of the RCS file.


The state assigned to the revision. States can be assigned with cvs admin -s—see admin options.

Local keyword

The LocalKeyword option in the `CVSROOT/config' file may be used to specify a local keyword which is to be used as an alias for one of the keywords: $Id$, $Header$, or $CVSHeader$. For example, if the `CVSROOT/config' file contains a line with LocalKeyword=MYBSD=CVSHeader, then a file with the local keyword $MYBSD$ will be expanded as if it were a $CVSHeader$ keyword. If the src/frob.c file contained this keyword, it might look something like this:

   * $MYBSD: src/frob.c,v 1.1 2003/05/04 09:27:45 john Exp $ 

Many repositories make use of a such a “local keyword” feature. An old patch to CVS provided the LocalKeyword feature using a tag= option and called this the “custom tag” or “local tag” feature. It was used in conjunction with the what they called the tagexpand= option. In CVS this other option is known as the KeywordExpand option. See Configuring Keyword Expansion for more details.

Examples from popular projects include: $FreeBSD$, $NetBSD$, $OpenBSD$, $XFree86$, $Xorg$.

The advantage of this is that you can include your local version information in a file using this local keyword without disrupting the upstream version information (which may be a different local keyword or a standard keyword). Allowing bug reports and the like to more properly identify the source of the original bug to the third-party and reducing the number of conflicts that arise during an import of a new version.

All keyword expansion except the local keyword may be disabled using the KeywordExpand option in the `CVSROOT/config' file—see Configuring Keyword Expansion for more details.

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12.2 Using keywords

To include a keyword string you simply include the relevant text string, such as $Id$, inside the file, and commit the file. CVS will automatically (Or, more accurately, as part of the update run that automatically happens after a commit.) expand the string as part of the commit operation.

It is common to embed the $Id$ string in the source files so that it gets passed through to generated files. For example, if you are managing computer program source code, you might include a variable which is initialized to contain that string. Or some C compilers may provide a #pragma ident directive. Or a document management system might provide a way to pass a string through to generated files.

The ident command (which is part of the RCS package) can be used to extract keywords and their values from a file. This can be handy for text files, but it is even more useful for extracting keywords from binary files.

$ ident samp.c
     $Id: samp.c,v 1.5 1993/10/19 14:57:32 ceder Exp $
$ gcc samp.c
$ ident a.out
     $Id: samp.c,v 1.5 1993/10/19 14:57:32 ceder Exp $

SCCS is another popular revision control system. It has a command, what, which is very similar to ident and used for the same purpose. Many sites without RCS have SCCS. Since what looks for the character sequence @(#) it is easy to include keywords that are detected by either command. Simply prefix the keyword with the magic SCCS phrase, like this:

static char *id="@(#) $Id: ab.c,v 1.5 1993/10/19 14:57:32 ceder Exp $";

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12.3 Avoiding substitution

Keyword substitution has its disadvantages. Sometimes you might want the literal text string `$Author$' to appear inside a file without CVS interpreting it as a keyword and expanding it into something like `$Author: ceder $'.

There is unfortunately no way to selectively turn off keyword substitution. You can use `-ko' (see section Substitution modes) to turn off keyword substitution entirely.

In many cases you can avoid using keywords in the source, even though they appear in the final product. For example, the source for this manual contains `$@asis{}Author$' whenever the text `$Author$' should appear. In nroff and troff you can embed the null-character \& inside the keyword for a similar effect.

It is also possible to specify an explicit list of keywords to include or exclude using the KeywordExpand option in the `CVSROOT/config' file–see Configuring Keyword Expansion for more details. This feature is intended primarily for use with the LocalKeyword option–see Keyword List.

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12.4 Substitution modes

Each file has a stored default substitution mode, and each working directory copy of a file also has a substitution mode. The former is set by the `-k' option to cvs add and cvs admin; the latter is set by the `-k' or `-A' options to cvs checkout or cvs update. cvs diff and cvs rdiff also have `-k' options. For some examples, see Handling binary files, and Merging and keywords.

The modes available are:


Generate keyword strings using the default form, e.g. $Revision: 5.7 $ for the Revision keyword.


Like `-kkv', except that a locker's name is always inserted if the given revision is currently locked. The locker's name is only relevant if cvs admin -l is in use.


Generate only keyword names in keyword strings; omit their values. For example, for the Revision keyword, generate the string $Revision$ instead of $Revision: 5.7 $. This option is useful to ignore differences due to keyword substitution when comparing different revisions of a file (see section Merging and keywords).


Generate the old keyword string, present in the working file just before it was checked in. For example, for the Revision keyword, generate the string $Revision: 1.1 $ instead of $Revision: 5.7 $ if that is how the string appeared when the file was checked in.


Like `-ko', but also inhibit conversion of line endings between the canonical form in which they are stored in the repository (linefeed only), and the form appropriate to the operating system in use on the client. For systems, like unix, which use linefeed only to terminate lines, this is very similar to `-ko'. For more information on binary files, see Handling binary files. In CVS version 1.12.2 and later `-kb', as set by cvs add, cvs admin, or cvs import may not be overridden by a `-k' option specified on the command line.


Generate only keyword values for keyword strings. For example, for the Revision keyword, generate the string 5.7 instead of $Revision: 5.7 $. This can help generate files in programming languages where it is hard to strip keyword delimiters like $Revision: $ from a string. However, further keyword substitution cannot be performed once the keyword names are removed, so this option should be used with care.

One often would like to use `-kv' with cvs export—see section export—Export sources from CVS, similar to checkout. But be aware that doesn't handle an export containing binary files correctly.

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12.5 Configuring Keyword Expansion

In a repository that includes third-party software on vendor branches, it is sometimes helpful to configure CVS to use a local keyword instead of the standard $Id$ or $Header$ keywords. Examples from real projects include $Xorg$, $XFree86$, $FreeBSD$, $NetBSD$, $OpenBSD$, and even $dotat$. The advantage of this is that you can include your local version information in a file using this local keyword (sometimes called a “custom tag” or a “local tag”) without disrupting the upstream version information (which may be a different local keyword or a standard keyword). In these cases, it is typically desirable to disable the expansion of all keywords except the configured local keyword.

The KeywordExpand option in the `CVSROOT/config' file is intended to allow for the either the explicit exclusion of a keyword or list of keywords, or for the explicit inclusion of a keyword or a list of keywords. This list may include the LocalKeyword that has been configured.

The KeywordExpand option is followed by = and the next character may either be i to start an inclusion list or e to start an exclusion list. If the following lines were added to the `CVSROOT/config' file:

        # Add a "MyBSD" keyword and restrict keyword
        # expansion

then only the $MyBSD$ keyword would be expanded. A list may be used. The this example:

        # Add a "MyBSD" keyword and restrict keyword
        # expansion to the MyBSD, Name and Date keywords.

would allow $MyBSD$, $Name$, and $Date$ to be expanded.

It is also possible to configure an exclusion list using the following:

        # Do not expand the non-RCS keyword CVSHeader

This allows CVS to ignore the recently introduced $CVSHeader$ keyword and retain all of the others. The exclusion entry could also contain the standard RCS keyword list, but this could be confusing to users that expect RCS keywords to be expanded, so care should be taken to properly set user expectations for a repository that is configured in that manner.

If there is a desire to not have any RCS keywords expanded and not use the -ko flags everywhere, an administrator may disable all keyword expansion using the `CVSROOT/config' line:

	# Do not expand any RCS keywords

this could be confusing to users that expect RCS keywords like $Id$ to be expanded properly, so care should be taken to properly set user expectations for a repository so configured.

It should be noted that a patch to provide both the KeywordExpand and LocalKeyword features has been around a long time. However, that patch implemented these features using tag= and tagexpand= keywords and those keywords are NOT recognized.

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12.6 Problems with the $Log$ keyword.

The $Log$ keyword is somewhat controversial. As long as you are working on your development system the information is easily accessible even if you do not use the $Log$ keyword—just do a cvs log. Once you export the file the history information might be useless anyhow.

A more serious concern is that CVS is not good at handling $Log$ entries when a branch is merged onto the main trunk. Conflicts often result from the merging operation.

People also tend to "fix" the log entries in the file (correcting spelling mistakes and maybe even factual errors). If that is done the information from cvs log will not be consistent with the information inside the file. This may or may not be a problem in real life.

It has been suggested that the $Log$ keyword should be inserted last in the file, and not in the files header, if it is to be used at all. That way the long list of change messages will not interfere with everyday source file browsing.

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This document was generated by Derek R. Price on October, 3 2005 using texi2html 1.77.