Compare Diff Utilities

After one aggravation after another, I decided to look into what open source diff utilities were out there. This is that review. I've tried to keep it up; but, as usual, don't know about every diff utility around. Let me know if you find any problems or know of new tools I should add.

For the best introduction, including the most recent time-stamped updates, please refer to the Compare Diff Utilities article in my article weblog. This article is only an introduction, tho, the core details are below. If you're interested in updates, subscribe to my article RSS feed, which will be updated when I make changes. You can also check out the discussion forum for more in-depth community discussions.


The features I'm comparing are the language (lang); whether the tool has any of the following capabilities: vertical paned, side-by-side comparisons (vert), HTML output, directory diffing (dir), character-by-character diffing as opposed to line-by-line (char), and source highlighting (src); when the tool was last updated; and, finally, whether there is a demo (or screenshots) available.
Araxis Merge 2007.3241Trial7/30/20075/10/20077
CS Diff 5.0Free11/5/20083/1/20053
DiffMerge 3.2Free11/5/20085/29/20085

If a cell is blank, the feature has been neither confirmed nor denied. Positive or desired responses have also been highlighted. The score accounts for the number of desired responses.

Araxis Merge (Go)

[Nov 2008]
I tried to get the latest information about this tool, but I need to give them an email to find out more. For a paid tool, it's just not worth the effort. If someone thinks differently, please share your thoughts; otherwise, I don't expect to get much more detail than what I got last July. Heck, I can't even tell if the current version is new or not.

[Jul 2007]
This tool is seemingly nice. I didn't really look at it too hard, but it looks as if it might be more fully-featured than SmartSync, my current tool of choice; however, I'm not willing to switch just yet. If/when I reach limitations with SmartSync, then I'll take a more in-depth look at this... assuming another open source tool hasn't popped up, yet.

[ Overview ]

CSDiff (Go)

[Nov 2008]
I'm surprised this thing is still out there. It hasn't been updated in 3.5 years, now, and the site looks like it's from the 90's.

[Jun 2006]
Someone had me download and use this tool and let me just say that it's the reason I'm looking for diff utilities now. The only other diff utility I've used is the one that comes with TortoiseSVN, which I love, but as far as I know, it's tied into the program. My main concern is the side-by-side comparison, which this tool doesn't support. Therefore, the search continues.

[ Overview ]

DiffMerge (Go)

[Jul 2007]
Here's a "new" one to the open source/free list. Don't really know much about it, but it's cross platform. That makes me want to include a platform column. If I get some feedback suggesting that's the right direction to go, I'll make sure to do that. Otherwise, I'm pushing this one aside based on the fact that it's ugly as all get-out. I'm sorry, but I need/want something that I enjoy using.

[ Overview ]

Eclipse (Go)

[Nov 2008]
I still can't find anything online and don't quite have the time (or patience) to install the latest version of Eclipse, so I can't speak to any changes that have been made. If anyone else has an update, let me know.

[Jun 2006]
Eclipse has a built-in tool to compare a file with the local history. I'm not sure if it ties into CVS or whether you can even call it without Eclipse being open, but I might look into that. It's fairly rudamentary, but it works. It doesn't really tell you what's happened, just that something's changed, which I don't necessarily like. I'm more likely to try to extend this, however, simply because it comes in a tool that I already use.

[ Overview ]

KDiff3 (Go)

This tool looks pretty decent. My first glance is a little limited, and it makes me think there are more features that I'd like to see, but it seems pretty complete. I'll have to revisit this one later.

[ Overview ]

Kompare (Go)

Holy cow!!! I love the UI on this bad boy! I've only seen one screenshot, but damn, what I would do to have this on Windows. I have to admit, this is the first time I've ever been jealous of Linux users. If someone knows of a port or a similar tool for Windows, please, PLEASE let me know!

[ Overview ]

Meld (Go)

Well, it looks like Meld attempts to copy Kompare. I like the fact that it attempted, but it has a long way to go to match the beautiful interface I saw on Kompare. It does cover the basics, tho, as well as source highlighting. I'm wondering if the highlighting is only for Python, tho. I may look into that more later.

I just found out that there's no Windows version of Meld. Scratch that one.

[ Overview ]

SmartSynchronize (Go)

[Nov 2008]
Not a whole lot has changed here, but there are a couple of nice updates. I'm not using this today simply because of the annoying trial period and my annoyance with annual subscriptions. I still like it the most, but TortoiseMerge has definitely taken a step up to be quite the nice tool. If I used the tool every day, I'd pay for it, but since my job has me bouncing between Office, Visual Studio, and IE as my "editor," I can't justify spending the money.

[Jul 2007]
This is part of the SmartCVS tool, which actually looks pretty nice. SmartCVS is an open source commercial tool with an free "Foundation" version. SmartSync is still in development, but has a demo and some screenshots. As of April 21, 2005, the current demo lasts until May 15, 2005, so I'm assuming there'll be another release by the first. I have to say that this looks to be a very promising tool. Hopefully, they'll follow the footsteps of SmartCVS and provide an open version.

[ Overview ]

TkDiff (Go)

Couldn't really check this out because there weren't any screenshots available. I'm not big on installing tools w/o seeing them, so I'm just gonna pass on this. If someone thinks it's worth the time, let me know.

[ Overview ]

TortoiseMerge (Go)

[Nov 2008]
Here we go... The TortoiseSVN team finally did it... they added edit support to the diff tool! This is probably the biggest thing that kept me from using this. With it, it's my new favorite... well, only because SmartSync has an annoying trial and annual fee.

[Jun 2005]
I kind of like this tool. It's been useful to me in the past as part of TortoiseSvn, but outside of that, I'm not too sure I'd use it. It's not built to be a diff tool, but it has the capability. I've heard that the command line parameters aren't the same as most diff tools, so you may have to create a batch file to map the parameters correctly when using this in conjunction with another tool (namely, WinCVS).

[ Overview ]

WinMerge (Go)

This program looks to be decent. It's not quite as pretty as I'd like it to be, but it seems to do the job.

[ Overview ]

XxDiff (Go)

This tool just looks primitive. It has a few of the features I'm looking for, but I want something that looks a little better.

[ Overview ]

My Conclusions

[Jun 6, 2006]
SmartSync is still my tool of choice. I just haven't found anything that compares. A few of these tools have had updates, but nothing seems to be compelling enough to switch.

[Apr 21, 2005]
I decided to move away from Eclipse and used WinMerge for a while. It's decent, but nothing special. After noticing SmartSync, I downloaded it. I haven't put in time with it, but that's what I'm currently evaluating. If I don't come back to update this with one flame or another, then that probably means I'm liking it.

[Mar 21, 2005]
For now, I'm going to stick with Eclipse. If that starts to annoy me, then I'll probably move to Kdiff3. I imagine the diff utility in Eclipse should grow a bit more, tho. If not, there might be a plugin somewhere to extend it. I haven't even started looking for something like that.

Appendix A: Retired Utilities

In an effort to keep this comparison as concise as possible, I've decided to "retire" trackers that haven't been updated in the past five years and/or I've started to receive dead links. This list will consist of the tool name, a link to the site (if still active), and the date of the last known update. If anyone knows about a more recent update to these, let me know and I'll reintegrate them into the overall comparison. Thanks!

  • GtkDiff (Apr 2001)
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12/11/2012 12:53:03 AM by Anonymous
2/28/2010 8:21:05 AM by Anonymous
Very useful article. However have you looked at DeltaWalker ? ( It's a fairly new graphical merge tool with a nice UI, great features, reasonably priced and works on every major platform.
9/22/2010 11:09:54 AM by Anonymous
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3/8/2007 11:28:27 PM by Andy Dent
Useful as it pointed me to KDiff3 (I have long-wanted something on Windows to match BBEdit on Mac) but I think your score column needs checking - it doesn't match your comments on tools such as XxDiff. thanks Andy
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