Authors and programmers often need to compare different versions of the same code or text to keep track of changes. However, figuring out the changes is not an easy task. The longer a document gets, the more likely you are to make mistakes in comparison.

A file comparison tool helps you compare and merge differences between two (or more) versions of the same file. There are several types of utilities, each tailored to specific types of file formats.

We're going to look at some of the best file comparison and difference (diff) tools for macOS.

1st message

Meld is a simple, cross-platform compare and merge tool. The user interface is intuitive and packs all functions clearly into a handy menu. It has a lot of customizable settings to make file comparison quick and easy.

When you start the app for the first time, you have the option of selecting a comparison module. To start a comparison, click on the file Module and select your files from the Finder.

Meld displays them side by side. Any differences between them are highlighted to make each change easier to see.

On either side of the panels you can see two vertical bars with colored blocks. They give you a bird's eye view of all changes, such as inserted, deleted, modified, or in conflict. Click the arrows in a segment to copy or merge a block of one file with another.

Unique features of Meld:

  • Three-way comparison of files. Changes are updated in real time, no matter how large the file gets.

  • Integrates with source control systems such as Git, Bazaar, Mercurial, and SVN to perform version control tasks. The integrated version filter helps you to compare all changes to the local vs. repository file.

  • The text editor supports line numbers, spaces, syntax highlighting and text wrapping for a user-friendly experience.

  • Text filters let you ignore text that matches a specific pattern, or even use regular expressions to create complex filters. To try them out, go to Settings and switch on Text filter.

Download: Merge (free)

Helix P4V is cross-platform enterprise version control software used to compare and merge source files, web pages, manuals, operating system code, and more. P4V is the client for the Helix Core Server, which hosts all your data and is located in a depot. You open the files and edit them in your workspace.

When you're done, send the changed file back to the shared repository or depot, where all file revisions are tracked. P4V can be integrated into the P4 Diff and Merge Tool. The purple icon and its color scheme highlight the input file, while the green icon and its color scheme highlight the output file.

P4Merge displays files side by side, with the middle as the base file. This allows you to compare two files with a base file to find differences and select the text you want in the merged file. To navigate, click the Previous or Next Keys.

The unique features of Helix P4:

  • Works with image formats like PNG, GIF, JPG, and others. It highlights identical areas in gray and differences in yellow in both images. You can also compare file resolution, depth, and size.

  • The integration with P4V can show the entire file revision history as well as the changes over a period of time. This is useful for troubleshooting bugs.

  • Visualize the differences and resolve conflicts that arise from parallel or concurrent development with color coding, syntax highlighting, line numbers and patches.

  • Supports syntax highlighting for source code when comparing or merging files. Press the Show syntax highlighting to switch the function.

  • View image revisions one at a time in time-lapse view. Here you can see the history of an image file, e.g. B. who made changes and when.

Download: Helix P4 Diff and Merge (Free for five users and 20 workspaces)

3. Incomparable

Beyond Compare is a comprehensive utility for comparing and merging different types of files and folders. The app tries to strike a balance between features and performance with a user-friendly interface and colorful buttons. When starting for the first time, select the comparison module for text, RTF, Hex, MP3, Tables, and more.

Every comparison task begins with a session. You can customize each session and save it as a Workplace. Just load the workspace and Beyond Compare will also load all of your sessions with the same configuration and tabs.

The app shows your files side by side. It uses red text to highlight important differences and blue for insignificant changes. You can customize these colors to your liking.

The overview thumbnail in the left pane shows a visual color map. Use the Next and Previous Buttons to go through all of your differences. Then use the arrow buttons to merge your files. Press the to save Button on the right of the window to save your file.

Beyond Compare's unique features:

  • The session settings that control these comparisons are called rules. They give you control over how each session works and help you spot significant differences.

  • The Table comparison Session compares text files with table data. You can sort and align the data by key fields and compare them cell by cell.

  • Integrated script processing function to automate routine tasks. For more information, see the Scripting section on the help page.

  • Integration with popular tools such as SQL Examiner, Dreamweaver, EditPlus, Total Commander and Version Control System.

  • Compare files in remote storage using Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon S3, and OneDrive.

Download: More Than Comparable ($ 30 Standard | $ 60 Pro | Free Trial Available)

4. DeltaWalker

DeltaWalker is a cross-platform visual diff and merge tool. The user interface is intuitive with just a few menu buttons. It relies more on visual parameters to help you find differences. Ready to use, it supports Office files, Java archives, ZIP, XML, PDF and more. Speaking of which, we covered how to compare two Excel files using other methods.

Press the Search Button in the input field to a. to call open file Dialog box. On the other hand, you can open either a local or a remote file via SFTP, HTTPS, WebDAV, Dropbox or Google Drive.

The app uses colors to mark the changes in blocks as inserted, deleted, changed, and in conflict. You'll see connector lines connecting related blocks to make the results easier.

The vertical strip of color on the right shows a summary with a scaled down visual map of all the differences. Click the arrow button (which will appear when you hover over it) to merge your files.

DeltaWalker's unique features:

  • One-click integration with Git, Bazaar, Mercurial and SVN. Go to Settings> SCM integration and switch to the SCM of your choice. Here is a guide on how to install Git on Mac.

  • The search and replace feature helps you find specific characters and use regular expressions for advanced cases. Or use shortcuts to access them without opening the Find and Replace window.

  • The linked undo and redo function tracks changes in all editors. If you undo it, the changes will be performed in reverse order and will span multiple editors.

  • Export the file comparison report as HTML and patch. The latter contains the differences between one or more pairs of different files, which is useful for app developers.

Download: DeltaWalker ($ 40 Standard | $ 60 Pro | Free Trial Available)

5. Araxis merge

Araxis Merge is a complex diff and merge tool. It works with many file formats including Office files, PDF, XML, HTML, binary, and source code files. This makes the app suitable for various creative professionals and use cases.

Press the Search Button to open your file. Araxis Merge uses text extraction filters and formatting tools to help you see changes more clearly. Go to Preferences> File Comparisons> File Types to configure the filters for different types of files.

Thin overview strips next to the scroll bar indicate the position of the changes. The status bar shows you a summary of the changes that have been inserted, removed, changed and deleted. The integrated plugin system allows you to access files in Git, SVN and Perforce Depot.

There are two layout options: vertical and horizontal. Both work with two- and three-way file comparison modes. Use the Previous or Next Buttons (or shortcuts) to navigate through the file. Also, click the little merge button in each block to copy, replace, or merge files.

The unique features of Araxis Merge:

  • Drag and drop blocks of text into one of the panels to edit files. Araxis Merge analyzes the changes in the background and saves them. You can always undo the result.

  • Compare folders using the two- or three-way file comparison. This layout shares the display with folders at the top and their associated files at the bottom.

  • Create markers to indicate the lines that have changed. Add a bookmark to remind yourself or leave a comment to write down important information.

  • The sync link function can help you identify points of similarity between files to simplify the comparison results. This works best with complex files.

  • Export the file comparison report as HTML, XML and Unix Diff. This function is useful for future reviews, storage and approval.

Download: Araxis Merge ($ 129 Standard | $ 269 Pro | Free Trial Available)

Use Notepad ++ to compare files

There are many reasons to use a file comparison tool. A software developer may need syntax highlighting and export functions. An author may prefer a more visual diff tool to compare text. The apps discussed here cover every use case. Give them an appropriate sample to see which one suits your needs.

If you use the excellent text editor Notepad ++, you can easily compare files with a plugin. It's feature-rich and is great for both casual users and programmers.

How to get Notepad ++ to compare two files with a plugin

Learn how to use Notepad ++ to compare two files side by side and find the differences between them.

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About the author

Rahul Saigal
(156 published articles)

With an M.Optom degree in ophthalmology, Rahul taught for many years at the college. Writing and teaching others is always his passion. He's now writing about technology and making it digestible for readers who don't understand it well.

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