software development musings

Top 5 diff tools

Ratna's code base has grown a lot in the past few weeks. As we cope up with the changes, our tool to check "what has changed" in the last "N" days hasn't done a decent job. It was time to replace the diff tool. As, I started evaluating different tools available for source code changes, I couldn't find a list of diff tools (on the web) that would help us. Anyway, now that I have invested sometime to do the research, here's my list for "top 5" diff tools.


To declare the "best" list, the following criteria is used -

  • Windows Support
  • Git support
  • Folder diff
  • Look and feel

KDiff3 is one popular diff and merge tool. KDiff3 is absolutely free under GPL license. While the tool is very capable (shows the difference inline), its not very easy to look. It's look and feel is still 90's look and feel.

The top two features within KDiff3 are -

  • Character Difference - Shows the differences line by line and character by character
  • Integrated Editor - Useful for solving merge-conflicts


#4 - WinMerge


If you use have used Windiff and liked it, you will probably like WinMerge. WinMerge is basic file comparison tool in our opinion. The tool is free under GNU license and is open source, so that scores.

The top two features within WinMerge are -

  • Merging folder differences - Supports copying items (files or folders) between folders, or deleting items.
  • Merging differences in files - Line level merge and within line merge


#3 - ExamDiff


ExamDiff supports a lot of feature, but they come at a cost. Also, their three different SKUs confused us a lot.

The top two features within ExamDiff are -

  • Highlight difference at character level - It can highlight word as well as character level differences
  • Extensive Command-line interface - This should get pretty handy for automation


#2 - Beyond Compare


Beyond Compare scores big in our opinion with its ease of use. Beyond compare is not free, but relatively cheap. It can compare both files and folders and allow three way merge.

The top three features within Beyond Compare are -

  • Compare files and folders - While this feature is supported by almost all tool, the visual representation is that stands out.
  • 3 Way Merge - Can compare two versions of a file
  • Multiple file format - Beyond Compare can compare text, images and binary files


#1 - Araxis Merge


When it comes to diff and merge, no other tool impressed us as much as Araxis Merge.  Keep in mind, Araxis is expensive, but it is worth every penny. You will recover (and more) the moment a developer saves 30 minutes in getting his/her job done (I can assure you, this will happen within the first week).

The top three features within Araxis are -

  • Visual Difference - The difference is highlighted in a way that makes it easy to "see".
  • Three way Comparison - Very useful when two developers work on the same file
  • Multiple file format support - Handy when comparing document changes



  1. Craig Rayson Craig Rayson says:
    9/20/2012 12:02:57 PM

    For me, Beyond Compare works much better.

  2. Jacob Jacob says:
    9/24/2012 9:03:52 PM

    Araxis FTW !

  3. Mike Mike says:
    1/21/2013 10:32:30 AM

    p4merge is the best! (and it's free)

  4. scott outcalt scott outcalt says:
    4/29/2013 7:18:27 PM

    Nice list

  5. Roy H. Roy H. says:
    6/13/2013 5:15:39 PM

    $269.00 Araxis Merge Professional. - Office Files Save Error. (But diff works) - Rare and slow ftp conection to compare remote directories. (But works) Araxis is the king on list: superior, smart, easy and supported on windows 8. I would put second place to ECMerge Pro by ElliƩ Computing $60, I think it's the only one who can compete with Araxis. - Support on (Windows + MacOS + Linux + Solaris) - Best flow work to remote directories(FTP, SSH, FTP Over SSH) - Office files suported.

  6. Roy H. Roy H. says:
    6/24/2013 5:17:49 PM

    Update. I buy Araxis Merge Standard $129.00 I wish it was cheaper but it's worth it seems to be the only thing that really works I've tried comparing folders, code, ftp.

  7. Samir Samir says:
    7/26/2013 5:05:48 AM

    You said: "I couldn't find a list of diff tools (on the web) that would help us." Were you searching hard? Or hardly searching? One who searches, he finds. Perhaps you didn't use the right search terms in Google? Well, anyway. Check out this great comparison list over at Wikipedia: This wiki article was created back in 2006 so it's been around for a good while now. Google must have known about it. So if you used the right search terms you would have found it. This is the list I used to narrow down my options in my quest for a proper, easy to use diff and merge tool (as opposed to using command tools such as fc, or windiff). I tried Araxis Merge and I think it's overrated. I also tried WinMerge, I found it to be incomplete and too basic. The same goes for ExamDiff. I finally sattled for Beyond Compare and I have never turned back. It works on both Windows and Linux, I don't need Mac support. It has a good price point for a very competent diff/merge tool. I recommend Beyond Compare.

  8. Admin Admin says:
    7/26/2013 2:47:42 PM

    Thanks Samir for the input. Appreciate it.

  9. Marcin Marcin says:
    11/17/2013 12:50:38 AM

    I use Araxis Merge at work and it's brilliant. I searched through a good few of free stuff on the net and found no other tool even close as good as araxis but unfortunately as a small startup I can't at the moment afford to buy it.

  10. Dan Dan says:
    12/1/2013 7:11:59 AM

    WinMerge is the Best :)

  11. Bala Bala says:
    12/24/2013 9:31:25 AM

    Recently I started with "Code Compare" from Devart Software, and found very good., Free tool too.

  12. Admin Admin says:
    12/24/2013 9:37:52 AM

    Thanks Bala for letting me know "Code Compare". At a cursory glance that looks good, probably time for me to do another review.

  13. Eljay Eljay says:
    2/19/2014 10:52:03 AM

    I'm a bit confused about what the goal is here. A diff tool? A merge tool? A good 3-way merge tool and a good diff tool are not necessarily the same tool. KDiff3 is a good 3-way merge tool. gVim -d is a good diff tool. WinMerge is not a 3-way merge tool. (WinMerge 3 may change that). Nor is gVim -d a 3-way merge tool. And I'm a vi / vim / gVim fanboy. Araxis Merge... used it for years. It's great. Beyond Compare... used it for quite a while. It's great. P4Merge... used it for years. It's great. KDiff3... just started using it today. Too soon to say. The functional but aesthetically questionable interface does not bother me.

  14. Wynand Wynand says:
    2/25/2014 2:30:22 PM

    I'm surprised that DiffMerge isn't listed here. I used it for years but started looking at alternatives when a nag screen was introduced. I didn't find WinMerge quite to my liking and found it difficult to compare differences in files with. KDiff3 is quite good too but I'm now using P4Merge and am really impressed with it.

  15. Daniel Daniel says:
    3/11/2014 10:49:19 AM

    Did you know about Semantic merge?

  16. Smithc831 Smithc831 says:
    5/5/2014 11:37:28 PM

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  17. Manfred Manfred says:
    5/18/2014 2:56:26 AM

    Have you looked at the "ignore white space" capabilities? For example, Beyond Compare is completely line oriented, even the "pro" version - it is incapable of ignoring white space changes that cross line boundaries. For that reason alone, I would have excluded it from the top five.

  18. gabriel gabriel says:
    6/5/2014 2:23:04 PM

    Diffuse is the best one under windows. under linux, if you are not using Meld, you are doing it wrong.

  19. Smithk40 Smithk40 says:
    6/16/2014 6:31:06 PM

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  20. FatalError FatalError says:
    9/24/2014 12:06:44 AM

    P4 merge is the best, comparing to others I used.

  21. Greg Greg says:
    10/8/2014 6:58:02 AM

    this is quite handy and fresh tool to compare texts

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