File Difference Utilities – Tony’s Tech Tips

by Tony Gamble

Tony's Tech Tips LogoHello, again! I’m back from a brief hiatus and delighted to bring you all this very cool tip that I think you might find handy. Have you ever tried to compare two documents side-by-side, painstakingly scouring every line, every paragraph, seeking out only what changed between the two? I have. One of my primary tasks at Jester Creative is Web Developer, which means writing and re-writing a lot of computer code. PHP, Javascript, HTML… all that wonderful gobbley-gook you sometimes see when you stumble across the “View Page Source” feature in your web browser. And quite often, I need to be able to locate that one line of code which changed and caused a horrible crash so that I can repair the issue. Here are some of the resources I found.

QuickDiff online

This online tool gets right to the point. No fancy graphics or complex navigations to wind your way through, just a simple, “quick and dirty” webpage with two text entry areas: one on the left, one on the right. No need to upload files from your computer, simply copy and paste the texts you want to examine in the left and right panes and click the Compare button. The resulting Output appears in a pane below with the differences highlighted in colour. However, I found the output pane to be too tight for large documents and I couldn’t easily print it out. QuickDiff seems fine for small snippets, but not much else.

FreeDiff Windows

This free utility is a Windows application that comes with a list of features to help you pinpoint specific differences. You can drag and drop files, ignore whitespace and print out the results, but the input must always be plain text. This doesn’t mean you can’t compare Word docs or Excel spreadsheets. You just need to convert them to plain text first. Still, if you’re out of Internet range, with no access to a comparable online tool, it’s nice to know you can have this simple and free app at your disposal.

CompareMyFiles online

Another online-only tool, CompareMyFiles differs from QuickDiff by allowing you to upload full documents for comparison. The options give you control over whether or not the utility should compare “line-by-line” or “skip blank lines”, and you can choose to show only the differences it finds. But although you can upload files like Word docs and Excel spreadsheets, the output in these cases becomes a string of gibberish. You would definitely need to convert such files to plain text first. As well, the output is restricted to a fixed-size scrolling window. While this can be handy for examining the document a little at a time, it creates a barrier to anyone wanting to easily print out the results.

Diff Checker online toolDiff

At last, we come to the one file difference tool that worked beautifully for me. Another copy-and-paste process, Diff Checker presents itself in a nice, clean layout and lets you focus on the task at hand. It even gives you the option to store your results in the cloud, providing you with a short link back the comparison. The results display in a full-sized window of side-by-side panes that prints out perfectly. You can even make edits within the input panes. No muss, no fuss… just getting the task done quickly and easily.

These certainly weren’t the only tools I found, and I know there are probably some out there that offer up some unique and useful capabilities. Do you have a favourite diff tool that I haven’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments or tweet it out with the hashtag #t3.

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