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Writers, web developers, and programmers often need to compare different versions of the same code or text to keep track of changes. But figuring out the changes in a file manually is not a simple task. As a document gets longer and complex, you’re more likely to make comparison errors and waste time.
A file comparison tool helps you compare and merge the differences between two (or more) versions of the same file. There are different types of utilities, each tailored for specific types of data and file formats. We’ll look at some best file comparison apps for macOS.
Meld is a simple diff and merge tool. The user interface is intuitive and neatly packs all its functions into a handy menu. It has many customizable settings to make file comparison easy and quick. On first launch, the app gives you an option to choose a comparison module.
To start a comparison, click the File module and select your files from Finder. Meld will display them side-by-side. Any differences between them appear highlighted to make individual changes easier to see.
On either side of panels, you’ll see two vertical bars with colored blocks. They give you a bird-eye view of all changes, such as inserted, deleted, changed, 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. The changes update in real-time, no matter how big the file gets.
- The app integrates with source control systems, such as Git, Bazaar, Mercurial, and SVN to perform version control tasks.
- The text editor supports line numbers, whitespace, syntax highlighting, and text wrapping for a user-friendly experience.
- With text filters, you can ignore text that matches a particular pattern or even use regular expressions to create complex filters. To try them, go to Preferences and turn on Text Filters.
Download: Meld (Free)
2. Helix P4 Diff and Merge Tool
Helix P4V is an enterprise version control software to manage source files, web pages, manuals, OS code, and more. P4V is the client for the Helix core server that hosts all your data and resides in a depot. You open the files and edit them in your workspace.
When done, submit the modified file back to the shared repository or depot, where it keeps track of all the file revisions. P4V integrates with the P4 diff and merge tool. The purple icon and its color scheme highlights the input file, while the green icon and its color scheme highlights the output file.
P4Merge display files side-by-side, with the center as a 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, choose the Previous or Next buttons.
Helix P4’s Unique Features:
- P4Merge works with various image formats, including 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, size, and more details.
- The integration with P4V can reveal the entire file revision history, plus what changed during a particular time frame. This is useful for resolving bugs.
- Visualize the differences and resolve conflicts that result from parallel or concurrent development via color-coding, syntax highlighting, line numbers, and patches.
Download: Helix P4 Diff and Merge (Free for up to five users and 20 workspaces)
3. Beyond Compare
Beyond Compare is another utility for comparing files and folders. With few buttons and a colorful interface, the app tries to maintain a balance between features and performance. On the first launch, choose the comparison module for a particular task from Text, RTF, Hex, MP3, Tables, and more.
The app will display your files side-by-side. It uses red text for highlighting important differences and blue for insignificant changes. You can adjust these colors to suit your preferences.
The overview thumbnail on the left pane displays a visual map of colors. To navigate, use the Next and Previous button to step through all your differences. Then, use the arrow buttons to merge your files. Click the Save button located at the right of the window to save your file.
What Beyond Compare offers:
- Every comparison task begins with a session, which you can customize and save to open later on. These gives you great flexibility and save time.
- The session settings that control these comparisons are called Rules. They put you in control of how each session works and helps you discover significant differences.
- The Table Compare session compares text files with tabular data. You can sort and align the data on key fields and compare them cell-by-cell.
- The app provides a scripting processing feature to automate routine tasks. For more details, visit the the scripting section of the Help page.
- Compare files in remote storage through Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon S3, OneDrive, and Source Control Managers.
Download: Beyond Compare ($30 Standard | $60 Pro | Free trial available)
DeltaWalker from Deltopia is a cross-platform visual diff and merge tool. The interface is intuitive, with just a couple of menu buttons. It relies more on visual parameters to help you find differences. Out of the box, it supports Office files, Java archives, ZIP, XML, PDF, and more. Speaking of which, we’ve covered how to compare two Excel files using other methods.
Click the Browse button in the entry field to bring up File Open dialog box. On the other side, you can either open a local or remote file via SFTP, HTTPS, WebDAV, Dropbox, or Google Drive. The app use colors to denote the changes in blocks as inserted, deleted, changed, and in conflict.
You’ll also see connecting lines that joins together related block to simplify the results. The vertical color strip located on the right panel shows a summary with a scaled-down visual map of all differences. Click the arrow button (it appears on mouse hover) to merge your files.
Unique Functions of DeltaWalker:
- One-click integration with Git, Bazaar, Mercurial, and SVN. Go to Preferences > SCM Integration and toggle the SCM of your choice to use them.
- Find 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/Replace window.
- Linked undo/redo feature keeps track of changes across editors. When you undo, the changes happen in reverse order spanning across the editors.
- The app has the ability to export the file comparison report as HTML and Patch. The latter contains the differences between one or more pairs of different files, which is helpful for app developers.
Download: DeltaWalker ($40 Standard | $60 Pro | Free trial available)
5. Araxis Merge
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.
Click the Browse button to open your file. 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 various kinds of files. Thin overview strips next to the scroll bar show the position of changes. And the status bar shows you a summary of changes that are inserted, removed, changed, and deleted.
There are two layout options: vertical and horizontal. They both work with two and three-way file comparison mode. Use the Previous or Next buttons (or shortcuts) to navigate in the file. Additionally, click the small merging button on each block to copy, replace, or merge files.
Araxis Merge’s Unique Features:
- A plugin file system gives you access to files located in Git, Perforce depot, SVN, and Time Machine Volume.
- Drag and drop blocks of text in either panel to edit files. Merge analyzes the changes in the background and saves them. At any time, you can undo the result.
- Create markers to indicate the lines you have modified. Add a bookmark to remind yourself, or place a comment to note important information.
- The synchronization link feature 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 feature is helpful for future audits, storage, and sharing.
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 might need syntax highlighting and export features, while a writer may prefer a more visual diff tool to compare text. The apps discussed here cover every use case. Give them proper trial and see which one fits your needs.
If you’re using the excellent text editor Notepad++, then you can compare files easily with a plugin. It’s feature-rich and fits both casual users and programmers. See how to compare two files with Notepad++ for instructions.