Best Free File Comparison Utility

 
Introduction

A file comparison utility helps you visually compare and merge the differences between two (or more) different versions of the same file, or detect the variations between two different sets of data.  These types of utilities are often called "Diff" programs.  Hundreds of different types of file comparison utilities exist, each tailored for specific types of data and file formats.

 
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Go to details...  Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide

 
Discussion

If you are looking to compare plain text files such as code or binary files many different free choices exist.  One of the best is WinMerge. It only runs on a Windows based system, but it can handle DOS, UNIX, and MAC, text file formats. A version of WinMerge called WinMergU also supports Unicode.

WinMerge can integrate with Windows Explorer and will compare two corresponding groups of text files, and tell you which are identical and which have differences. It will also compare two individual files and like most diff utilities, it shows the files being compared in two vertical panes and highlights the differences, allowing you to merge or ignore the changes.

While WinMerge is an excellent text file comparison utility, it will not work with word processor or spreadsheet type documents because they include special formatting and markup. For these types of files you need a comparison program that is especially designed to support their formatting. Unfortunately virtually all of these come with an exorbitant price tag, which puts them out of the reach of most users.

Warning: WinMerge contains OpenCandy (see our information page here for details)

 

Another good product is KDiff3. It is similar to WinMerge with many of the same features, but also supports other operating systems including GNU/Linux, Unix, and Mac OSX.

 
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Quick Selection Guide

WinMerge
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Runs on a Windows based system, but can handle DOS, UNIX, and MAC, text file formats.
Warning: Installer contains OpenCandy (see information link in review text). Doesn't work with word processor or spreadsheet type documents because they include special formatting and markup.
http://winmerge.org/
2.14.0
2.63 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
MS Windows (95/98/NT/2000/XP/Limited Vista support)

7-Zip Plug-in (for archive support)
64 Bit Capable: Limited 64-bit support.

KDiff3
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Has many same features as WinMerge, but also supports other operating systems including GNU/Linux, Unix, and Mac OSX.
http://kdiff3.sourceforge.net/
0.9.97
9.3 MB Win32 exe
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
MS Windows, GNU/Linux with KDE3,Unix, Mac OSX

 
Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Victor Laurie. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

 
Tags

copy files, fast copy files, best free copy software, free file copy software, file tools, file utility.

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Comments

by Walt43 on 7. September 2014 - 1:54  (118426)

Your info is now bad due to updates...WinMerge dropped the running on W9x an XP about version 2.12.something.
I need it to run on W98SE but those ver now will not run there.
I have requested an older version from them because I have not been able to find a workable version for W9x.

by sdion on 9. March 2014 - 15:07  (114909)

Hi

I'm looking for a software that compares text files and considered the following 2 files as equals:

File "A":
bla bla

File "B":
bla
bla

It needs to highlights any others differences.

I still didn't find, yet, any software (free or paid) that has this feature!

I'm willing to use *nix alternative if there is no windows solution.

Thanks in advance

by harrym on 27. September 2013 - 16:58  (111057)
by MSTF_SMM on 29. May 2013 - 19:09  (108131)

WinMerge got updated to 2.14.0

Here some added features plus some bug fixes:

Update PCRE to version 8.10
Update SCEW to version 1.1.2
Improve startup time (#2788142)
Add menuitems for selecting automatic or manual prediffing
Add accelerator keys for Shell context menu
Add /xq command line switch for closing WinMerge after identical files and not showing message
Allow setting codepage from command line
Allow giving encoding name as custom codepage
Add options GUI for quick compare limit
Expand/collapse folders from keyboard
Improve detecting XML files in file compare
Lots of language updates

There is also a new player called Diffuse:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/diffuse/

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