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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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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