A File Comparison Tool That's Really Easy To Use


A couple of days ago, one of my web sites stopped working.  Where once were lovely pages of information, there was now nothing but a blank screen.  After investigating the server for a while, I tracked down the problem to a particular config file.  If I changed the config file back to the previous version (of which I luckily had a backup), the site worked just fine.  Put back the current version, and it stopped working again.  I was thus pretty confident that the problem was somewhere within the config file, but now I needed a good tool to let me compare the 2 files in order to spot any differences.

For as long as Windows has been around, it's included a file comparison program called fc.  Run it from a command line, specify 2 files (such things really only work with text files rather than documents), and it will list the differences.  However, the report it produces isn't really of much use.  But thankfully there are some much better ones out there if you look.

I finally settled on a wonderful program called Exam Diff.  As the name suggests, it's designed to let you examine the differences between 2 files.  Start by supplying the 2 filenames, and the results are as shown in the screen shot below.  Each file, listed side by side, with additions and deletions and amendments clearly highlighted.  You can scroll up and down, or left and right, and everything stays in sync.

Exam Diff also comes in a Pro version, which costs money.  However, the basic version is free and does all that you might require of such a utility.  It's a 0.5 MB download from http://www.prestosoft.com/edp_examdiff.asp and runs under all recent versions of Windows.  It's malware-free according to VirusTotal and Web of Trust.  

You'll notice that the download page has lots of links to the file, from various hosts.  I chose the top one (version 1.9 from Prestosoft, EXE).  I have no reason to doubt that the other versions are also malware-free, but choose the first option if you want the same file that I checked.




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I have been using ExamDiff for years and have the same opinion: this is a very good and very useful program.

Great suggestion, rob! :-)

My first reaction was - I have not had a need for such programs for 15 years.
However you mentioned config files (Settings.ini ?), and I have had a slight need a few times in recent years.
The excellent XYPlorerFree (which everyone should use) has released a newer version than the one I had been using for a few months.
I am setting up a PC to give to a neighbor, and am including what I consider essential programs. I downloaded the latest XYPlorerfree, and gave it a wee test run (It is portable, so I did not clobber my earlier version).
The latest has an annoying habit of changing the column widths, depending on which folder you set focus on. The earlier version is not annoying.
Had a quick look at the configuration file, and ran screaming from it, and decided to give the neighbor the earlier version.
I wonder whether your recommended program will help me here ?
Also do others know of another comparison program that would make that easier ?
PS If the lines layout is quite different, wouldn't that drive the program, (or me reading the results) crazy ?

Good one! Thanks

How about the perennially excellent [edited]? It costs money, but if you get the trial, it has this little quirk that seems to allow you to use it almost indefinitely. It does everything that these tools do, and a LOT more. Check it out and see what you think. It's been my favorite for years.

[Moderator's note: Mention and links to commercial not permitted. Edited out.]

My own favorite is the excellent and totally free WinMerge.

Same here; I love WinMerge. I used to use ExamDiff but it got a bit buggy and started to crash on me when comparing a large number of files; which I do quite often. Especially with the Ignore Whitespaces option on.

Excellent find. I also like KDiff3 for comparing text source code. Now I have two.