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diff - differential file comparator


diff [ -acefmnbwr ] file1 ... file2


Diff tells what lines must be changed in two files to bring them into agreement. If one
file is a directory, then a file in that directory with basename the same as that of the
other file is used. If both files are directories, similarly named files in the two
directories are compared by the method of diff for text files and cmp(1) otherwise. If
more than two file names are given, then each argument is compared to the last argument as
above. The -r option causes diff to process similarly named subdirectories recursively.
When processing more than one file, diff prefixes file differences with a single line
listing the two differing files, in the form of a diff command line. The -m flag causes
this behavior even when processing single files.

The normal output contains lines of these forms:

n1 a n3,n4
n1,n2 d n3
n1,n2 c n3,n4

These lines resemble ed commands to convert file1 into file2. The numbers after the
letters pertain to file2. In fact, by exchanging `a' for `d' and reading backward one may
ascertain equally how to convert file2 into file1. As in ed, identical pairs where n1 =
n2 or n3 = n4 are abbreviated as a single number.

Following each of these lines come all the lines that are affected in the first file
flagged by `<', then all the lines that are affected in the second file flagged by `>'.

The -b option causes trailing blanks (spaces and tabs) to be ignored and other strings of
blanks to compare equal. The -w option causes all white-space to be removed from input
lines before applying the difference algorithm.

The -n option prefixes each range with file: and inserts a space around the a, c, and d
verbs. The -e option produces a script of a, c and d commands for the editor ed, which
will recreate file2 from file1. The -f option produces a similar script, not useful with
ed, in the opposite order. It may, however, be useful as input to a stream-oriented post-

The -c option includes three lines of context around each change, merging changes whose
contexts overlap. The -a flag displays the entire file as context.

Except in rare circumstances, diff finds a smallest sufficient set of file differences.

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