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Invoking diff

The format for running the diff command is:

diff options... from-file to-file

In the simplest case, diff compares the contents of the two files from-file and to-file. A file name of - stands for text read from the standard input. As a special case, diff - - compares a copy of standard input to itself.

If from-file is a directory and to-file is not, diff compares the file in from-file whose file name is that of to-file, and vice versa. The non-directory file must not be -.

If both from-file and to-file are directories, diff compares corresponding files in both directories, in alphabetical order; this comparison is not recursive unless the -r or --recursive option is given. diff never compares the actual contents of a directory as if it were a file. The file that is fully specified may not be standard input, because standard input is nameless and the notion of ``file with the same name'' does not apply.

diff options begin with -, so normally from-file and to-file may not begin with -. However, -- as an argument by itself treats the remaining arguments as file names even if they begin with -.

An exit status of 0 means no differences were found, 1 means some differences were found, and 2 means trouble.

Options to diff

Below is a summary of all of the options that GNU diff accepts. Most options have two equivalent names, one of which is a single letter preceded by -, and the other of which is a long name preceded by --. Multiple single letter options (unless they take an argument) can be combined into a single command line word: -ac is equivalent to -a -c. Long named options can be abbreviated to any unique prefix of their name. Brackets ([ and ]) indicate that an option takes an optional argument.

-lines Show lines (an integer) lines of context. This option does not specify an output format by itself; it has no effect unless it is combined with -c (see section Context Format) or -u (see section Unified Format). This option is obsolete. For proper operation, patch typically needs at least two lines of context.
-a Treat all files as text and compare them line-by-line, even if they do not seem to be text. See section Binary Files and Forcing Text Comparisons.

-b Ignore changes in amount of white space. See section Suppressing Differences in Blank and Tab Spacing.

-B Ignore changes that just insert or delete blank lines. See section Suppressing Differences in Blank Lines.

--binary Read and write data in binary mode. See section Binary Files and Forcing Text Comparisons.

--brief Report only whether the files differ, not the details of the differences. See section Summarizing Which Files Differ.

-c Use the context output format. See section Context Format.

-C lines --context[=lines] Use the context output format, showing lines (an integer) lines of context, or three if lines is not given. See section Context Format. For proper operation, patch typically needs at least two lines of context.

--changed-group-format=format Use format to output a line group containing differing lines from both files in if-then-else format. See section Line Group Formats.

-d Change the algorithm perhaps find a smaller set of changes. This makes diff slower (sometimes much slower). See section diff Performance Tradeoffs.

-D name Make merged #ifdef format output, conditional on the preprocessor macro name. See section Merging Files with If-then-else.

-e --ed Make output that is a valid ed script. See section ed Scripts.

--exclude=pattern When comparing directories, ignore files and subdirectories whose basenames match pattern. See section Comparing Directories.

--exclude-from=file When comparing directories, ignore files and subdirectories whose basenames match any pattern contained in file. See section Comparing Directories.

--expand-tabs Expand tabs to spaces in the output, to preserve the alignment of tabs in the input files. See section Preserving Tabstop Alignment.

-f Make output that looks vaguely like an ed script but has changes in the order they appear in the file. See section Forward ed Scripts.

-F regexp In context and unified format, for each hunk of differences, show some of the last preceding line that matches regexp. See section Showing Lines That Match Regular Expressions.

--forward-ed Make output that looks vaguely like an ed script but has changes in the order they appear in the file. See section Forward ed Scripts.

-h This option currently has no effect; it is present for Unix compatibility.

-H Use heuristics to speed handling of large files that have numerous scattered small changes. See section diff Performance Tradeoffs.

--horizon-lines=lines Do not discard the last lines lines of the common prefix and the first lines lines of the common suffix. See section diff Performance Tradeoffs.

-i Ignore changes in case; consider upper- and lower-case letters equivalent. See section Suppressing Case Differences.

-I regexp Ignore changes that just insert or delete lines that match regexp. See section Suppressing Lines Matching a Regular Expression.

--ifdef=name Make merged if-then-else output using name. See section Merging Files with If-then-else.

--ignore-all-space Ignore white space when comparing lines. See section Suppressing Differences in Blank and Tab Spacing.

--ignore-blank-lines Ignore changes that just insert or delete blank lines. See section Suppressing Differences in Blank Lines.

--ignore-case Ignore changes in case; consider upper- and lower-case to be the same. See section Suppressing Case Differences.

--ignore-matching-lines=regexp Ignore changes that just insert or delete lines that match regexp. See section Suppressing Lines Matching a Regular Expression.

--ignore-space-change Ignore changes in amount of white space. See section Suppressing Differences in Blank and Tab Spacing.

--initial-tab Output a tab rather than a space before the text of a line in normal or context format. This causes the alignment of tabs in the line to look normal. See section Preserving Tabstop Alignment.

-l Pass the output through pr to paginate it. See section Paginating diff Output.

-L label Use label instead of the file name in the context format (see section Context Format) and unified format (see section Unified Format) headers. See section RCS Scripts.

--label=label Use label instead of the file name in the context format (see section Context Format) and unified format (see section Unified Format) headers.

--left-column Print only the left column of two common lines in side by side format. See section Controlling Side by Side Format.

--line-format=format Use format to output all input lines in if-then-else format. See section Line Formats.

--minimal Change the algorithm to perhaps find a smaller set of changes. This makes diff slower (sometimes much slower). See section diff Performance Tradeoffs.

-n Output RCS-format diffs; like -f except that each command specifies the number of lines affected. See section RCS Scripts.

-N --new-file In directory comparison, if a file is found in only one directory, treat it as present but empty in the other directory. See section Comparing Directories.

--new-group-format=format Use format to output a group of lines taken from just the second file in if-then-else format. See section Line Group Formats.

--new-line-format=format Use format to output a line taken from just the second file in if-then-else format. See section Line Formats.

--old-group-format=format Use format to output a group of lines taken from just the first file in if-then-else format. See section Line Group Formats.

--old-line-format=format Use format to output a line taken from just the first file in if-then-else format. See section Line Formats.

-p Show which C function each change is in. See section Showing C Function Headings.

-P When comparing directories, if a file appears only in the second directory of the two, treat it as present but empty in the other. See section Comparing Directories.

--paginate Pass the output through pr to paginate it. See section Paginating diff Output.

-q Report only whether the files differ, not the details of the differences. See section Summarizing Which Files Differ.

-r When comparing directories, recursively compare any subdirectories found. See section Comparing Directories.

--rcs Output RCS-format diffs; like -f except that each command specifies the number of lines affected. See section RCS Scripts.

--recursive When comparing directories, recursively compare any subdirectories found. See section Comparing Directories.

--report-identical-files Report when two files are the same. See section Comparing Directories.

-s Report when two files are the same. See section Comparing Directories.

-S file When comparing directories, start with the file file. This is used for resuming an aborted comparison. See section Comparing Directories.

--sdiff-merge-assist Print extra information to help sdiff. sdiff uses this option when it runs diff. This option is not intended for users to use directly.

--show-c-function Show which C function each change is in. See section Showing C Function Headings.

--show-function-line=regexp In context and unified format, for each hunk of differences, show some of the last preceding line that matches regexp. See section Showing Lines That Match Regular Expressions.

--side-by-side Use the side by side output format. See section Controlling Side by Side Format.

--speed-large-files Use heuristics to speed handling of large files that have numerous scattered small changes. See section diff Performance Tradeoffs.

--starting-file=file When comparing directories, start with the file file. This is used for resuming an aborted comparison. See section Comparing Directories.

--suppress-common-lines Do not print common lines in side by side format. See section Controlling Side by Side Format.

-t Expand tabs to spaces in the output, to preserve the alignment of tabs in the input files. See section Preserving Tabstop Alignment.

-T Output a tab rather than a space before the text of a line in normal or context format. This causes the alignment of tabs in the line to look normal. See section Preserving Tabstop Alignment.

--text Treat all files as text and compare them line-by-line, even if they do not appear to be text. See section Binary Files and Forcing Text Comparisons.

-u Use the unified output format. See section Unified Format.

--unchanged-group-format=format Use format to output a group of common lines taken from both files in if-then-else format. See section Line Group Formats.

--unchanged-line-format=format Use format to output a line common to both files in if-then-else format. See section Line Formats.

--unidirectional-new-file When comparing directories, if a file appears only in the second directory of the two, treat it as present but empty in the other. See section Comparing Directories.

-U lines --unified[=lines] Use the unified output format, showing lines (an integer) lines of context, or three if lines is not given. See section Unified Format. For proper operation, patch typically needs at least two lines of context.

-v --version Output the version number of diff.

-w Ignore white space when comparing lines. See section Suppressing Differences in Blank and Tab Spacing.

-W columns --width=columns Use an output width of columns in side by side format. See section Controlling Side by Side Format.

-x pattern When comparing directories, ignore files and subdirectories whose basenames match pattern. See section Comparing Directories.

-X file When comparing directories, ignore files and subdirectories whose basenames match any pattern contained in file. See section Comparing Directories.

-y Use the side by side output format. See section Controlling Side by Side Format.


 

 

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