When Ediff starts up, it displays a small control window, which accepts the Ediff commands, and two or three windows displaying the files to be compared or merged. The control window can be in its own small frame or it can be part of a bigger frame that displays other buffers. In any case, it is important that the control window be active (i.e., be the one receiving the keystrokes) when you use Ediff. You can switch to other Emacs buffers at will and even edit the files currently being compared with Ediff and then switch back to Ediff at any time by activating the appropriate Emacs windows.
Ediff can be invoked interactively using the following functions, which can be run either from the minibuffer or from the menu bar. In the menu bar, all Ediff's entry points belong to three submenus of the Tools menu: Compare, Merge, and Apply Patch.
ediff-windows-linewise, but compares the regions line-by-line. See
ediff-windows-linewisefor more details.
Since the patch might be in a buffer or a file, you will be asked which is the case. To avoid this extra prompt, you can invoke this command with a prefix argument. With an odd prefix argument, Ediff assumes the patch is in a file; with an even argument, a buffer is assumed.
ediff-patch-file will actually use the
utility to change the original files on disk. This is not that
dangerous, since you will always have the original contents of the file
saved in another file that has the extension .orig.
Furthermore, if the file is under version control, then you can always back
out to one of the previous versions (see the section on Version Control in
the Emacs manual).
ediff-patch-file is careful about versions control: if the file
to be patched is checked in, then Ediff will offer to check it out, because
failing to do so may result in the loss of the changes when the file is
checked out the next time.
If you don't intend to modify the file via the patch and just want to see
what the patch is all about (and decide later), then
ediff-patch-buffer might be a better choice.
This function would refuse to apply a multifile patch to a buffer. Use
ediff-patch-file for that (and when you want the original file to be
modified by the
Since the patch might be in a buffer or a file, you will be asked which is
the case. To avoid this extra prompt, you can invoke this command with a
prefix argument. With an odd prefix argument, Ediff assumes the patch
is in a file; with an even argument, a buffer is assumed.
ediff-merge, but with a third ancestor file.
When the above functions are invoked, the user is prompted for all the
necessary information—typically the files or buffers to compare, merge, or
patch. Ediff tries to be smart about these prompts. For instance, in
comparing/merging files, it will offer the visible buffers as defaults. In
prompting for files, if the user enters a directory, the previously input
file name will be appended to that directory. In addition, if the variable
ediff-use-last-dir is not
nil, Ediff will offer
previously entered directories as defaults (which will be maintained
separately for each type of file, A, B, or C).
All the above functions use the POSIX
to find differences between two files. They process the
and display it in a convenient form. At present, Ediff understands only
the plain output from diff. Options such as ‘-c’ are not supported,
nor is the format produced by incompatible file comparison programs.
ediff-buffers3 first display the coarse,
line-based difference regions, as reported by the
diff program. The
total number of difference regions and the current difference number are
always displayed in the mode line of the control window.
diff may report fairly large chunks of text as being different,
even though the difference may be localized to just a few words or even
to the white space or line breaks, Ediff further refines the
regions to indicate which exact words differ. If the only difference is
in the white space and line breaks, Ediff says so.
On a color display, fine differences are highlighted with color; on a monochrome display, they are underlined. See Highlighting Difference Regions, for information on how to customize this.
ediff-regions-linewise do comparison on parts of existing Emacs
buffers. The commands
ediff-regions-wordwise could be slow on very large buffers,
as they perform comparison on the basis of words rather than lines.
(Word-wise comparison of large chunks of text is relatively expensive.)
To compare very large regions, use
This command displays differences much like
ediff-patch-buffer apply a
patch to a file or a buffer and then run Ediff on the appropriate
files/buffers, displaying the difference regions.
The entry points
etc., provide a convenient interface for comparing and merging files in
different directories. The user is presented with Dired-like interface from
which one can run a group of related Ediff sessions.
For files under version control,
ediff-revision lets you compare
the file visited by the current buffer to one of its checked-in versions.
You can also compare two checked-in versions of the visited file.
Moreover, the functions
ediff-merge-directory-revisions, etc., let you run a group of
related Ediff sessions by taking a directory and comparing (or merging)
versions of files in that directory.