wdiff, cwdiff and dwdiff: Since I mentioned it. …

I just mentioned colordiff, but left out one thing it can do: colorize the output of wdiff. And what is wdiff, you say?


That should give you an idea. wdiff works in the same way as diff, but at a word-by-word level. If you look closely in the upper half of that image, the differences in lines of text are offset with brackets and curly braces.

That may be enough for you, but you have to admit that the second half, where the output was piped through colordiff, is much easier to scan. The man page says you should add -n to wdiff before sending it through colordiff, but as you can see there, it worked fine in that example.

wdiff works well with colordiff, but you might prefer cwdiff, as opposed to piping things through one another.


cwdiff does much of what wdiff + colordiff offers, and simplifies the process quite a bit. There are a few added options too, including one to subtract the color from the output — meaning you get pretty much what wdiff had originally.

By default, cwdiff’s output is simplified somewhat from what wdiff creates, or what wdiff produces through colordiff. It’s not necessarily better, but it is a tiny bit … different.🙄

dwdiff is the last on the list that I feel obligated to mention at this point. By now, you’ll probably feel like dwdiff doesn’t really do anything that wdiff, colordiff, cwdiff or even just diff could handle.


dwdiff also plucks out differences between words of files, and has a -c flag to inject color into the output. The distinguishing point between dwdiff and the others, as I see it, is its ability to set specific delimiters while searching.

I couldn’t think of a good case example for that, and I searched around in hopes of finding something to test it. Nothing handy appeared though, and most examples for dwdiff seemed to generate the same output as wdiff alone or cwdiff might get you.

So the final questions become academic: First, do you want colorized output (say yes! say yes!); and second, do you need control over specific delimiters when comparing files?

If you answer yes to the first, cwdiff might be the best tool, although you can get the same results from wdiff alone if you have colordiff available. If you answer yes to the second, you’ll most likely want dwdiff regardless of your preference for color.

And if neither of those questions is important … well, then you can probably get through the day with just the original diff tool. No shame in that.😉

4 thoughts on “wdiff, cwdiff and dwdiff: Since I mentioned it. …

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  2. Fred

    Quote: “I couldn’t think of a good case example for that”; “And if neither of those questions is important …”

    Well, I use dwdiff on a daily basis in order to compare my progress of my homework papers for my latin and history classes. I write my papers in LaTeX and keep track of the progress by storing the paper in a mercurial repository. Adding dwdiff als an extension diff for the hg command makes the whole thing a lot easier! (Bonus: Begin each sentence on a seperate line; create a branch for every section.)

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