Is it time for a hex editor? It’s time for a hex editor … of sorts.
I have to admit a small amount of surprise in seeing a program as venerable yet well-maintained as vbindiff that seems to have skipped a few small steps in its presentation.
Going by the home page, the first “release” of vbindiff was for the OS/2, way back in 1996. Through the years it appears to have shifted more towards the Windows environment, but added *nix support less than 10 years ago, and for what it’s worth, is packaged in both Arch and Debian.
And my fleeting interactions with vbindiff suggest it is a workable, usable program at the very least. It wisely uses a horizontal split-screen arrangement and a strong white-on-blue backdrop, and keeps almost all its key commands on the screen, when they are relevant.
You can edit a file as well, making it a practical hex editor as well as diff tool. It’s not as graceful or elegant as some, and not nearly as splashy as others, but it fills both needs without tripping up.
Except for two or three small things, and this is where my surprise comes in. First, as you can see in the screenshots, vbindiff is apparently comfortable stretching to a depth of at least 42 lines, and possibly a lot more. That I can guess from my terminal depth.
But I don’t see a flag or any option that will stretch it horizontally, which means that there’s a huge, huge gap of wasted space off to the right. Yes, I know 120×42 is unconventional, and I respect that 80×24 is the standard that reaches back to the 1980s. But it’s a bit of an omission — a giant glaring omission, really — given the tiling window manager trend, and the prevalence of terminal emulators.
Second, vbindiff is slanted toward picking out differences between files, but there’s no visual indicator — and by that, I mean color difference or even just a difference in bolding — to highlight changes. Perhaps that’s intentional, or perhaps there’s a way to set that in a configuration file, but I see no note of it in the man page or onboard help.
Add to that the use of red on blue, which would horrify my secondary school art teacher for the shimmering side effect it has for most viewers. I forget the name of that effect or I’d link to it, but it’s not that critical. White on blue is very good, but red on blue is going to offend Miss Crawley, wherever she is now. Maybe she is responsible for my preference for color at the console. … 😐
I should mention that by its own admission, vbindiff can’t handle files greater than 4Gb in size. Of course, if you really need a diff tool for files that are bigger than 4Gb, then I think you have bigger problems than just color choice.
vbindiff does a few things I like — the aforementioned on-screen help is always good, and it allows navigation with arrow keys. It also uses the Enter key as a quick jump to the next difference between files, which will make some of your diff quests easier.
But I don’t think this stands up to things like dhex or some others. It has potential, but really needs to be brought up to date.