Comparing Text Files in Windows

James TaralaBaselining, Tools, Windows Auditing

So last month we wrote a post about the built in capabilities of Microsoft Windows to be able to perform comparisons of two text files. Personally when I am comparing two files I am concerned that I can do it from the command line, can easily automate the comparison, and that the output is easy to parse and understand.

Built into Windows the three most common options I have seen to compare text files are:

  • FC.EXE (Windows Binary)
  • COMP.EXE (Windows Binary)
  • COMPARE-OBJECT (PowerShell cmdlet)

As I have said before, COMPARE-OBJECT is about the best option of the three choices, but it sure would be nice if there were more advanced options available with the tool. Ideally we would all have access to a free utility that would meet all the requirements we have been discussing here. But alas, I am not sure we are going to find that right now. So on the commercial side, what is left?

There are quite a few third party tools you might consider. Some of the more popular ones I have seen people use are:

  • WinDiff
  • ExamDiff
  • WinMerge
  • Beyond Compare

If you are looking for a free utility (open source), that also works from the command line, then you should check out WinMerge. If definitely looks like an intriguing project and it meets most of my requirements for a good file differential tool. You can learn more about it at http://winmerge.org/.

But lately I have been most impressed by Beyond Compare’s software (located at . The only downside to the project is that it is commercial. So if you’re planning on deploying it to a large number of systems you may need to shell out some coin. But it’s reasonably priced, so we cannot complain too much.

Not only does the tool meet all of our requirements though, it also comes with a few other nice bells and whistles, like the ability to compare registry settings, the ability to use the unified diff output format, more granular control of comparisons themselves, etc. We do not even get a commission from these folks, but their software seems to be the best suited if you’re looking for a fully capable system.

My guess is that most of us can get away with using WinMerge on a large scale for day to day and basic differentials. But if you really need more advanced capabilities, then forking over the money for a Beyond Compare license is likely worth it.