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A tool like vimdiff for Emacs

Table of Contents


vdiff compares two or three buffers on the basis of the output from the diff tool. The buffers are kept synchronized so that as you move through one of the buffers the top of the active buffer aligns with the corresponding top of the other buffer(s). This is similar to how ediff works, but in ediff you use a third “control buffer” to move through the diffed buffers. The key difference is that in vdiff you are meant to actively edit one of the buffers and the display will update automatically for the other buffer. Similar to ediff, vdiff provides commands to “send” and “receive” hunks from one buffer to the other as well as commands to traverse the diff hunks, which are useful if you are trying to merge changes. In contrast to ediff, vdiff also provides folding capabilities to fold sections of the buffers that don’t contain changes. This folding occurs automatically. Finally, you are encouraged to bind a key to `vdiff-hydra/body’, which will use hydra.el (in ELPA) to create a convenient transient keymap containing most of the useful vdiff commands.

This functionality is all inspired by (but not equivalent to) the vimdiff tool from vim.

Contributions and suggestions are very welcome.

Recent (Significant) Changes

  • [2019-02-26] If the region is active when changes are sent to other buffers, only lines in the intersection of the region and any hunks are sent. This allows sending individual lines, similar to how individual lines can be staged in magit.
  • [2018-04-17] Add option to use various git diff algorithms. See vdiff-diff-algorithm for options.
  • [2017-05-17] Split vdiff-magit.el into separate repository.
  • [2017-02-01] Added magit integration functions in vdiff-magit.el.
  • [2016-07-25] Added three-way diff support. See vdiff-buffers3 and vdiff-files3.


Basic two file diff with refined hunks


Three file diff with targets for sending changes


Installation and Usage

vdiff is available in MELPA, which is the recommended way to install it and keep it up to date. To install it you may do M-x package-install RET vdiff RET.

To start a vdiff session, the main entry points are

vdiff-buffersDiff two open buffers
vdiff-filesDiff two files
vdiff-buffers3Diff three open buffers
vdiff-files3Diff three files
vdiff-current-fileLike ediff-current-file (Diff buffer with disk version of file)
vdiff-merge-conflictUse vdiff to resolve merge conflicts in current file

After installing you can bind the commands to your preferred key prefix like this

(require 'vdiff)
(define-key vdiff-mode-map (kbd "C-c") vdiff-mode-prefix-map)

which will bind most of the commands under the C-c prefix when vdiff-mode is active. Of course you can pick whatever prefix you prefer. With the C-c prefix the commands would be


C-c gvdiff-switch-bufferSwitch buffers at matching line
C-c nvdiff-next-hunkMove to next hunk in buffer
C-c pvdiff-previous-hunkMove to previous hunk in buffer
C-c hvdiff-hydra/bodyEnter vdiff-hydra

Viewing and Transmitting Changes Between Buffers

C-c rvdiff-receive-changesReceive change from other buffer
C-c Rvdiff-receive-changes-and-stepSame as C-c r then C-c n
C-c svdiff-send-changesSend this change(s) to other buffer
C-c Svdiff-send-changes-and-stepSame as C-c s then C-c n
C-c fvdiff-refine-this-hunkHighlight changed words in hunk
C-c xvdiff-remove-refinements-in-hunkRemove refinement highlighting
(none)vdiff-refine-this-hunk-symbolRefine based on symbols
(none)vdiff-refine-this-hunk-wordRefine based on words
C-c Fvdiff-refine-all-hunksHighlight changed words
(none)vdiff-refine-all-hunks-symbolRefine all based on symbols
(none)vdiff-refine-all-hunks-wordRefine all based on words


C-c Nvdiff-next-foldMove to next fold in buffer
C-c Pvdiff-previous-foldMove to previous fold in buffer
C-c cvdiff-close-foldClose fold at point or in region
C-c Cvdiff-close-all-foldsClose all folds in buffer
C-c tvdiff-close-other-foldsClose all other folds in buffer
C-c ovdiff-open-foldOpen fold at point or in region
C-c Ovdiff-open-all-foldsOpen all folds in buffer

Ignoring case and whitespace

C-c i cvdiff-toggle-caseToggle ignoring of case
C-c i wvdiff-toggle-whitespaceToggle ignoring of case

Saving, Updating and Exiting

C-c wvdiff-save-buffersSave both buffers
C-c uvdiff-refreshForce diff refresh
(none)vdiff-restore-windowsRestore window configuration
C-c qvdiff-quitQuit vdiff

Evil-mode users might prefer something like the following to use a comma as a prefix in normal state.

(require 'vdiff)
(require 'evil)
(evil-define-key 'normal vdiff-mode-map "," vdiff-mode-prefix-map)

vimdiff-like binding are provided by evil-collection’s evil-collection-vdiff.el


Using the hydra package, vdiff-hydra allows quick movement and changes to be made in the buffer. By default it lives on the h command in the prefix map. Bind vdiff-hydra/body directly to customize this key binding.


Further customization

The current customization options and their defaults are

;; Whether to lock scrolling by default when starting vdiff
(setq vdiff-lock-scrolling t)

;; diff program/algorithm to use. Allows choice of diff or git diff along with
;; the various algorithms provided by these commands. See
;; `vdiff-diff-algorithms' for the associated command line arguments.
(setq vdiff-diff-algorithm 'diff)

;; diff3 command to use. Specify as a list where the car is the command to use
;; and the remaining elements are the arguments to the command.
(setq vdiff-diff3-command '("diff3"))

;; Don't use folding in vdiff buffers if non-nil.
(setq vdiff-disable-folding nil)

;; Unchanged lines to leave unfolded around a fold
(setq vdiff-fold-padding 6)

;; Minimum number of lines to fold
(setq vdiff-min-fold-size 4)

;; If non-nil, allow closing new folds around point after updates.
(setq vdiff-may-close-fold-on-point t)

;; Function that returns the string printed for a closed fold. The arguments
;; passed are the number of lines folded, the text on the first line, and the
;; width of the buffer.
(setq vdiff-fold-string-function 'vdiff-fold-string-default)

;; Default syntax table class code to use for identifying "words" in
;; `vdiff-refine-this-change'. Some useful options are
;; "w"   (default) words
;; "w_"  symbols (words plus symbol constituents)
;; For more information see
(setq vdiff-default-refinement-syntax-code "w")

;; If non-nil, automatically refine all hunks.
(setq vdiff-auto-refine nil)

;; How to represent subtractions (i.e., deleted lines). The
;; default is full which means add the same number of (fake) lines
;; as those that were removed. The choice single means add only one
;; fake line. The choice fringe means don't add lines but do
;; indicate the subtraction location in the fringe.
(setq vdiff-subtraction-style 'full)

;; Character to use for filling subtraction lines. See also
;; `vdiff-subtraction-style'.
(setq vdiff-subtraction-fill-char ?-)