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Version Control with Subversion, 2nd Edition by Brian W. Fitzpatrick, Ben Collins-Sussman, C. Michael Pilato

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Using External Differencing and Merge Tools

The interface between Subversion and external two- and three-way differencing tools hearkens back to a time when Subversion’s only contextual differencing capabilities were built around invocations of the GNU diffutils toolchain, specifically the diff and diff3 utilities. To get the kind of behavior Subversion needed, it called these utilities with more than a handful of options and parameters, most of which were quite specific to the utilities. Some time later, Subversion grew its own internal differencing library, and as a failover mechanism, the --diff-cmd and --diff3-cmd options were added to the Subversion command-line client so that users could more easily indicate that they preferred to use the GNU diff and diff3 utilities instead of the newfangled internal diff library. If those options were used, Subversion would simply ignore the internal diff library and would fall back to running those external programs, lengthy argument lists and all. And that’s where things remain today.

It didn’t take long for folks to realize that having such easy configuration mechanisms for specifying that Subversion should use the external GNU diff and diff3 utilities located at a particular place on the system could be applied toward the use of other differencing tools, too. After all, Subversion didn’t actually verify that the things it was being told to run were members of the GNU diffutils toolchain. But the only configurable aspect of using those ...

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