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How to find differences between directories in Linux

January 1, 20242 min read

Diff in Linux, meaning difference, is a term used to compare two or more directories to find the basic differences between them. Directory comparison is a common task for developers, Linux administrators, and other IT persons. It is necessary to ensure proper data backup and synchronization, data integrity, disk optimization, content management, etc.

You can also compare different versions of directories to know what is the difference between them and what new content has been added during the update. With comparable results, you can prepare patches that help update files on other systems. So, if you also want to learn different ways to find differences between directories, keep reading this guide. Here, we will explain how to find the difference between directories in Linux with the help of various examples.

How to find differences between directories in Linux

Let’s break this section into several sections to discuss different ways to separate directories in Linux.

1. Diff Command

“Diff” is the command you can use to compare two files or directories. It comes in-built in UNIX and Linux systems, so you can use it in the terminal right away. For example, let’s compare the “Documents” and “Downloads” directories using the “diff” command:

diff -qr document download

In the given command, “q” means short and “r” means recursive output.

2. Meld Utility

If you prefer a graphical user interface to get better insight when comparing directories, Meld may be your favorite tool. It is a command-line tool that you can use to split and combine directories. You can install the “meld” utility by running the following command:

After installation, let’s use “meld” to find the differences between two directories.


Comparing directories is essential in Linux, especially when you want to maintain data synchronization between servers. However, the comparison result also helps you understand whether any errors occur during data transfer. Furthermore, we have listed practical methods that one can use to find differences between two or more directories. Although the commands of all these methods appear to be similar, each one provides results that are tailored to meet different needs.

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