#diff #editor #view #editing #ui #version #file

bin+lib diffedit3

Edit diffs in a 3-pane view

6 releases (3 breaking)

0.4.0 May 6, 2024
0.3.0 Apr 11, 2024
0.2.0 Apr 5, 2024
0.1.2 Mar 19, 2024

#9 in #view

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15K SLoC

JavaScript 14K SLoC // 0.0% comments Rust 1K SLoC // 0.1% comments

Logo Diffedit3


The tool in this repo is a UI for editing diffs in a three-pane view. It is meant to be used with jj, and the core of it will hopefully become a part of jj.

See below for the explanation of the purpose of diffedit3 for people less familiar with jj.

Screenshot of v. 0.1.2

The interface of diffedit3 is quite similar to that of Meld, when used in the experimental 3-pane diff editing mode. Meld is far more polished, so you should prefer it to diffedit3 when and if you can easily use it. diffedit3, however, can be used when Meld would be difficult to install or difficult to run, as long as a web browser is available (e.g. over SSH with port forwarding, via WSL, ...).

In order to be as portable as possible, diffedit3 runs a local HTTP server. The UI runs in your browser at, quite similarly to how Jupyter works. Much of the UI is a wrapper around the CodeMirror editor/library. See below for more implementation details.

Installing diffedit3

There are several ways to install diffedit3.

  • You can obtain diffedit3 from the Releases page of this repo. Download the archive appropriate for your system, unpack it, and put the executable in your PATH.

  • If you have Rust installed, you can use cargo install diffedit3 --locked.

  • If you have cargo binstall, you can cargo binstall diffedit3. It is then recommended to install and use cargo-update to update both diffedit3 and cargo-binstall.

After obtaining the binary, you can test that it woks by running diffedit3 --demo.

A note on the unsupported Tauri binaries

The release page also contains binaries with "unsupported-tauri-gui" in their name that contain a diffedit3-gui executable.

you can use these interchangeably with the regular diffedit3 executable if you prefer a proper GUI application (based on Tauri) to a Jupyter-style webapp. If you just want to try it out, run diffedit3-gui --demo.

However, diffedit3-gui is minimally supported and has known bugs (mostly with key bindings) that the author isn't sure how to fix. You would also need to manually configure jj to use it.

Using diffedit3 with jj

For jj 0.18+, diffedit3 should be pre-configured. It should be sufficient to set ui.diff-editor="diffedit3" in your jj config or invoke jj commands with --tool diffedit3 argument. If the diffedit3 executable is not in your PATH, you can also set merge-tools.diffedit3.program to the path to the executable. (TODO: Link to docs and remove this TODO once the PR with the docs and the config lands.)

To use diffedit3 with older versions of jj, add the following snippet to your jj config:

diff-editor = "diffedit3"

# Replace `program` with the full path to the
# binary if it is not in your PATH.
program = "diffedit3"  
edit-args = ["$left", "$right", "$output"]

Then, the tool will be used for jj split and many other commands.

Potential uses outside jj

diffedit3 presents the user with a three-way comparison between two or three directories. The user can then edit the middle pane, creating any intermediate version of the data they like. This interface is not novel, Meld can be configured in the same way. However, I believe it should be better known and used more.

If you are not familiar with the various jj operations where this is useful, the most obvious use-cases are:

  • splitting commits, as I explained in detail in a feature request.

  • as an interactive version of git add -p. This is not currently implemented, but diffedit3 could be set up to show the state of HEAD in the left pane, the state of the working copy in the right pane, and let the user edit the staging area in the middle pane.

    This way, you could easily stage portions of files or you could decide to slightly modify the changes you stage from what you have in the working copy. This would also be safe: nothing you do would affect the working copy or the HEAD commit, until you explicitly commit the staged changes or restore the working copy from the staged changes.

The "interactive git add -p" could be implemented by some sort of a script that would get Git to first materialize the three versions of the repo in three dirs on disk (perhaps limiting them to the modified files). After diffedit3 is done, the script would have to the output and tell git to make that output the new contents of the staging area. This is along the lines of a StackOverflow question.

Alternatively, it might be easier to make a dedicated tool using something like gix or git2, assuming they provide ways to easily modify the staging area.

Notes on implementation and alternative possibilities

For now, the code is of proof-of-concept quality. I tried to make this useable enough for people to get a sense of the tool, quickly.

Most of this tool is a web-app, which is a thin wrapper around the CodeMirror 5 merge plugin. There is also a small amount of Rust for IO and to set up the local server (or to set up Tauri).

CodeMirror 5 is obsolete software with bugs that are unlikely to ever be fixed (especially in the merge plugin). Hopefully we'll move on to use something else eventually, but currently it has a very convenient feature set for this tool.

Some alternatives to CodeMirror 5 we could consider:

  • Codemirror 6 has a merge plugin, but it only supports two-pane diffs at the moment. I started a Discourse discussion with a feature request for three-pane diffs.

    There is no response yet, but from other discussions, it seems that the author of CodeMirror is willing to be hired as a consultant to implement new features.

  • mismerge is promising. It is missing some features for now (see the issues in the repo).

Some examples of CodeMirror5 limitations

  • Omitting unchanged blocks is buggy when changing whether the lines are wrapped.
  • Diff quality is far from perfect
  • No dark theme support
  • Hard to tell blank lines from missing lines.
  • Who knows how soon it'll be abandoned and unsupported.
  • It's difficult to get it to work with modern web frameworks.

Potential future features and alternatives to them

A TUI tool with a three-pane diffedit view

This would be nice :).

It should be feasible to make Vim and possibly Emacs support the kind of interface diffedit3 provides. I'm not aware of any ready-to-use options for three-way diff editing of directories. For three versions of a single file (as opposed to a directory), Vim can do it today.

Even if somebody writes or improves a Vim plugin to do this (which would be great!), there is also a need for such a tool that does not require the user to learn the ways of Vim or Emacs.

Resolving merge conflicts in a 4-pane view

A UI that shows the base of the conflict, the two sides of the conflict, and an output pane for the user to resolve the conflicts in would be a desirable addition to diffedit3. It is likely laborious to add. I am not aware of a preexisting JS library that implements such a UI. On the other hand, there are many existing alternative programs of varying levels of polish that can do this.

As an alternative for use with jj, I recommend setting up either kdiff3 (binaries) or VS Code as a merge tool for this purpose today. The latter can be used to merge files on a remote computer, using its Remote Development mode. jj supports resolving conflicts with both out of the box.

There are many other alternatives, including paid ones like Araxis/Beyond Compare.

UI Changes, e.g. a tabbed view instead of scrolling, change size of the editors, ...

Patches welcome :). Any such changes run the risk of running into CodeMirror5's merge plugin's bugs, so be careful checking that your changes work.

Word wrapping, buttons to take all changes from the left/right pane

This is planned. This requires destroying the CodeMirror widget and creating a new one (in order to avoid CodeMirror5 bugs).

Building diffedit3 from source

For the local server version, running cargo build --release should suffice. This assumes that the compiled javascript in webapp/dist is up to date and therefore does not require installing npm.

For the GUI (Tauri) version, the procedure is:

  1. Install Rust
  2. Install the cargo-tauri CLI (TODO: Better explanation.). Do not use the node Tauri CLI; it does not seem to work with the Rust-focused directory structure of this project.
  3. Install node/npm. cd to the backend-tauri dir.
  4. Run npm install (only has to be done once).
  5. Run cargo tauri build. Do not use the regular cargo build, it produces a broken binary.

In both cases, the binary will be produced in the target/release dir.


A note on branches

The commit history of the dev branch is messy. The branch may be force-pushed at any time.

Pre-v0.0.1 commits are also messy, and are on the v0.0.1-ish branch.


Option 1: using backend-local-server

  1. (If you are planning to touch HTML/CSS/JS) Install node/npm, run npm install.

  2. (If you are touching HTML/CSS/JS) Run npm run watch in a separate terminal. This will auto-update webapp/dist whenever you change files in webapp/.

  3. Use cargo run -p backend-local-server -- --demo to run the app. If touching the webapp, remember to manually make sure that npm run watch is not showing any errors before running/building the app.

  4. (Recommended) Set up your editor to format on save using [Prettier] and cargo +nightly fmt. For VS Code, you can install https://marketplace.visualstudio.com/items?itemName=esbenp.prettier-vscode and https://marketplace.visualstudio.com/items?itemName=rust-lang.rust-analyzer, and then add the following to your workspace (or global) settings.json:

    "[rust]": {
        "editor.formatOnSave": true
    "[typescript]": {
        "editor.formatOnSave": true
    "[html]": {
        "editor.formatOnSave": true
    "[yaml]": {
        "editor.formatOnSave": true
    "[github-actions-workflow]": {
        "editor.formatOnSave": true

    Running npm run build will also run prettier via npm run format.

Option 2: using backend-tauri

  1. Follow the steps of the "building" procedure for the GUI/Tauri version. You can skip the last building step.
  2. Run cargo tauri dev -- -- --demo (note the two --s). This will automatically refresh the app to use the latest version of the webapp from webapp/ (as opposed to `webapp/dist) in dev mode.

Medium-term TODOs

Allow ignoring whitespace

This seems unsupported by CodeMirror.

See also "better merging" below. Mismerge does seem to support this.

Keep track on which file tabs were opened on reload

Would need to send data to the server regularly.

Regularly check whether the local server is alive

This mainly requires a UI. The server can have a /api/ping route. We could verify if it's the same server that started the webapp at the same time, though it's probably better to make a more general check of whether the on-disk directory state is as expected (see the next item).

Warning for unsaved changes, fancier save button

Keep track of whether the content changed since last save. Grey out the save button in this case. (This means that while saving, we need to keep track of both the last successfully saved state and the state we're trying to save). Tell the user when the last successful save happened.

Better merging

Simpler: look into configuring parameters to the diff library.

Hard: Do calculations in Rust using a newer library. Would require a UI that can import such a diff. mismerge is close.

Save per-file

Simple part: don't overwrite unchanged files

Harder: separate save buttons per file and maybe an overall save button.

Shorter-term TODOs and known bugs

If the file is deleted on the right side, the tool will write an empty file in its place when saving. It should not do that.

For the Tauri app (diffedit3-gui), Ctrl-C/Cmd-C for copy doesn't seem to always work. Ctrl-Up and Cmd-Up for going to the previous diff also doesn't seem to work. The webapp diffedit3 version is not affected

Toggling options like line-wrapping, collapse of similar regions, or the right pane loses the CodeMirror viewport and selection

This is because the editor needs to be recreated to avoid CodeMirror5 bugs. The cursor position is preserved.

Pinned view menu has an ugly scrollbar when the window is narrow.

This has to do with the fact that <details> do not seem to support display: flex. The solution would be to replace <details> with a custom implementation.


~408K SLoC