I need to diff two files (not two versions of the same file, they are however tracked by git, but that is unrelated) and I would like some colored output, how can I achieve that?

$ diff file_1 file_2

< <script ... >
<     // more code
< </script>


Above code shows me the difference between those files, however without any colors. For longer diffs that is hard to read.

Alternatively, is there a way for git (with which I do have nice color output) to diff two different files (not changes to a file)?

OSX (10.7.5)

7 Answers 7


Perl has a a lackluster colordiff wrapper for diff, but I prefer grc (generic colorizer).

With grc (generic colorizer), you can write your own wrappers for different types of commands or inputs (if you like that sort of thing).

Below, grc is running against /var/log/syslog (in the config, this file is set to a certain color scheme), where it highlights processes, pids, IPs and "connect"s.

Of course, it is recommended to use an alias so you don't forget:

alias diff="/usr/bin/grc /usr/bin/diff"

grc running against syslog

If you have git, you may just want to use that, which allows very robust diffing, even across branches.

git diff master:cogs/foo.txt branch:widgets/bar.txt

You do not have to use git diff within a repository, you can use it for just regular files.enter image description here

git diff old.txt new.txt

As always, you can alias diff for ease of use.

alias diff="git diff"
  • 8
    yay for git diff
    – chrismarx
    Feb 4, 2015 at 19:33
  • 13
    git diff should be at the top of your answer! +1 for pointing out that it works even outside of a repository. Feb 7, 2015 at 18:26
  • 7
    'git diff' does not work on generic files so aliasing diff to be 'git diff' can be harmful Apr 23, 2015 at 23:13
  • 1
    This doesn't work for me... echo one > foo; echo two > bar; git diff foo bar produces no output, while diff foo bar produces 1c1 < one --- > two (with proper formatting, of course)
    – LarsR
    Nov 23, 2016 at 8:04
  • 1
    git diff doesn't work for e.g. pipes Jan 24, 2018 at 15:49

When diffing files I almost always use vim:

vim -d file_1 file_2

It not only uses colours, it lines up the files so it's easier to see lines added/removed.

  • 1
    Wow... Vim is a beautiful thing. May 23, 2016 at 16:30
  • @WestonGanger vim is indeed amazing, never ceases to impress me May 24, 2016 at 8:28
  • 1
    vim works on git patch files too (shows colored diff)!
    – ryanman
    Nov 16, 2016 at 18:20
  • Best solution. Vim allows you to change and compare in real time. Very nice! Feb 7, 2020 at 18:41
  • 1
    @MoritzFriedrich Or just hit Ctrl-C and Vim will remind you :) Sep 25, 2021 at 9:25

To build on the approved answer: grc works great for this. It is installable with brew and colorizes a number of terminal commands out of the box, diff being one of them. So...

brew install grc

...installs grc to your system. Then you need to set up your aliases, the brew caveat provides a solution. Simply add the following line to your .bashrc or similar.

source "`brew --prefix`/etc/grc.bashrc"

This will currently add the following aliases:

alias colourify="$GRC -es --colour=auto"
alias configure='colourify ./configure'
alias diff='colourify diff'
alias make='colourify make'
alias gcc='colourify gcc'
alias g++='colourify g++'
alias as='colourify as'
alias gas='colourify gas'
alias ld='colourify ld'
alias netstat='colourify netstat'
alias ping='colourify ping'
alias traceroute='colourify /usr/sbin/traceroute'
alias head='colourify head'
alias tail='colourify tail'
alias dig='colourify dig'
alias mount='colourify mount'
alias ps='colourify ps'
alias mtr='colourify mtr'
alias df='colourify df'

Homebrew has a formula for GNU diffutils, including a diff command with support for color.

$ brew install diffutils
$ /usr/local/bin/diff --color -r -c foo bar

color output

  • 2
    This is the best answer, actually - simply replaces the crippled MacOS version with the proper GNU equivalent, and magically, things work as they're supposed to be. Aug 5, 2021 at 9:50
  • I also like this answer the best. But confess a fondness for the vim -d option, previously unknown to me.
    – MXWest
    Aug 4, 2022 at 20:29
  • Thanks for the tip re: diffutils! I don't know if others will encounter this, but brew installed the diff utility here on my machine: /opt/homebrew/bin/diff.
    – jgpawletko
    Feb 28, 2023 at 22:00

You can get git to diff two different files:

git diff branch1:full/path/to/foo.txt branch2:full/path/to/foo-another.txt

If you have Visual Studio Code (VS Code) installed and on your PATH, you can run code --diff file1 file2.

It provides a really nice side by side comparison with word diff, syntax highlighting, editing code while running the diffs, etc.

VS Code has an option to add itself to your PATH (uses a symlink actually) that you can find here.

alias diff="git diff --no-index"
diff file_1 file_2
  • You are not using a feature of "diff", but replacing it by another tool.
    – Dominique
    Jan 31 at 8:43

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