Version control software has been around for many years. It has helped numerous developers of all skill levels manage projects. However, the management of version control has become a job in and of itself. This is due to large numbers of changes given to developers by managers and team leads. The process can be overwhelming; deciphering between different code merge tools can be a nightmare.
If you’re a software developer completely over your head when it comes to code merge tools, you’ve come to the right place. This article will help you in selecting a code merge tool by profiling the top tools available and indicating who these code merge tools would serve the best. It brings together the key features of the tools, and we even talk prices! The good news is many of them are open source, and the tools that do cost money are not cost-prohibitive.
The merge functionality included with many version control programs are capable of reporting differences in code from the same module. This is a key component for merging. In some cases, the development teams were able to use the differences to resolve conflicts when the merge occurred. Unfortunately, more problems arose when the developers refactored their code. Merge tools did not handle this refactoring well, and lost the confidence of developers. Refactoring efforts were put on the backburner as a result.
Conflicts in merging occur when two or more developers are working on the same module simultaneously. When changes are large, managing the merge becomes a nightmare. Developers are either told to limit refactoring, or they simply don’t make changes to the same code. They are given a segment of the project they are responsible for. Unless an emergency arose forcing others to check out the code, only the developer assigned was permitted to manage that segment of the code. This caused inefficient management of projects.
Code merging gives developers the ability to integrate their code after changes or bug fixes. The developers need to have confidence that their integration efforts are smooth and complete without any errors. When conflicts do occur that prevent the tools from merging automatically, they are reported back to the developers.
While the solutions have become more robust, DevOps and Agile methodologies help to keep changes small, which reduces the need to merge large chunks of code. Hence, developers gain the confidence they lost from traditional development methods of merging large blocks of code.
Code merge tools can help teams identify conflicts. But, developers still need to engage in open communication with each other when working on the same code. Stand-up meetings are a great place for them to discuss conflicts and other issues.
When choosing a code merge tool, you need to factor in several attributes. The cost is always one of the biggest. Functionality is just as important. Developers should also consider the team size when choosing a tool.
You’ll need to consider whether you want to select visual tools to help you manage your merges, or if you and your team can work with a command-line merge tool. The benefits of a visual tool are obvious. You can see the changes in a side-by-side comparison. However, there will be situations where the visual tools may not handle what you are trying to do. In this case, knowing and using the command-line versions can help you solve your situation.
The following list describes several tools on the market and should help you in choosing a merge tool. This will give you an idea of what’s available, and how it fits with your current development scenario. Several of the tools are open source which means you can easily try them with no monetary commitment.
Git is a popular option for developers. It is more than a merge tool, but that is one of the main aspects of the tool. Git prides itself on having the best branching functionality in the industry. Many users of the software agree. However, the merge tools native to Git are not sophisticated.
- Git is distributed. When you sync to the network, you will have the latest copy of the source. You don’t need to be connected once the sync is finished. By contrast, solutions that depend on central servers won’t work when those servers are down.
- The distributed architecture of Git serves as a built-in backup system. Every node will have an up-to-date instance of the project or files.
- The solution is one of the most popular choices for developers. Its powerful branching mechanism is what makes it well-suited for developers.
Open source (free)
Experienced developers not afraid to work with command-line tools.
KDiff3 is a side-by-side comparison program with a merge function. It gives developers the ability to make changes directly in the output window. The project has not been updated for quite some time. However, the functions it currently supports work well.
- The “3” in KDiff3 represents a 3-way merge. This feature helps with automated merging.
- Allows developers to manually resolve conflicts when the 3-way merge cannot make a determination.
Open source (free)
Developers at any level of experience. This software has a visual interface that is easy for people to learn and use.
DiffMerge is a simple tool to install and use. It can be integrated as the merge tool for Git. It is an intuitive tool and has a graphical interface. You can make changes directly in the tool.
- Supports directory comparisons which can help determine changes at a high-level.
- It supports 3-way merging which makes auto-merging possible. However, any conflicts will need to be resolved by coders.
- The software can compare any two files or folders.
$39 one-time fee. They offer discounts frequently.
Any developer that doesn’t mind spending a bit of money for a code merge tool.
Semantic Merge is different than many of its competitors. It has a parser that helps it resolve conflicts by reporting at the function level, rather than changes in position. This makes refactoring a much easier proposition for developers. However, if the parser is not capable of determining the code, the tool will revert to a text-based merge tool of your choice.
- Parser-based comparison and merge. The software can determine changes at the method level instead of the position of the text. This feature makes refactoring seamless.
- Native support for VBNET, C#, Java, and C/C++.
- Allows for configuration of external parsers to support other programming languages.
Monthly – $6.90, Yearly – $59, One-Time lifetime cost: $152 + 20% yearly maintenance fee. Free for open source projects.
Developers who refactor frequently.
This is a higher-end product for comparing and merging. It supports multiple programming languages with the ability to add more from online sources. Beyond Compare can read PDF files and other binary files for comparison, which most other tools do not support.
- Syntax highlighting for multiple language support. Additional languages can be added from a repository.
- Regular expression support to fine tune what comparisons to include.
- Customized alignment for differences.
- 3-way merge is supported in the Pro edition.
- Converts binary files (Word, Excel, etc.) to text.
- Pro edition can compare registry hives.
- See website for several other features.
Standard edition: $30, Pro edition: $60
Development teams with a decent development budget who needs the robust functionality found in this tool.
Code Compare is a file and folder comparison and merge tool. It allows multi-directional merge and integrates well with Visual Studio. Code Compare is a Windows-only solution.
- Supports a command line and popular source control integration (Git, SVN, etc.)
- Integrates with Visual Studio via extension
- Pro version supports 3-way compare/merge.
- Line-by-line, word-by-word, and symbol-by-symbol comparisons.
- Includes a Review Assistant that allows teams to comment on code reviews.
Free and Pro version ($49)
This tool is geared towards Microsoft Visual Studio developers.
What is different about Meld is it allows users to compare files within different folders. You may not use this feature often. But, when you need it, you’ll be glad you have it. Meld is easy-to-use. The development team has not kept up-to-date with the software. Therefore, don’t expect too many upgrades with this option.
- Supports 2-way and 3-way comparisons for both files and directories.
- Status changes as you make text updates.
- Supports major source code control programs.
- Source code is available under open source license.
Open source (free)
Developers at any level of experience. It is not good for organizations requiring up-to-date software.
You have plenty of options when it comes to code merge tools. Many integrate well with tools you may already be using. The cost of these packages is not going to break any budgets, and in many cases, the solutions are open source with no costs. Therefore, don’t lock yourself into one solution. Try different ones to see which will work best for your development environment.
When you find a few tools that you like, consider using them alongside Retrace by Stackify. This solution is made for developers to help them quickly deploy their solutions. When you incorporate Retrace with these other tools, you’ll be ready to tackle any situation that comes your way.
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