A Basic Directories Diff

Need to find out if two directories contain the same files? Here’s how to do it in a basic fashion. As a GitHub Gist.

Playing it Safe

When working with my precious photos, I like to play it safe. Work on a copy of the original photos. But this also means that at some point it’s time to clean up. Especially, since all storage media I own tends to have a finite capacity.

The question I usually find myself facing then is

Now, these two directories one and two — do they contain the same photos?!

Obviously, I’m not going to do a manual comparison. I’m usually just too trigger happy for that in the first place. Plus, a machine is a lot better at this than I could ever be.

A Poor Man’s Directories Diff

Luckily, macOS comes with all the tools needed to compare if directories one and two contain the same files.

Here, the idea is to generate the list of files for both directories one and two and then compare them using diff.

Now, why is this “A Poor Man’s Directories Diff”?!

Well, the diff is rather basic. It does what it says on the tin. Simply compares file names and then tells you any differences. By design, there is no inspection of the files themselves. This means that one/photo.jpg could be entirely different from two/photo.jpg while the diff declares them to be indistinguishable.

Plus, the diff is more useful for humans when there are a limited number of differences between the two directories. Once the differences reach into the hundreds or thousands, then the diff is probably best post-processed by a machine. Well, at least in that case you know, that there’s a not so small difference.

Everything in One Go

When wrapping the above idea with some input parameter handling and favourable output formatting for humans, the result is a single Bash script in the following GitHub Gist

So, How do You Diff Directories?!

While the above Worx for Me!™ when it comes to diff’ing directories, you may have an alternative or better way.

Think this is all rubbish, incomplete, massively overcomplicated, or simply the wrong tool for the job?! Feel free to leave a comment or contribute to the GitHub Gist or reach out to me on LinkedIn and teach me something new!

As always, prove me wrong and I’ll buy you a pint!


Dominic Dumrauf

A Cloud Success Champion by profession, an avid outdoor enthusiast by heart, and a passionate barista by choice. Still hunting that elusive perfect espresso.

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