Date Tags Git / Latex

Got some LaTeX files you're working on? Want to know what specific words you have changed, and all git diff throws up are entire paragraphs in green and red (if you write without line-breaks), even if you just added a full stop? Well, friend, you may think, as I did, "Surely there's a tool for this?". It turns out there is, and I found the result useful enough that I wanted to write a blog entry on it...

Hopefully you are reading this as you already have the code of your LaTeX project under version control. Even more hopefully, you are using git to do so. If not, do not fear; I provide a minimal example, with an initial commit containing only the Lorem Ipsum snippet, and a second commit with some additional text. I also assume you have access to a UNIX terminal.

I'll show the output of a few diff methods using the example provided. I wanted something that would keep the directory clean, and not involve me hacking a solution, so I'll focus on those. Let's look at a few...

The Quick and Dirty Method

The first, and more immediate, solution is a very simple flag addition to git diff. Enter --color-words,

git diff --color-words HEAD~1

This will diff between HEAD and the previous commit of the latex source code, showing the specific words that have changed, highlighted in ascii text. That's it. No additional installation and all the rewards. Magic!

Here's the terminal output (after some ascii-to-html conversion via aha) for my simple example, where red shows text which has been removed and green shows the added text:

diff --git a/main.tex b/main.tex index a878dad..b1c5236 100644 --- a/main.tex +++ b/main.tex @@ -2,6 +2,8 @@


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duisaute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse aute irure dolor cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecatoccaecat, cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officiaofficia; deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

The snippet of Lorem ipsum, presented above, serves no purpose but to fill space. The words are randomised, altered, and removed from some text a guy wrote a long time ago; it doesn't make sense in Latin, or any other language. I can therefore change the order of words, and it may even make more sense than before!


As a small git refresher, you can also diff between specific commits. First, find the identifier of the commit (you can use git log to do this) - remember, this only requires the first 4 or 5 characters, as git is very good at randomising commit IDs. In my example code, the initial commit has the ID 2888d..., so we'll use that, however the output is the same as above. This method makes a lot more sense in bigger projects with many more commits:

git diff --color-words 2888d HEAD

The pdf Method

Ok, so the previous method still required some extra processing to read, as there is still no line wrapping, and not everybody likes reading long latex code in a terminal. Luckily, there's a nifty difftool for this, named latexdiff. This can be found in the apt-get package repositories,

sudo apt-get install latexdiff

I couldn't get this working as an in-line command, but using the alias provided courtesy of Gautam Iyer's Wiki, which should be added to your ~/.gitconfig file,

    ldiff = difftool -y -t latex

    cmd = latexdiff "$LOCAL" "$REMOTE"

Then, the process of creating a diffed pdf involves simply,

git ldiff HEAD~1 main.tex > diff.tex

and then your regular method for compiling a pdf from a .tex file, in my example I'll use a simple compilation as there are no frills required,

latex diff.tex && dvipdf diff.dvi

Check out the output.

The pdf Method: Multiple Source Files

The above method had some issues for my original problem, as the project was split into multiple source files, with non tex files and images. Again, Gautam Iyer's Wiki details a reasonable hack for for doing this, but I found a delightful tool named git-latexdiff as pointed to in this Stack Exchange Thread. Essentially, this package extracts the entire repository to /tmp/, recursively diffs all latex source files and produces the pdf, with no questions asked.

There is no apt-get package for git-latexdiff, so you'll need to first follow their instructions on the website. This involves (in a temporary location),

git clone
cd git-latexdiff && sudo make install

You may also need to install ascii-doc, as the documentation uses the a2x package. There is no need to edit the ~/.gitconfig or post-compilation for this solution, simply use,

git latexdiff HEAD~1

and out pops the pdf, as before, regardless of non-tex files or multiple .tex files. Phew!

Of course, kudos goes to Matthieu Moy for git-latexdiff, I am merely spreading the word.

Note: git-latexdiff seems to use the local Makefile in the repository if one exists, even if a specific build is requested, e.g., with the --latexmk flag. So ensure this Makefile is able to compile without errors, or remove it.

Happy diffing!


comments powered by Disqus