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Compare Folders in Windows for Differences: Easy Guide

Want to compare folders for differences like modified files, deleted files, missing files, duplicate files, etc.? This article shows you how.

Generally, you don’t need this often, but there will be times when you want to compare two folders to make sure both are identical. If there are differences between two folders, you might want to know what those differences are so that you can rectify them. For example, you might have copied a folder with a large number of files to an external hard disk and want to make sure all the files are copied successfully, or maybe you’re trying to find out which files have changed since the last time you opened a folder, or you’re trying to figure out why two folders that should be identical are giving you different results.

Whatever the reason for needing to compare folders in Windows, it is time-consuming and tedious if you want to do it manually. Not to mention, frustrating.

Thankfully, there are several free tools that make it easier to compare two or more folders to find differences. In this article, I will show you how to use a free and open-source software called WinMerge to compare two folders in Windows.

How to compare folders in Windows

To compare folders in Windows, we will use a free and open-source software called WinMerge. Follow the below steps:

  1. Download and install the WinMerge software.
  2. Open the WinMerge application.
  3. Click the File > Open option.
  4. Press the Browse button under the 1st File or Folder field.
  5. Select the first folder you want to compare.
  6. Click the Open button.
  7. Press the Browse button under the 2nd File or Folder field.
  8. Select the second folder you want to compare.
  9. Click the Open button.
  10. Press the Compare button.
  11. WinMerge will compare both folders and highlights all the differences.
  12. That’s it. With that, you’ve compared two folders for differences.

Download link: https://winmerge.org/downloads/

Steps with more details:

First, use the link above to download the WinMerge application. Click on the WinMerge-2.X.X-Setup.exe button to download the setup file.

download winmerge

Once downloaded, double-click on the setup file and follow the installation wizard to install WinMerge. Once the application is installed, open WinMerge. You can open it from the Start menu or double-click on the WinMerge desktop icon.

install winmerge

After opening the application, go to the “File” menu and click on the “Open” option. You can also press the “Ctrl + O” keyboard shortcut.

click file and then open option

click the “Browse” button under the “1st File for Folder” field.

click browse under 1st file or folder field

The above action will open the Browse window. Here, open the folder you want to compare and click the “Open” button. This action will add the folder path to the “1st File for Folder” field.

select folder

Next, click the “Browse” button under the “2nd File for Folder” field. Select the second folder you want to compare against the first folder and click the “Open” button. Just as before, the second folder path is added to the “2nd File for Folder” field. You can add a third folder by clicking the Browse button under the “3rd File or Folder” field.

add second folder to the 2nd file or folder field

After adding the folders to compare, make sure “Folder: Filter” is set to “*.*” and the “Include Subfolders” checkbox is selected.

Note: If you want to compare specific file types only then click the “Select” button next to the “Folder: Filter” dropdown menu and choose the file extension of your choice.

set folder filter to all

Finally, click the Compare button at the bottom.

click compare to compare folders

As soon as you do that, WinMerge will compare the selected folders, list all the files, and highlight the differences. You can see two folders in separate tabs in the WinMerge application’s main window.

selecting folders appearing in two tabs

For example, if the files in both folders are identical, you will see “Binary files are identical” in the “Comparison result” column.

files are identical in both folders

If one of the folders has a missing or deleted file(s), WinMerge will highlight it with a grey background color with “Left only: Directory path” status under the “Comparision result” column. For example, in my case, the file is only present in the left folder (1st folder).

winmerge highlighting delete file when comparing two folders

On the other hand, modified files are highlighted with yellow background color, and you will see “Binary files are different” in the “Comparison result” column. In this case, you’ll see the modification dates under the “Left Date” (1st folder) and “Right Date” (2nd folder) columns. For example, in my case, the file in the right folder (2nd folder) has been modified recently.

winmerge highlighting modified files in folders

To rectify the difference and sync both folders, right-click on highlighted file entry and select the “Copy > Right to left or Left to right” option to copy the missing/modified file to the other folder.

compare folder context menu options

The WinMerge application has several more options that make comparing folders and files easy. Play with it and explore the options to get the most out of it. For instance, you can use it to merge folders in Windows.

That is all. It is that simple compare folders on Windows.

I hope this simple and easy Windows how-to guide helped you.

If you are stuck or need help, send an email, and I will try to help as much as possible.

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