Unified Versus Split Diff
Which is better for code reviews, a unified diff or a split diff?
A split diff looks like this for me:
And this is a unified one:
If the changes are simple and small, both views are good. But for larger, more complex changes neither works for me.
For a large change, I don’t want to do a “diff review”, I want to do a proper code review of a codebase at a particular instant in time, paying specific attention to the recently changed areas, but mostly just doing general review, as if I am writing the code. I need to run tests, use goto definition and other editor navigation features, apply local changes to check if some things could have been written differently, look at the wider context to notice things that should have been changed, and in general notice anything that might be not quite right with the codebase, irrespective of the historical path to the current state of the code.
So, for me, the ideal diff view would look rather like this:
On the left, the current state of the code (which is also the on-disk state), with changes subtly highlighted in the margins. On the right, the unified diff for the portion of the codebase currently visible on the left.
Sadly, this format of review isn’t well supported by the tools — everyone seems to be happy reviewing diffs, rather than the actual code?
I have a low-tech and pretty inefficient workflow for this style of review. A
script for checking out a pull
Internally, it does roughly
The last line is the key — it erases all the commits from the pull request, but keeps all of the changes. This lets me abuse my workflow for staging&committing to do a code review — edamagit shows the list of changed files, I get “go to next/previous change” shortcuts in the editor, I can even use the staging area to mark hunks I have reviewed.
The only thing I don’t get is automatic synchronization between magit status buffer, and the file that’s currently open in the editor. That is, to view the current file and the diff on the side, I have to manually open the diff and scroll it to the point I am currently looking at.
I wish it was easier to get this close to the code without building custom ad-hoc tools!
P.S. This post talks about how to review code, but reviewing the code is not necessary the primary goal of code review. See this related post: Two Kinds of Code Review.