diff format

This sections provide details on how nbdime represents diffs, and will mostly be relevant for those who want to use nbdime as a library, or that want to contribute to nbdime.

example of nbdime's content-aware diff

Figure: nbdime’s content-aware diff


A diff object represents the difference B-A between two objects, A and B, as a list of operations (ops) to apply to A to obtain B. Each operation is represented as a dict with at least two items:

{ "op": <opname>, "key": <key> }

The objects A and B are either mappings (dicts) or sequences (lists or strings). A different set of ops are legal for mappings and sequences. Depending on the op, the operation dict usually contains an additional argument, as documented below.

The diff objects in nbdime are:

  • json-compatible nested structures of dicts (with string keys) and
  • lists of values with heterogeneous datatypes (strings, ints, floats).

The difference between these input objects is represented by a json-compatible results object. A JSON schema for validating diff entries is available in diff_format.schema.json.

Diff format for mappings

For mappings, the key is always a string.

Valid operations (ops) are:

  • remove - delete existing value at key:

    { "op": "remove", "key": <string> }
  • add - insert new value at key not previously existing:

    { "op": "add", "key": <string>, "value": <value> }
  • replace - replace existing value at key with new value:

    { "op": "replace", "key": <string>, "value": <value> }
  • patch - patch existing value at key with another diffobject:

    { "op": "patch", "key": <string>, "diff": <diffobject> }

Diff format for sequences

For sequences (list and string) the key is always an integer index. This index is relative to object A of length N.

Valid operations (ops) are:

  • removerange - delete the values A[key:key+length]:

    { "op": "removerange", "key": <string>, "length": <n>}
  • addrange - insert new items from valuelist before A[key], at end if key=len(A):

    { "op": "addrange", "key": <string>, "valuelist": <values> }
  • patch - patch existing value at key with another diffobject:

    { "op": "patch",   "key": <string>, "diff": <diffobject> }

Relation to JSONPatch

The above described diff representation format has similarities with the JSONPatch standard but is also different in a few ways:

  • JSONPatch contains operations move, copy, test not used by nbdime.
  • nbdime contains operations addrange, removerange, and patch not in JSONPatch.
  • JSONPatch uses a deep JSON pointer based path item in each operation instead of providing a recursive patch op.
  • nbdime uses a key item in its patch op.
diff object
  • JSONPatch can represent the diff object as a single list.
  • nbdime uses a tree of lists.

To convert a nbdime diff object to the JSONPatch format, use the to_json_patch function:

from nbdime.diff_format import to_json_patch
jp = to_json_patch(diff_obj)


This function to_json_patch is currently a draft, subject to change, and not yet covered by tests.


For examples of diffs using nbdime, see test_patch.py.