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File and Directory Comparisons with Python

Table of Contents

The Python standard library offers a powerful set of tools out of the box including file system handling. In this quick little article you’ll see a couple of useful recipes to compare files and directories with the filecmp module.

When you have a painful mess of files and folders (like here, or here), which are difficult to plow through, Python is your friend to automate the search and comparison. This can then be combined with automatic processing, modification or deletion of files and directories instead of manually going through each file.

A fair warning: Always check and test the code properly when modifying the file system with any operation like deleting, renaming, copying, among others. And also keep multiple copies of your important files “Two is One and One is None”.

Comparing Files with filecmp

In the filecmp module you’ll find the cmp() function which can compare two files. By default the comparision is shallow (shallow=True) which means that only the os.stat() signatures (like size, date modified, …) of both files are compared. By setting shallow=False the comparison is done by comparing the contents of the files, which takes more time. Here is a snippet you can use to find all duplicates in a folder:

import os
import itertools
import filecmp

files = os.listdir('path/to/directory')

for f1, f2 in itertools.combinations(files, 2):
    if filecmp.cmp(f1, f2):
        print(f1, f2)

Here you can see the use of another highly useful module from the Python standard librar, the itertools module, which can help you with various iterators and looping functions. In this case you can see the combinations() function which returns all permutations of length 2 of the list of files. This makes sure that each file is compared with each other file in the list. To search recursively over all files in a folder, replace files = os.listdir('...') in the previous code with:

files = []
for (dirpath, dirnames, filenames) in os.walk('.'):
    for f in filenames:
        files.append(os.path.join(dirpath, f))

Comparing Directories with dircmp

You can also compare directories with the dircmp class. The following snippet goes through two folders recursively and displays all files that have the same name, but are different and it lists all files that exist either on the left or right filepath:

import filecmp
c = filecmp.dircmp(filepath1, filepath2)

def report_recursive(dcmp):
    for name in dcmp.diff_files:
        print("DIFF file %s found in %s and %s" % (name, 
            dcmp.left, dcmp.right))
    for name in dcmp.left_only:
        print("ONLY LEFT file %s found in %s" % (name, dcmp.left))
    for name in dcmp.right_only:
        print("ONLY RIGHT file %s found in %s" % (name, dcmp.right))
    for sub_dcmp in dcmp.subdirs.values():


This is a great way if you have multiple folders with the same name but you have no idea if they have the same contents (like different versions of a backup folder). Keep in mind that this does only a shallow comparision like you saw in the file comparison before.

I hope this helps! If anything is unclear or you have other useful tipps and tricks, you can share those in the comments or feel free to reach out.