Joachim Breitner

ipatch, the interactive patch editor

Published 2010-08-03 in sections English, Haskell, Darcs.

The problem: Splitting patches

As a Debian maintainer, I often work with patches (files listing changes to text files), for example when tracking the modification I make to some software before I upload the  package to Debian. To manage these patches, quilt is a nice tool: It helps you maintain a stack of patches on top of the original code and encourages you to keep your variously modifications separate.

One use case is not supported by quilt at all: Splitting patches. One often has a large patch containing several independent changes. This might happen after you fix a few problems in the upstream code and then run dpkg-buildpackage, which will create one patch of your changes and put it in debian/patches. Before, I had to manually edit the patch and write the hunks, which are the building blocks of patches, into separate file.

Where it already works

There is no such problem when using a version control system, such as Darcs. Especially Darcs is rightly famous for its user-friendly interface and powerful hunk-selection features. You can even split a single hunk (which could be a change to one line) into two separate steps! Have a look at the HunkEditor page on the Darcs wiki to see how that works.

Let’s steal a feature

Well, it is not stealing if it is Free Software... Darcs has these nice capabilities and provides them in the context of version control systems, while we need them in the context of patch files. But Darcs is providing an API to its code, so shoudn’t it be possible to create a program that uses the Darcs code to split patch files? As a matter of fact, it is possible: You can see that program in action on this 3min Ogg Theora-Video or directly here if your browser supports HTML5:

Nice, can I use it?

The code is a working proof of concept. What you see works. You do not see how it handles patches that create or delete files, patches that do not apply cleanly or are already applied or any kind of error handling. That does not work yet. If you still want to try it, you can grab the code from the Darcs git repository at, but you need to build the latest development state of the Darcs library first.

I think ipatch could become a very useful and powerful tool with applications in areas where nobody would think of using Darcs. I definitely want some integration into quilt, replacing the splitted patch in the series by the replacing patches automatically. Maybe even a git plugin could be created? But I don’t think I can push this project far enough on my own. So this is an invitation to join me and make ipatch a great tool. This invitation goes especially to the Darcs developers: Please have a look how the code uses the Darcs API and help to improve the collaboration here. I think we can use the darcs-users mailing list until there is need for a dedicated mailing list.


I don't see the use case for a Git plugin. git already has the required feature, if you have mixed changes in the working tree, you can commit some parts of the changes only, even if you need to split some hunks.
#1 Raphaël Hertzog (Homepage) am 2011-05-31

last time I checked, I found git’s UI for hunk selecting and editing very counter-intuitive, at least at a first glance. So the feature is there, and I don’t doubt that it is very powerful, but some might prefer Darcs’s approach. But I agree that ipatch is less useful there than in a quilt environment.


#2 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2011-05-31

Have something to say? You can post a comment by sending an e-Mail to me at <>, and I will include it here.