Compare text documents in your iPhone with Pythonista

If you have a Mac, you may have heard of Kaleidoscope, an amazing application to compare documents, folders, images, anything. It is certainly the cream of the crop in the category, which justifies its price tag. I wanted some sort of the functionality from Kaleidoscope in my iOS devices to compare my drafts before publishing here.

Editorial has a nice workflow to show the differences between the current document and the clipboard, it honestly wouldn't take long to allow file selection, still, I was seeking for a workflow I could use on my iPhone as well, also, the looks of the output never caught my eye. Considering the screen from mobile devices, the side-by-side table was not the best pick, I was searching for an result similar to GitHub’s.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can check the revisions of any gist, this is an example. Github tints the line red for text replaced, followed by the replacement as a green line. While we are talking about GitHub, I found a repository with most of the work done. All I had to do was adapt it for Pythonista.

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-

import difflib
import re
import BaseHTTPServer
import webbrowser

header = '''<!DOCTYPE html>
<title>Text Comparison</title>
<meta name="viewport" content="initial-scale=1.0, width=device-width">

footer = '''

default_css = '''\
<style type="text/css">
   body {
         overflow-x: hidden;}
    #diff {
        border: 1px solid #cccccc;
        background: none repeat scroll 0 0 #f8f8f8;
        font-family: Menlo-Regular,"Courier",monospace;
        font-size: 16px;
        line-height: 1.4;
        white-space: pre-wrap;
        word-wrap: break-word;
        word-break: break-word;
        color: #000;
    #diff .control {
        background-color: #eaf2f5;
        color: #999;
    #diff ins {
        background-color: #ddffdd;
        display: block;
    #diff ins mark {
        background-color: #aaffaa;
    #diff del {
        background-color: #ffdddd;
        display: block;
    #diff del mark {
        background-color: #ffaaaa;

def diff(a, b, n=3, css=True):
    if isinstance(a, basestring):
        a = a.splitlines()
    if isinstance(b, basestring):
        b = b.splitlines()
    return colorize(list(difflib.unified_diff(a, b, n=n)), css=css)

def colorize(diff, css=True):
    css = default_css if css else ""
    return header + css + "\n".join(_colorize(diff)) + footer

def _colorize(diff):
    if isinstance(diff, basestring):
        lines = diff.splitlines()
        lines = diff
    while lines and not lines[-1].startswith("@@"):
    yield '<section id="diff">'
    while lines:
        line = lines.pop()
        if line.startswith("@@"):
            yield '<div class="control">%s</div>' % line
        elif line.startswith("-"):
            if lines:
                _next = []
                while lines and len(_next) < 2:
                if _next[0].startswith("+") and (len(_next) == 1
                or _next[1][0] not in ("+", "-")):
                    aline, bline = _line_diff(line[1:], _next.pop(0)[1:])
                    yield '<del>-%s</del>' % (aline,)
                    yield '<ins>+%s</ins>' % (bline,)
                    if _next:
            yield '<del>%s</del>' % line
        elif line.startswith("+"):
            yield '<ins>%s</ins>' % line
            yield '<p>%s</p>' % line
    yield "</section>"

def _line_diff(a, b):
    aline = []
    bline = []
    for tag, i1, i2, j1, j2 in difflib.SequenceMatcher(a=a, b=b).get_opcodes():
        if tag == "equal":
        aline.append('<mark>%s</mark>' % a[i1:i2])
        bline.append('<mark>%s</mark>' % b[j1:j2])
    return "".join(aline), "".join(bline)

if __name__ == "__main__":

    a = sys.argv[1]
    b = sys.argv[2]

    html = re.sub("<(p|mark)>\s??</(p|mark)>","",diff(a,b))

class MyHandler(BaseHTTPServer.BaseHTTPRequestHandler):
    def do_GET(s):
        s.send_header("Content-type", "text/html")
server = BaseHTTPServer.HTTPServer(('', 8888), MyHandler)'http://localhost:8888')

Get this script on Github.

First step was cutting down the modules unavailable on iOS, six and chardet, the first is a compatibility library between Python 2 and 3, the latter detects the encoding of the string. I honestly thought that I could live without both. The xml.sax.saxutils module also served the single purpose to substitute spaces for their encoded counterpart, so I also decided to skip it as well, ending up with the difflib module only, responsible to compare our documents, thus essential for our workflow.

I changed six.string_types for its Python 2 variant, basestring, removed the other two modules, optparse and sys, specially since Pythonista doesn't request the latter to collect arguments with sys.argv. I also hoped for a prettier outcome, so instead of a collection of div elements, I aimed for a better markup using ins, del and mark and made the output look great on your iPhone. This demanded some extra tweaking though.

Everything set, even a regex to remove empty paragraphs and highlights, I needed a way to display this HTML output, as Pythonista's console can't read the format. First I thought of interacting with Textastic somehow, but this idea fell ashore. Then I was greeted by Dr. Drang's script to display weather information using a local server created by the BaseHTTPServer module, which is a pain in the ass, but was my finest asset.

The snippet I used is pretty much the same as Drang's, with a single fix to avoid the Address already in use error reported by the Doc, server.server_close().

Now all I needed was two objects to compare. So I went for Launch Center Pro for its [dropbox-text] parameter, however, I met a strange behavior where I couldn't use it twice, it would download the first text and trigger Pythonista. I found a way around by making LCP launch itself:

Compare Text:


We used this trick before to manually encode the parameters and cheat the way LCP interprets the variables. You may want to replace the Diff%2Fdiff_dropbox part because it is the location and name of my script. It reads: script diff_dropbox within the folder Diff, %2F is the slash separating both. If you leave it in your root folder, use only the name of the script.

I won't be naive and tell you this script is perfect, however, it brings a cool new functionality to your phone. The best part? Since the script uses just sys.argv to receive text, you can change the trigger to send clipboard, current document in Drafts or 1Writer and many other possibilities. And you thinking we had boundaries.