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patch takes a patch file containing a difference listing produced by the diff program and applies those differences to one or more original files, producing patched versions. Normally the patched versions are put in place of the originals. Backups can be made; see the -b or --backup option. The names of the files to be patched are usually taken from the patch file, but if there's just one file to be patched it can specified on the command line.

This version of `patch' has many changes made by the Free Software Foundation. They add support for:

  • handling arbitrary binary data and large files
  • the unified context diff format that GNU diff can produce
  • making GNU Emacs-style backup files
  • improved interaction with RCS and SCCS
  • the GNU conventions for option parsing and configuring and compilation.
  • better POSIX.2 compliance

NOTE: although this patch is very similar to the version 2.1 program in /usr/sbin/patch, some command line arguments (for example "-b" and "--strip") have slightly different syntax.