WinMerge's plugins system allows creating custom plugins that are run before actual compare happens. So plugins can be used to pre-process the compared data. One example of currently implemented plugin is a plugin to extract textual data from MS Word files for WinMerge to compare.
Plugins system uses COM API for plugins. Therefore plugins can be implemented in any language supporting COM programming. There are examples of plugins implemented in C++, Delphi and Visual Basic.
Current plugins system has many problems:
- no configuration for plugins
- no GUI (for config)
- run in the same thread than compare code
- messagebox shown by plugin stops folder compare while it is shown
- no usable status returned from plugins
- plugins can cause bugs that can't be differentiated from bugs in "core" code
- plugins are not safe
- no versioning / compatibility info (other than file version numbers that WinMerge ignores)
- no localization
Current (as of 2.7.8 beta) plugins implementation will be removed in future from 2.9.x. This is due to facts:
- nobody wants to work with plugins system code
- it hasn't been fixed / improved for years
- original developer left the project
- the code is practically unmaintained
- still it is involved in every compare done!!
What about users?
I (kimmov) really want to remove plugins, just for technical reasons alone.
But the fact is, I realized there are users depending on some of our plugins. If we just remove plugins, it means these users can't update WinMerge since they can't anymore do their job.
So I'm afraid we need a decent replacement for plugins first.
Some ideas for solutions, not in any particular order:
- Just "fix" the API
- doesn't really solve the problems, but can make them not so visible
- Expand filtering so that it can modify data too, handle plugin tasks with filters
- As most plugins are (as far as I know of) just modifying the data
- syntax? regexps?
- lines are easy, but more complex data like XML that is not line-based?
- Implement API for some scripting language
- requires users to install scripting language too