Title: Document what components make up the filecmp.cmp os.stat signature.
Type: behavior Stage: needs patch
Components: Documentation Versions: Python 3.8, Python 3.7, Python 2.7
Status: open Resolution:
Dependencies: Superseder:
Assigned To: docs@python Nosy List: Dean Morin, docs@python, macrakis, r.david.murray
Priority: normal Keywords:

Created on 2018-06-18 18:18 by Dean Morin, last changed 2020-10-27 19:42 by macrakis.

Messages (6)
msg319904 - (view) Author: Dean Morin (Dean Morin) Date: 2018-06-18 18:18
By default `filecmp.cmp()` has `shallow=True` which can produce some surprising behavior.

In the docs it states:

> If shallow is true, files with identical os.stat() signatures are taken to be equal.

However the "signature" only considers the file mode, file size, and file modification time, which is not sufficient. `cmp()` will return `True` (files are equal) in some circumstances for files that actually differ. Depending on the underlying file system, the same python script will return `True` or `False` when `cmp()` is called on the exact same files. I'll add the long-winded details at the bottom.

To fix, I believe `st.st_ino` should be included in `_sig` (

I'm in the middle of a move, but I can make a PR in the next couple weeks if this seems like a reasonable fix and no one else gets around to it.

The long version is that we're migrating some existing reports to a new data source. The goal is to produce identical csv files from both data sources. I have a python script that pulls down both csv files and uses `cmp()` to compare them. 

On my machine, the script correctly discovers the differences between the two. One of the date columns has incorrect dates in the new version.

However on my colleagues machine, the script fails to discover the differences and shows that the csv files are identical.

The difference is that on my machine, `os.stat(f).st_mtime` is a timestamp which includes fractional seconds (1529108360.1955538), but only includes the seconds (1529108360.0) on my colleagues machine. Since only the dates differed within the csvs, both files had the same file mode, file size, and both were downloaded within the same second.

We got a few more people to see what they got for `st_mtime`. The link could be the file system used. We're all using macs, but for those of us using an APFS Volume disk, `st_mtime` returns a timestamp which includes fractional seconds, and for those of us using a Logical Volume Mac OS Extended disk, it returns a timestamp which only includes the seconds (1529108360.0).

When comparing os.stat() between the two differing csv files, the only difference (other than fractional seconds for various timestamps) was `st_ino` which is why I believe it should be included in `_sig()`.
msg319912 - (view) Author: R. David Murray (r.david.murray) * (Python committer) Date: 2018-06-18 20:46
I understand your concern, but this is working as designed and documented.  Using st_ino would mean you would return true if and only if it was the *same* file.  That is not the intent.  See issue 27396 for some background discussion.
msg319913 - (view) Author: R. David Murray (r.david.murray) * (Python committer) Date: 2018-06-18 20:47
For your problem, just don't use the default shallow setting :)
msg319919 - (view) Author: Dean Morin (Dean Morin) Date: 2018-06-18 22:10
Fair enough, how about just making it clearer in the documentation? Currently you need to look at the source code to see what would be required for a signature clash to occur. Maybe something like:

Note that the [os.stat()]( signatures only consider [st_mode](, [st_size](, and [st_mtime]( In some circumstances it's possible for differing files to be considered equal when _shallow_ is `True`.
msg319970 - (view) Author: R. David Murray (r.david.murray) * (Python committer) Date: 2018-06-19 13:54
I think it might be OK to document what goes in to the signature, but probably in a footnote, as it is somewhat of an implementation detail and could conceivably change.  We could then also add a caution about mtime imprecision being a particular risk on some file systems.  I wouldn't want to put such a caution in the main doc paragraphs, but in a footnote I think it would be OK.
msg379797 - (view) Author: Stavros Macrakis (macrakis) Date: 2020-10-27 19:42
I agree completely that the documentation should be more explicit. The concept of "os.stat signature" is not defined anywhere as far as I can tell. The naive reader (like me) might mistakenly assume that the "os.stat signature" is a "digital signature" (i.e. a hash) of all of os.stat, and in particular that it includes the st_ino.

I would suggest that the documentation be updated to read "If shallow is true, files with the same length, modification time, and mode are taken to be equal."
Date User Action Args
2020-10-27 19:42:50macrakissetnosy: + macrakis
messages: + msg379797
2019-01-04 19:47:04cheryl.sabellasetassignee: docs@python

nosy: + docs@python
components: + Documentation, - Library (Lib)
versions: - Python 3.6
2018-06-19 13:54:18r.david.murraysetversions: + Python 2.7
2018-06-19 13:54:06r.david.murraysetstatus: closed -> open
versions: + Python 3.8, - Python 2.7, Python 3.4, Python 3.5
title: filecmp.cmp returns True on files that differ -> Document what components make up the filecmp.cmp os.stat signature.
messages: + msg319970

resolution: rejected ->
stage: resolved -> needs patch
2018-06-18 22:10:28Dean Morinsetmessages: + msg319919
2018-06-18 20:47:08r.david.murraysetmessages: + msg319913
2018-06-18 20:46:17r.david.murraysetstatus: open -> closed

nosy: + r.david.murray
messages: + msg319912

resolution: rejected
stage: resolved
2018-06-18 18:18:51Dean Morincreate