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Synchronizing org files with Unison


This describes how to synchronize org files using the Unison file synchronizer, as well as how to configure it to use an external tool to merge conflicting edits.


You should have Unison up and running. Binaries can be found here and the documentation is here.


Unison is a file synchronizer, thus it may be used to synchronize org files. To configure Unison, one uses a profile which states where the things to synchronize are as well as some options. Assuming I want to synchronize the files in /Users/schmitta/dir1 and /Users/schmitta/dir2, the profile would look like this

root = /Users/schmitta/dir1
root = /Users/schmitta/dir2

In most cases Unison will be used with a remote machine. The local machine is called the client and the remote one the server. For such remote synchronization, the unison binary must be installed in the server as well. The simplest way to connect to the machine is using ssh. One should check that unison can be found there by doing ssh user@remote unison -version. If unison cannot be found in the path, one may set the servercmd option as indicated in the next example.

(Please see the manual section on roots for further details.)

root = /Users/schmitta/dir1
root = ssh://user@remote/relative/path/to/dir2

servercmd = /usr/bin/unison


As Unison works on the level of files, it will trigger a conflict if both files have changed since the last synchronization. In that case one can only choose which file to keep, which is not satisfactory. Unison offers the possibility to use external tools to merge the files. There is an extensive manual section regarding this, we'll just describe how to use emacs and ediff to do it.

For better merging, we will ask unison to keep the last synchronized version of every org file on the client; this way we can use ediff with ancestor. These currentbackup files may live alongside the synchronized files (with names of the form, which is configurable) or in a central location.

Here is the modified configuration file.

root = /Users/schmitta/dir1
root = ssh://user@remote/relative/path/to/dir2

servercmd = /usr/bin/unison

backupcurrent = Name *.org
backuplocation = local
maxbackups = 0

merge = Name *.org -> emacsclient -c --eval '(ediff-merge-files-with-ancestor "CURRENT1" "CURRENT2" "CURRENTARCH" nil "NEW")'

The backupcurrent option tells unison to keep a backup of the last synchronized version of every file with an org extension. The location of the backup should be local (alongside the file). Finally, no other backup should be created.

Next follows the merge command. For every org file in conflict, use the command that launches a new emacs frame calling the ediff with ancestor function. The CURRENT1, CURRENT2, and CURRENTARCH strings are replaced with the file from the first root, the file from the second root, and the last synchronized version. The NEW file is where Unison expects the file to be saved (which will be done by the ediff session).

Thus, when an org file has been modified on both hosts, an ediff session will be launched in a new frame. Closing the frame will make Unison commit the merge (it waits until the command has finished).

If one does not want to use backups, it's possible to use the simpler ediff (without ancestor) command as follows.

root = /Users/schmitta/dir1
root = ssh://user@remote/relative/path/to/dir2

servercmd = /usr/bin/unison

merge = Name *.org -> emacsclient -c --eval '(ediff-merge-files "CURRENT1" "CURRENT2" nil "NEW")'

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