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I know that you can define the preferred editor by setting the EDITOR environment variable.

My question is if there is a similar solution for setting the preferred merge or diff tool.

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For git, it uses the merge.tool configuration assignment. –  jordanm Nov 19 '12 at 22:30
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As far as I know, there isn't any universal way; it depends on which version control system you are using, e.g.:

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