What's the difference between patch -p0 and patch -p1?

Is there any difference at all?


The most common way to create a patch is to run the diff command or some version control's built-in diff-like command. Sometimes, you're just comparing two files, and you run diff like this:

diff -u version_by_alice.txt version_by_bob.txt >alice_to_bob.patch

Then you get a patch that contains changes for one file and doesn't contain a file name at all. When you apply that patch, you need to specify which file you want to apply it to:

patch <alice_to_bob.patch version2_by_alice.txt

Often, you're comparing two versions of a whole multi-file project contained in a directory. A typical invocation of diff looks like this:

diff -ru old_version new_version >some.patch

Then the patch contains file names, given in header lines like diff -ru old_version/dir/file new_version/dir/file. You need to tell patch to strip the prefix (old_version or new_version) from the file name. That's what -p1 means: strip one level of directory.

Sometimes, the header lines in the patch contain the file name directly with no lead-up. This is common with version control systems; for example cvs diff produces header lines that look like diff -r1.42 foo. Then there is no prefix to strip, so you must specify -p0.

In the special case when there are no subdirectories in the trees that you're comparing, no -p option is necessary: patch will discard all the directory part of the file names. But most of the time, you do need either -p0 or -p1, depending on how the patch was produced.

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  • 1
    This has confused me for so long. Why is the behavior of no subdirectories different from -p0? I've always assumed that -p0 was default, so I always had issues if it was supposed to be p0 – Brydon Gibson Sep 26 '19 at 15:34
  • @BrydonGibson I suspect that originally the idea was that the patch author could indifferently write diff old/foo new/foo >my.patch or diff ../old/foo foo >my.patch or diff foo.old foo >my.patch and the user could apply it with patch <my.patch without having to care how the patch was produced, and then -p was added as a convenience. But I don't actually know, patch is an old utility and by the time I started using it -p0 or -p1 were already the most common ways to use it. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Sep 26 '19 at 16:23
  • Another instance of man pages failing to be useful, at least for GNU/patch. Thanks for the clear explanation! – brainplot Jan 29 at 21:35

From the man:

-pnum or --strip=num Strip the smallest prefix containing num leading slashes from each file name found in the patch file. A sequence of one or more adjacent slashes is counted as a single slash. This controls how file names found in the patch file are treated, in case you keep your files in a different directory than the person who sent out the patch. For example, supposing the file name in the patch file was:


setting -p0 gives the entire file name unmodified, -p1 gives


without the leading slash, -p4 gives

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The difference is that the number after -p would specify the number of path components that would be removed.

Say we have a path /Barack/Obama. Executing a patch on it with the -p0 argument will treat the path as is:


But we can trim the path while patching:

-p1 will remove the root slash (note that it will just be Barack now, without a slash left to it):


-p2 will remove Barack (and adjacent right slash):


To expand on the "why" of this patch behavior, read this thread.

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