Help:Edit conflict

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This article deals with the technical problem where multiple editors try to edit the same page at once, leading to a conflict the software cannot resolve automatically. For editing disagreements between editors, see Wikipedia:Edit warring.
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This page discusses edit conflicts, and how to deal with them. To understand what an edit conflict is, consider the following situation:

  • Bob clicks "Edit this page" on a page.
  • Alice clicks "Edit this page" on the same page, while Bob is editing.
  • Bob finishes his edits and clicks "Save page". The page is saved with Bob's version while Alice is still editing.
  • Alice finishes her edits and clicks "Save page". Alice gets an "edit conflict" page, because the software can't automatically reconcile the differences between Bob's and Alice's versions of the page. The edit conflict page gives Alice a chance to reconcile the differences manually.

Layout of the edit conflict page

At the top of the edit conflict page is an editing box containing Bob's version of the whole page, even if Alice is doing section editing.

At the bottom of the edit conflict page is a second editing box containing the text Alice was going to submit. This will be Alice's version of the page or section she was editing.

Between the two editing boxes is a diff that shows the difference between Bob's and Alice's version of the article. For the section Alice is editing it shows Alice's changes and Bob's possible changes, except for sections where Alice and Bob have both made the same change. For the other sections it shows the full new text as if all that text was added.

Alice can edit in the upper editing box and press Save. In the case Alice was editing only a section, this will be interpreted as the new version of the section, hence produce duplication of the other sections, unless Alice deletes them before saving. (This seems to be a bug.) The best solution in this case is to save your new text (e.g., to the clipboard), cancel out, then try again.

At certain times when pressing Save and the system is slow, one may be able to make multiple edits to the same page before the system responds. This produces an edit conflict with oneself. In this case the upper text may be the old version instead of the one involving the first edit, i.e., the system notices the earlier change but has not processed it yet. A moment later, while one is viewing the edit conflict page, the first change is carried out in the background, and the upper text no longer is the current one. Hence, the diff shows the combined edit, and in the case of section editing, like before, the "addition" of the other sections. If you choose to save your work in this type of edit conflict, it will result in the removal of your previous editing from the page.

Resolving an edit conflict

If Alice only made small changes, and Bob made large changes, she may choose to work from Bob's version, and re-merge her changes in. Alice might choose to add some text like "via edit conflict" to the edit summary, or use template {{edit conflict}} on a Discussion/Talk page, to warn Bob and others that he had to do this – Bob can then peer review his merging for accuracy.

If Alice made large changes, and Bob made small changes, Alice may choose to work from her version. One option is for Alice to copy the bottom text into the top text (or just copy over the one section of the top text, if Alice was section editing), with an appropriate edit summary (e.g., "via edit conflict, will remerge"). Then Alice can view the page history, determine Bob's changes, and re-apply them to her version, in a separate edit.

If both Alice and Bob made large changes, matters become complicated, and Alice and Bob just have to do the best they can. For example, if both Alice and Bob simultaneously add a large section of text on the same subject, then it may be best for Alice to submit her changes, and then for Alice and Bob to both have a look at the two versions and decide between themselves which version is better.

Alice should not just post her changes over the top of Bob's. We assume good faith – mistakes are occasionally made, and newcomers may not understand the edit conflict window. However, Alice must not routinely ignore edit conflicts. It is absolutely not acceptable for Alice to overwrite Bob out of laziness. We encourage contributors to double-check their merges by using the diff feature.

Logical edit conflicts

(This is a conflict between editors that is undetectable by the mechanism that decides whether to give the "edit conflict" message.)

Some people edit by copying the source text into a text editor, making lots of changes (reorganising, adding new content, etc.), and then, when they're done, pasting the whole thing back onto Wikipedia as a single (new) edit. If someone else has made changes in the meantime these changes would get lost in the paste back. People who edit in this manner should either:

  • paste only into the same edit box that was originally copied from, or
  • check the page history for such edits, and merge the changes before pasting back.

If third-party software that assists a user to edit a page in an external editor does not follow the first bullet point above (or the equivalent measure, if any, for the method it is using to access Wikipedia) and causes a logical edit conflict, then that is a software bug which should be reported to the software developers of the third-party software being used.

Mistakes

Sometimes mistakes will be made in the merging process, because Alice is human, and this may cause some of Bob's changes to be accidentally reversed. Logical edit conflicts aren't always immediately visible. Sometimes Alice may have good reasons for thinking that Bob's improvements aren't useful. In this case, Bob and Alice are expected to resolve their differences amicably.

If Bob made a small change which Alice accidentally replaced, Bob must not revert to his version. It is absolutely not acceptable for Bob to reverse Alice's major improvements to the page out of a desire to protect his minor improvements, or to punish Alice for her carelessness. This is particularly important if the page has subsequently been edited by other editors.

The best approach for Alice in this circumstance is for Alice to edit Bob's version, reinstate her minor improvements, and leave Bob's major improvements intact. She may also add something to the edit summary to indicate that she had to do this – for example: "Reinstating link which Bob accidentally removed". Bob should then apologise to Alice for his mistake, and thank her for reinstating her improvement.

If Bob repeats his error, then the best approach is for Alice to have a friendly word on his talk page, point him to this page, and ask him if he could take a little more care in the future. This is particularly important for newcomers, who may not understand the correct way to resolve edit conflicts, though even experienced users may need the occasional friendly reminder.

Reverting

When saving a previous version (i.e., when reverting) or a new version based on that (a modified reversion) the edit conflict warning and prevention system is not triggered and a possible new edit made in the meantime is unintentionally reverted also, see Reverting a page to an earlier version. To avoid this problem one can copy the text from the edit box of the old version into the edit box of the latest version. In some sense, this can cause hidden edit conflicts: you may overwrite someone else's changes without realising that you are doing so. It's always wise to check the diff after performing a revert, just as you would after posting via edit conflict. Preferably, one can simply try to avoid reversion wars.

Prevention

Because edit conflicts are irritating and time-consuming, you may choose to alter your editing habits to render them less frequent.

One of the easiest ways is to edit the smallest portion of the article necessary at one time. While using section editing does not directly reduce edit conflicts, if you make changes only to one paragraph or section before saving, the likelihood of someone else editing that same paragraph or section at the same time is very small. By contrast, if you make edits all over a page, then the likelihood is higher that someone else will try to edit one of the same parts of the page at the same time.

New since v.1.3 is CVS-style edit conflict merging, based on the diff3 utility. This feature will only trigger an edit conflict if users attempt to edit the same few lines.

To reduce the chance of edit conflicts, Wikipedia also has an "In Use" notice in its Template namespace that people may use when editing a page over a long period of time. This may discourage other editors from editing while you are. Simply put {{inuse}} on an article before proceeding with a major edit, and remove the template when the editing is complete.

See also