OOo Off the Wall: That's Your Version--Document Control in OOo Writer

Learn how to use Writer's version control tools to keep track of who made which changes and when, without diving into big CMS applications. has multiple Undo levels. You can set the levels as high as you like from Tools -> Options -> -> Memory -> Undo. However, if your files receive extensive revision or if more than one person writes or edits them, you need more sophisticated tools to handle changes. Writer provides three such tools: Changes, Compare Documents and Versions. All share some common interface features and are quick to learn, although possibly confusing for users unfamiliar with version control.

Keep in mind, though, that these three tools do not add up to a complete version control system, such as CVS or Subversion. None of them, for example, automatically assigns version numbers. And you can't create development trees with them. You can, however, enter version numbers manually as comments. You also can merge different versions of a document into the current one. In short, although OOo's three change tools are less sophisticated than programmers' version control systems, they still are useful for people working at the office-suite level.

Setting Up Document Control

Changes, Compare Documents and Versions are customized in Tools -> Options -> Writer -> Changes. From this tab, you can set four aspects of the material you'll be dealing with:

  • Insertions: content that is unique to the second document or version.

  • Deletions: content that is unique to the first document or version.

  • Change Attributes: any formatting change.

  • Lines Changed: the position of the change bar indicates that something in a line has changed. You can set this option to the left, right, inner or outer margin. Usually, you can keep it on the default setting of the left margin. You may want to change it, however, to the outer margin if you are using mirror-image left and right page styles. You also can turn off change bars altogether, but doing so robs you of a useful tool.

As you work, remembering the definitions of Insertions and Deletions is particularly important. Forget these definitions, and you quickly can become confused when trying to merge all of the content into a single document.

For the first three aspects--insertions, deletions and change attributes--you can set colors to mark changes made from the current user account. In most cases, though, you can let assign a color to each editor of the document as needed.

If the document is being edited by more than one user account, you'll likely want to make sure that at least the First Name, Last Name and Initial fields are filled out in each account, under Tools -> Options -> -> Personal Data. Changes made from accounts that don't have this information are listed as being made by Unknown, making changes much harder to sort through later.

The Accept or Reject Changes Window

Whether you are working with Changes, Compare Documents or Versions, you will reach a point at which you have to decide how to deal with each change. At this point, you be using the Accept or Reject Changes window.

The Accept or Reject Changes window essentially is a graphic equivalent of running the diff command on two text files. It's a floating window that you can keep open while referring to the document. The window opens on the list tab, which displays all the insertions, deletions and changes in attributes--which, rather confusingly, it calls Formats--in the order they were made, from the start of the document.

For each change, the list tab shows the type of action, its author and its date. In addition, the Version tool also allows you to enter comments along with the change, and these comments are shown in the list tab as well. The Compare Documents and Changes tools, however, don't allow you to enter comments with your changes, although Changes has a permanently grayed-out sub-menu item for them.

If a document has been changed frequently or has been edited by several writers, the list tab can be confusing. In such cases, you can use the filter tab to change the display of actions by using any of the four attributes listed for each action. For example, the date of displayed actions can be set to different ranges, an exact date or "since the last save". Sorting by an author's name works best if all of the editors fill out the Personal Data while viewing the document from their own accounts. Otherwise, all editors except the current one will be listed simply as "Unknown", as described above, and you'll have one less filter to use later.

When you are ready to make decisions about changes, open the list tab. To deal with an action individually, click on it and then select the Accept or Reject button. The first few times you work with changes, you may want to remind yourself periodically of how insertion and deletion are defined in this context, so you actually do what you mean to do: to keep a deletion, reject it; to keep an insertion, accept it. Conversely, accepting a deletion confirms the deletion, and rejecting an insertion removes the selection from the document.

Once you are sure of what you are doing, you can deal with all of the actions currently displayed in the list tab by selecting the Accept All or Reject All button. Provided you take the time to set up suitable filters, the All button greatly can reduce the time you spend dealing with document changes.

When the last action is accepted or rejected, the window stays open. The document, however, is no longer marked by the attributes you set up in Tools -> Options -> Writer -> Changes. They come back when you start writing again.

One last word: the Accept or Reject Changes window can be remarkably hard to close sometimes. To get rid of it, go to the sub-menu of Edit -> Changes. Un-selecting Accept or Reject should close it, but you may need to un-select all of the items in the sub-menu.


-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)


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Changing Designated Author Color in Open Office Writer

Lisa's picture

Hi Bruce,

Thanks for your helpful article. Two questions. I'm editing a document that has been edited by several editors, each with a different color. My edits must also be tracked and I have been asked not to reject or accept previous editor's changes.

One: How do I change the designated color of my edits? The default is a puke brown (excuse my language) and I would prefer my edits appear in a less revolting color.

Two: When I copy and paste a portion of text into another document, the entire portion appears in my edited color, thus loosing the colors of the previous editors' ... In other words, the whole section appears as one big edit by me. What's worse, when I delete text in this pasted section, it actually deletes it and doesn't strike through it.

Help? Thanks so much!


Merging documents - only in OOo native format?

Robin Grindley's picture

What I would like to do is have a multi-reviewer process. A single master review copy goes out to multiple reviewers, who all make their markups. They send it back to the review owner, who then merges all the changes back into a single review copy, showing everybody's changes.

I saw that OOo has Edit->Changes->Merge Document. In theory, this should allow what I want - go serially through each reviewer's marked-up copy and merge them all back into a single copy. But I'm trying to do this in MS Word format, and it keeps saying that the merge is not possible. I think the Merge feature only works with OOo native format, but I couldn't find anything in the Help, Docs or web to confirm this.

Changesets need.

Tim Webster's picture

What we really need is opendocument integration of with software change management tools. svn, bzr, cvs, etc

To do this we need is a way to seperate a openoffice document into a document container "odf" and collection of changesets "odf" into document containers. Next we need external diff and merge tools for
creating and merging changesets. Of course the software change management tools need to be able to properly handle mime types so that they can call the correct external diff and merge tool program.

To make things fast, I think it makes since leave each changeset as a seperate file "uncompressed" within change management software database. Then be able to retrive either a document container with the base document and "changesets" or a document container with changesets applied and but not included.


Martey's picture

Are OpenOffice's versioning tools compatible with those of other office suites (i.e. Microsoft Office)?

Not so compatible

Lucas's picture

I've tried opening a Word document in OO Writer and then saving a Version of it rather than Save or Save As, and guess what! Versions option is greyed out on the File menu!!

So I guess, at least on the Versions, are not compatible, which is a great shame really - would be very useful if they were!

Having said that I have also used the Changes tools in both Word and OO Writer and it looks like those work flawlessly! So brownie point where brownie points are due...

Can we have Version support now? Pwetty pweeeeze!

Versioning not working?

OOo.user's picture

How is the Compare Feature in the Versions dialog supposed to work? I opened a document, saved three versions of it but when I try to use the "Compare" button on any of them nothing seems to happen...

Have you tried selecting two

Shaun McDonald's picture

Have you tried selecting two different versions, then clicking compare?

How to compare versions

Anonymous's picture

You need to 'Show' the first version and then select the second and click 'compare'


hypotheek's picture

Finally a website where the print-function works properly. I'm going to read this article on my couch now. Thanks.

PS: you could leave out the button in the print version :-)