Kjetil Valle Mon Oct 31 2011

Working with text encoding from the command line

Today I was faced with the follwing task: given a directory of files of various and unknown encodings, convert them all to UTF-8. This post shows how to easily solve this problem using the two useful commands file and iconv.

The problem consists of two parts: first, determine the current encoding of each of the files, and then convert them from their current encoding to UTF-8.

Step 1: detect encodings

file is a very useful command for easily determining type information of files.

A simple example shows typical information file extracts from a text file.

$ file test.txt
test.txt: ISO-8859 English text, with very long lines, with CRLF line terminators

To print only the needed information we add a few more options, as follows.

$ file -b --mime-encoding test.txt

--mime-encoding specifies that only the encoding part should be printed, and -b (brief) ommits the name of the file from the output.

Step 2: convert files

Once the current encoding of a file has been determined, the iconv command can be used to convert its encoding.

The following will print the contents of test.txt to stdout as UTF-8.

$ iconv -f iso-8859-1 -t utf-8 test.txt

Using the -o option, the output can also be redirected back to the file.

$ iconv -f iso-8859-1 -t utf-8 test.txt -o test.txt

Putting it all together

By putting the two steps together, we can easily convert all text files within a folder. The following script reads all txtfiles within the current folder, determine their current encoding, and tries to convert them to UTF-8.



for i in *.txt
    FROM=$(file -b --mime-encoding $i)
    iconv -f $FROM -t $TO $i -o $i