Cédric Boivin Cédric Boivin - 2 months ago 35
C# Question

How to detect the character encoding of a text file?

I try to detect which character encoding is used in my file.

I try with this code to get the standard encoding

public static Encoding GetFileEncoding(string srcFile)
// *** Use Default of Encoding.Default (Ansi CodePage)
Encoding enc = Encoding.Default;

// *** Detect byte order mark if any - otherwise assume default
byte[] buffer = new byte[5];
FileStream file = new FileStream(srcFile, FileMode.Open);
file.Read(buffer, 0, 5);

if (buffer[0] == 0xef && buffer[1] == 0xbb && buffer[2] == 0xbf)
enc = Encoding.UTF8;
else if (buffer[0] == 0xfe && buffer[1] == 0xff)
enc = Encoding.Unicode;
else if (buffer[0] == 0 && buffer[1] == 0 && buffer[2] == 0xfe && buffer[3] == 0xff)
enc = Encoding.UTF32;
else if (buffer[0] == 0x2b && buffer[1] == 0x2f && buffer[2] == 0x76)
enc = Encoding.UTF7;
else if (buffer[0] == 0xFE && buffer[1] == 0xFF)
// 1201 unicodeFFFE Unicode (Big-Endian)
enc = Encoding.GetEncoding(1201);
else if (buffer[0] == 0xFF && buffer[1] == 0xFE)
// 1200 utf-16 Unicode
enc = Encoding.GetEncoding(1200);

return enc;

My five first byte are 60, 118, 56, 46 and 49.

Is there a chart that shows which encoding matches those five first bytes?


You can't depend on the file having a BOM. UTF-8 doesn't require it. And non-Unicode encodings don't even have a BOM. There are, however, other ways to detect the encoding.


BOM is 00 00 FE FF (for BE) or FF FE 00 00 (for LE).

But UTF-32 is easy to detect even without a BOM. This is because the Unicode code point range is restricted to U+10FFFF, and thus UTF-32 units always have the pattern 00 {0x|10} xx xx (for BE) or xx xx {0x|10} 00 (for LE). If the data has a length that's a multiple of 4, and follows one of these patterns, you can safely assume it's UTF-32. False positives are nearly impossible due to the rarity of 00 bytes in byte-oriented encodings.


No BOM, but you don't need one. ASCII can be easily identified by the lack of bytes in the 80-FF range.


BOM is EF BB BF. But you can't rely on this. Lots of UTF-8 files don't have a BOM, especially if they originated on non-Windows systems.

But you can safely assume that if a file validates as UTF-8, it is UTF-8. False positives are rare.

Specifically, given that the data is not ASCII, the false positive rate for a 2-byte sequence is only 3.9% (1920/49152). For a 7-byte sequence, it's less than 1%. For a 12-byte sequence, it's less than 0.1%. For a 24-byte sequence, it's less than 1 in a million.


BOM is FE FF (for BE) or FF FE (for LE). Note that the UTF-16LE BOM is found at the start of the UTF-32LE BOM, so check UTF-32 first.

There may be UTF-16 files without a BOM, but it would be really hard to detect them. The only reliable way to recognize UTF-16 without a BOM is to look for surrogate pairs (D[8-B]xx D[C-F]xx), but non-BMP characters are too rarely-used to make this approach practical.


If your file starts with the bytes 3C 3F 78 6D 6C (i.e., the ASCII characters "<?xml"), then look for an encoding= declaration. If present, then use that encoding. If absent, then assume UTF-8, which is the default XML encoding.

If you need to support EBCDIC, also look for the equivalent sequence 4C 6F A7 94 93.

In general, if you have a file format that contains an encoding declaration, then look for that declaration rather than trying to guess the encoding.

None of the above

There are hundreds of other encodings, which require more effort to detect. I recommend trying Mozilla's charset detector or a .NET port of it.