[plain text]

.\" $File:,v 1.79 2008/11/06 22:49:08 rrt Exp $
.Dd October 9, 2008
.Nm file
.Nd determine file type
.Op Fl bcdDhiIkLnNprsvz
.Op Fl -mime-type
.Op Fl -mime-encoding
.Op Fl f Ar namefile
.Op Fl F Ar separator
.Op Fl m Ar magicfiles
.Op Fl M Ar magicfiles
.Ar file
.Fl C
.Op Fl m Ar magicfile
.Op Fl -help
This manual page documents version __VERSION__ of the
tests each argument in an attempt to classify it.
There are three sets of tests, performed in this order:
filesystem tests, magic tests, and language tests.
.Em first
test that succeeds causes the file type to be printed.
The type printed will usually contain one of the words
.Em text
(the file contains only
printing characters and a few common control
characters and is probably safe to read on an
.Em executable
(the file contains the result of compiling a program
in a form understandable to some
kernel or another),
.Em data
meaning anything else (data is usually
.Sq binary
or non-printable).
Exceptions are well-known file formats (core files, tar archives)
that are known to contain binary data.
When modifying magic files or the program itself, make sure to
.Em "preserve these keywords" .
Users depend on knowing that all the readable files in a directory
have the word
.Sq text
Don't do as Berkeley did and change
.Sq shell commands text
.Sq shell script .
The filesystem tests are based on examining the return from a
.Xr stat 2
system call.
The program checks to see if the file is empty,
or if it's some sort of special file.
Any known file types appropriate to the system you are running on
(sockets, symbolic links, or named pipes (FIFOs) on those systems that
implement them)
are intuited if they are defined in
the system header file
.In sys/stat.h .
The magic tests are used to check for files with data in
particular fixed formats.
The canonical example of this is a binary executable (compiled program)
.Dv a.out
file, whose format is defined in
.In elf.h ,
.In a.out.h
and possibly
.In exec.h
in the standard include directory.
These files have a
.Sq "magic number"
stored in a particular place
near the beginning of the file that tells the
.Dv UNIX operating system
that the file is a binary executable, and which of several types thereof.
The concept of a
.Sq "magic"
has been applied by extension to data files.
Any file with some invariant identifier at a small fixed
offset into the file can usually be described in this way.
The information identifying these files is read from the compiled
magic file
.Pa __MAGIC__.mgc ,
or the files in the directory
.Pa __MAGIC__
if the compiled file does not exist.
If a file does not match any of the entries in the magic file,
it is examined to see if it seems to be a text file.
ASCII, ISO-8859-x, non-ISO 8-bit extended-ASCII character sets
(such as those used on Macintosh and IBM PC systems),
UTF-8-encoded Unicode, UTF-16-encoded Unicode, and EBCDIC
character sets can be distinguished by the different
ranges and sequences of bytes that constitute printable text
in each set.
If a file passes any of these tests, its character set is reported.
ASCII, ISO-8859-x, UTF-8, and extended-ASCII files are identified
.Sq text
because they will be mostly readable on nearly any terminal;
UTF-16 and EBCDIC are only
.Sq character data
because, while
they contain text, it is text that will require translation
before it can be read.
In addition,
will attempt to determine other characteristics of text-type files.
If the lines of a file are terminated by CR, CRLF, or NEL, instead
of the Unix-standard LF, this will be reported.
Files that contain embedded escape sequences or overstriking
will also be identified.
has determined the character set used in a text-type file,
it will
attempt to determine in what language the file is written.
The language tests look for particular strings (cf.
.In names.h
) that can appear anywhere in the first few blocks of a file.
For example, the keyword
.Em .br
indicates that the file is most likely a
.Xr troff 1
input file, just as the keyword
.Em struct
indicates a C program.
These tests are less reliable than the previous
two groups, so they are performed last.
The language test routines also test for some miscellany
(such as
.Xr tar 1
Any file that cannot be identified as having been written
in any of the character sets listed above is simply said to be
.Sq data .
.Bl -tag -width indent
.It Fl b , -brief
Do not prepend filenames to output lines (brief mode).
.It Fl c , -checking-printout
Cause a checking printout of the parsed form of the magic file.
This is usually used in conjunction with the
.Fl m
flag to debug a new magic file before installing it.
.It Fl C , -compile
Write a
.Pa magic.mgc
output file that contains a pre-parsed version of the magic file or directory.
.It Fl d
Apply the default system tests; this is the default behavior unless
.Fl M
is specified.
.It Fl D
Print debugging messages.
.It Fl e , -exclude Ar testname
Exclude the test named in
.Ar testname
from the list of tests made to determine the file type. Valid test names
.Bl -tag -width
.It apptype
application type (only on EMX).
.It text
Various types of text files (this test will try to guess the text encoding, irrespective of the setting of the
.Sq encoding
.It encoding
Different text encodings for soft magic tests.
.It tokens
Looks for known tokens inside text files.
.It cdf
Prints details of Compound Document Files.
.It compress
Checks for, and looks inside, compressed files.
.It elf
Prints ELF file details.
.It soft
Consults magic files.
.It tar
Examines tar files.
.It Fl f , -files-from Ar namefile
Read the names of the files to be examined from
.Ar namefile
(one per line)
before the argument list.
.Ar namefile
or at least one filename argument must be present;
to test the standard input, use
.Sq -
as a filename argument.
.It Fl F , -separator Ar separator
Use the specified string as the separator between the filename and the
file result returned. Defaults to
.Sq \&: .
.It Fl h , -no-dereference
option causes symlinks not to be followed
(on systems that support symbolic links).
.It Fl i
If the file is a regular file, do not classify its contents.
.It Fl I , -mime
Causes the file command to output mime type strings rather than the more
traditional human readable ones. Thus it may say
.Sq text/plain; charset=us-ascii
rather than
.Sq ASCII text .
In order for this option to work, file changes the way
it handles files recognized by the command itself (such as many of the
text file types, directories etc), and makes use of an alternative
.Sq magic
(See the FILES section, below).
.It Fl -mime-type , -mime-encoding
.Fl I ,
but print only the specified element(s).
.It Fl k , -keep-going
Don't stop at the first match, keep going. Subsequent matches will be
have the string
.Sq "\[rs]012\- "
(If you want a newline, see the
.Sq "\-r"
.It Fl L , -dereference
option causes symlinks to be followed, as the like-named option in
.Xr ls 1
(on systems that support symbolic links).
This is the default behavior.
.It Fl m , -magic-file Ar list
Specify an alternate list of files and directories containing magic.
This can be a single item, or a colon-separated list.
If a compiled magic file is found alongside a file or directory, it will be used instead.
.It Fl M Ar list
.Fl m ,
except that the default rules are not applied unless
.Fl d
is specified.
.It Fl n , -no-buffer
Force stdout to be flushed after checking each file.
This is only useful if checking a list of files.
It is intended to be used by programs that want filetype output from a pipe.
.It Fl N , -no-pad
Don't pad filenames so that they align in the output.
.It Fl p , -preserve-date
On systems that support
.Xr utime 2
.Xr utimes 2 ,
attempt to preserve the access time of files analyzed, to pretend that
never read them.
.It Fl r , -raw
No operation, included for historical compatibility.
.It Fl s , -special-files
only attempts to read and determine the type of argument files which
.Xr stat 2
reports are ordinary files.
This prevents problems, because reading special files may have peculiar
Specifying the
.Fl s
option causes
to also read argument files which are block or character special files.
This is useful for determining the filesystem types of the data in raw
disk partitions, which are block special files.
This option also causes
to disregard the file size as reported by
.Xr stat 2
since on some systems it reports a zero size for raw disk partitions.
.It Fl v , -version
Print the version of the program and exit.
.It Fl z , -uncompress
Try to look inside compressed files.
.It Fl 0 , -print0
Output a null character
.Sq \e0
after the end of the filename. Nice to
.Xr cut 1
the output. This does not affect the separator which is still printed.
.It Fl -help
Print a help message and exit.
.Bl -tag -width __MAGIC__.mgc -compact
.It Pa __MAGIC__.mgc
Default compiled list of magic.
.It Pa __MAGIC__
Directory containing default magic files.
The environment variable
can be used to set the default magic file name.
.Sq .mgc
to the value of this variable as appropriate.
In legacy mode, the
.Fl D ,
.Fl I ,
.Fl M
options do not exist.
.Fl d ,
.Fl i ,
.Fl r
options behave differently.
.Fl d
option provides debugging information (same as
.Fl D
in conformance mode).
.Fl i
option displays mime type information (same as
.Fl I
in conformance mode).
.Fl r
option will disable the translation of unprintable characters (by
default, this translation is already disabled in conformance mode).
Furthermore, the
.Fl h
option becomes the default symlink behavior (don't follow symlinks)
is set.
For more information about legacy mode, see
.Xr compat 5 .
.Xr magic __FSECTION__ ,
.Xr strings 1 ,
.Xr od 1 ,
.Xr hexdump 1,
.Xr otool 1 ,
.Xr compat 5
This program conforms to
.St -susv3 .
Its behavior is mostly compatible with the System V program of the same name.
This version knows more magic, however, so it will produce
different (albeit more accurate) output in many cases.
.\" URL:
The one significant difference
between this version and System V
is that this version treats any white space
as a delimiter, so that spaces in pattern strings must be escaped.
For example,
.Bd -literal -offset indent
>10	string	language impress\ 	(imPRESS data)
in an existing magic file would have to be changed to
.Bd -literal -offset indent
>10	string	language\e impress	(imPRESS data)
In addition, in this version, if a pattern string contains a backslash,
it must be escaped.
For example
.Bd -literal -offset indent
0	string		\ebegindata	Andrew Toolkit document
in an existing magic file would have to be changed to
.Bd -literal -offset indent
0	string		\e\ebegindata	Andrew Toolkit document
SunOS releases 3.2 and later from Sun Microsystems include a
command derived from the System V one, but with some extensions.
My version differs from Sun's only in minor ways.
It includes the extension of the
.Sq &
operator, used as,
for example,
.Bd -literal -offset indent
>16	long&0x7fffffff	>0		not stripped
The magic file entries have been collected from various sources,
mainly USENET, and contributed by various authors.
Christos Zoulas (address below) will collect additional
or corrected magic file entries.
A consolidation of magic file entries
will be distributed periodically.
The order of entries in the magic file is significant.
Depending on what system you are using, the order that
they are put together may be incorrect.
If your old
command uses a magic file,
keep the old magic file around for comparison purposes
(rename it to
.Pa __MAGIC__.orig ).
.Bd -literal -offset indent
$ file file.c file /dev/{wd0a,hda}
file.c:   C program text
file:     ELF 32-bit LSB executable, Intel 80386, version 1 (SYSV),
	  dynamically linked (uses shared libs), stripped
/dev/wd0a: block special (0/0)
/dev/hda: block special (3/0)

$ file -s /dev/wd0{b,d}
/dev/wd0b: data
/dev/wd0d: x86 boot sector

$ file -s /dev/hda{,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10}
/dev/hda:   x86 boot sector
/dev/hda1:  Linux/i386 ext2 filesystem
/dev/hda2:  x86 boot sector
/dev/hda3:  x86 boot sector, extended partition table
/dev/hda4:  Linux/i386 ext2 filesystem
/dev/hda5:  Linux/i386 swap file
/dev/hda6:  Linux/i386 swap file
/dev/hda7:  Linux/i386 swap file
/dev/hda8:  Linux/i386 swap file
/dev/hda9:  empty
/dev/hda10: empty

$ file -i file.c file /dev/{wd0a,hda}
file.c:      text/x-c
file:        application/x-executable
/dev/hda:    application/x-not-regular-file
/dev/wd0a:   application/x-not-regular-file

There has been a
command in every
.Dv UNIX since at least Research Version 4
(man page dated November, 1973).
The System V version introduced one significant major change:
the external list of magic types.
This slowed the program down slightly but made it a lot more flexible.
This program, based on the System V version,
was written by Ian Darwin <>
without looking at anybody else's source code.
John Gilmore revised the code extensively, making it better than
the first version.
Geoff Collyer found several inadequacies
and provided some magic file entries.
Contributions by the `&' operator by Rob McMahon,, 1989.
Guy Harris,, made many changes from 1993 to the present.
Primary development and maintenance from 1990 to the present by
Christos Zoulas (
Altered by Chris Lowth,, 2000:
Handle the
.Fl I
option to output mime type strings, using an alternative
magic file and internal logic.
Altered by Eric Fischer (, July, 2000,
to identify character codes and attempt to identify the languages
of non-ASCII files.
Altered by Reuben Thomas (, 2007 to 2008, to improve MIME
support and merge MIME and non-MIME magic, support directories as well
as files of magic, apply many bug fixes and improve the build system.
The list of contributors to the
.Sq magic
directory (magic files)
is too long to include here.
You know who you are; thank you.
Many contributors are listed in the source files.
Copyright (c) Ian F. Darwin, Toronto, Canada, 1986-1999.
Covered by the standard Berkeley Software Distribution copyright; see the file
LEGAL.NOTICE in the source distribution.
The files
.Dv tar.h
.Dv is_tar.c
were written by John Gilmore from his public-domain
.Xr tar 1
program, and are not covered by the above license.
There must be a better way to automate the construction of the Magic
file from all the glop in Magdir.
What is it?
uses several algorithms that favor speed over accuracy,
thus it can be misled about the contents of
The support for text files (primarily for programming languages)
is simplistic, inefficient and requires recompilation to update.
The list of keywords in
.Dv ascmagic
probably belongs in the Magic file.
This could be done by using some keyword like
.Sq *
for the offset value.
Complain about conflicts in the magic file entries.
Make a rule that the magic entries sort based on file offset rather
than position within the magic file?
The program should provide a way to give an estimate
.Sq how good
a guess is.
We end up removing guesses (e.g.
.Sq From\
as first 5 chars of file) because
they are not as good as other guesses (e.g.
.Sq Newsgroups:
.Sq Return-Path:
Still, if the others don't pan out, it should be possible to use the
first guess.
This manual page, and particularly this section, is too long.
returns 0 on success, and non-zero on error.
You can obtain the original author's latest version by anonymous FTP
in the directory
.Dv /pub/file/file-X.YZ.tar.gz