Filling file with 0xFF gives C3BF in OSX

All we need is an easy explanation of the problem, so here it is.

This command will fill the file with 0xff in Linux.

dd if=/dev/zero ibs=1k count=100 | tr "\000" "\377" >paddedFile.bin

When I run it in OSX, the results are different.

$ dd if=/dev/zero ibs=1k count=100 | tr "\000" "\377" >paddedFile.bin
100+0 records in
200+0 records out
102400 bytes transferred in 0.000781 secs (131104008 bytes/sec)
$ hexdump -C paddedFile.bin
00000000  c3 bf c3 bf c3 bf c3 bf  c3 bf c3 bf c3 bf c3 bf  

What’s going on here?

How to solve :

I know you bored from this bug, So we are here to help you! Take a deep breath and look at the explanation of your problem. We have many solutions to this problem, But we recommend you to use the first method because it is tested & true method that will 100% work for you.

Method 1

Straight to the point.

It all hinges on the LANG or LC_ALL value set in your terminal session when you run tr. Linux has them set to C while macOS has it set to something like en_US.UTF-8. Of course that en_US could be some other local language such as en_UK (UK English) but the point is the [something].UTF-8 setting instead of plain ASCII via C is what is causing this.

More details.

Seems that tr in macOS is converting the 0xff to the UTF8 equivalent of c3bf when it gets instead of the pure ASCII 0xff. This is explained here on this Apple community support thread here:

Linux doesn’t handle Unicode in the Terminal like the Mac does. If you set the “LANG” environment variable to “C” (as it probably is on Linux), it will work. Otherwise, all those high-order bits are going to get interpreted as Unicode characters.

And using that LANG tip works! Just do the following; tested personally by me just now on macOS 10.13.6 (High Sierra).

First, make note of what the existing LANG value is like this:

echo $LANG

The output I see is:


Now set the LANG value to C like this:


And run that command again:

dd if=/dev/zero ibs=1k count=100 | tr "\000" "\377" >paddedFile.bin

Now the hexdump values should look like this:

hexdump -C paddedFile.bin
00000000  ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff  ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff  |................|

To reset the LANG value just close that terminal session or just run this command:


Or—as pointed out in the comments—you can just set the LANG value straight in the command line options before calling tr like this:

dd if=/dev/zero ibs=1k count=100 | LANG=C tr "\000" "\377" >paddedFile.bin

And you can even use LC_ALL instead of LANG because LANG is just derived from LC_ALL anyway like this:

dd if=/dev/zero ibs=1k count=100 | LC_ALL=C tr "\000" "\377" >paddedFile.bin

Method 2

The issue is that GNU tr, which you have on Linux, doesn’t really have a concept of multibyte characters, but instead works byte at a time.

The tr man page and online documentation speak of characters, but that’s a bit of a simplification. The TODO file in the source code package mentions this item (picked from coreutils 8.30):

Adapt tools like wc, tr, fmt, etc. (most of the textutils) to be
multibyte aware. The problem is that I want to avoid duplicating
significant blocks of logic, yet I also want to incur only minimal
(preferably ‘no’) cost when operating in single-byte mode.

On a Linux system—even with a UTF-8 locale (en_US.UTF-8)—GNU tr replaces an ä as two “characters” (the UTF-8 representation of ä has two bytes):

linux$ echo 'ä' | tr 'ä' 'x'

In the same vein, mixing an ä and an ö produces funny results, since their UTF-8 representations share a common byte:

linux$ echo 'ö' | tr ä x

Or the other way around (the x doesn’t apply here):

linux$ echo ab | tr ab äx

And in your case, GNU tr takes the \377 as a raw byte value.

The tr on Mac is different, it knows the concept of multibyte characters and acts accordingly:

mac$ echo 'ä' | tr ä x

mac$ echo ab | tr ab äx

The UTF-8 representation of the character with numerical value 0377 (U+00ff) is the two bytes c3 bf, so that’s what you get.

The easy way to have tr work byte-by-byte is to have it use the C locale, instead of a UTF-8 locale. This gives the funny behavior again:

$ echo 'ä' | LC_ALL=C tr 'ä' 'x'

And in your case, you can use:

... | LC_ALL=C tr "\000" "\377"

Or you could use something like Perl to generate those \xff bytes:

perl -e 'printf "\377" x 1000 for 1..100'

Note: Use and implement method 1 because this method fully tested our system.
Thank you 🙂

All methods was sourced from or, is licensed under cc by-sa 2.5, cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0

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