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     file - determine file type


     file [-bchikLnNprsvz] [--mime-type] [--mime-encoding] [-f namefile]
          [-F separator] [-m magicfiles] file
     file -C [-m magicfile]
     file [--help]


     This manual page documents version 5.03 of the file command.

     file 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.  The first test that succeeds causes the file type to
     be printed.

     The type printed will usually contain one of the words text (the file
     contains only printing characters and a few common control characters and
     is probably safe to read on an ASCII terminal), executable (the file
     contains the result of compiling a program in a form understandable to
     some UNIX kernel or another), or data meaning anything else (data is
     usually ‘binary’ or non-printable).  Exceptions are well-known file
     formats (core files, tar archives) that are known to contain binary data.
     When adding local definitions to /etc/magic, make sure to preserve these
     keywords.  Users depend on knowing that all the readable files in a
     directory have the word ‘text’ printed.  Don’t do as Berkeley did and
     change ‘shell commands text’ to ‘shell script’.

     The filesystem tests are based on examining the return from a 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

     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) a.out file, whose format is defined in #include <a.out.h>
     and possibly #include <exec.h>
     in the standard include directory.  These files have a ‘magic number’
     stored in a particular place near the beginning of the file that tells
     the UNIX operating system that the file is a binary executable, and which
     of several types thereof.  The concept of a ‘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 /etc/magic and the
     the compiled magic file /usr/share/misc/magic.mgc, or the files in the
     directory /usr/share/misc/magic if the compiled file does not exist. In
     addition, if $HOME/.magic.mgc or $HOME/.magic exists, it will be used in
     preference to the system magic files.

     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 as ‘text’
     because they will be mostly readable on nearly any terminal; UTF-16 and
     EBCDIC are only ‘character data’ because, while they contain text, it is
     text that will require translation before it can be read.  In addition,
     file 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.

     Once file 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.  #include <names.h>
     ) that can appear anywhere in the first few blocks of a file.  For
     example, the keyword .br indicates that the file is most likely a
     troff(1) input file, just as the keyword 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 tar(1) archives).

     Any file that cannot be identified as having been written in any of the
     character sets listed above is simply said to be ‘data’.


     -b, --brief
             Do not prepend filenames to output lines (brief mode).

     -c, --checking-printout
             Cause a checking printout of the parsed form of the magic file.
             This is usually used in conjunction with the -m flag to debug a
             new magic file before installing it.

     -C, --compile
             Write a magic.mgc output file that contains a pre-parsed version
             of the magic file or directory.

     -e, --exclude testname
             Exclude the test named in testname from the list of tests made to
             determine the file type. Valid test names are:

                EMX application type (only on EMX).

                Various types of text files (this test will try to guess the
                text encoding, irrespective of the setting of the ‘encoding’

                Different text encodings for soft magic tests.

                Looks for known tokens inside text files.

                Prints details of Compound Document Files.

                Checks for, and looks inside, compressed files.

                Prints ELF file details.

                Consults magic files.

                Examines tar files.

     -f, --files-from namefile
             Read the names of the files to be examined from namefile (one per
             line) before the argument list.  Either namefile or at least one
             filename argument must be present; to test the standard input,
             use ‘-’ as a filename argument.

     -F, --separator separator
             Use the specified string as the separator between the filename
             and the file result returned. Defaults to ‘:’.

     -h, --no-dereference
             option causes symlinks not to be followed (on systems that
             support symbolic links). This is the default if the environment
             variable POSIXLY_CORRECT is not defined.

     -i, --mime
             Causes the file command to output mime type strings rather than
             the more traditional human readable ones. Thus it may say
             ‘text/plain; charset=us-ascii’ rather than ‘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
             ‘magic’ file.  (See the FILES section, below).

     --mime-type, --mime-encoding
             Like -i, but print only the specified element(s).

     -k, --keep-going
             Don’t stop at the first match, keep going. Subsequent matches
             will be have the string ‘\012- ’ prepended.  (If you want a
             newline, see the ‘-r’ option.)

     -L, --dereference
             option causes symlinks to be followed, as the like-named option
             in ls(1) (on systems that support symbolic links).  This is the
             default if the environment variable POSIXLY_CORRECT is defined.

     -m, --magic-file 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.

     -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.

     -N, --no-pad
             Don’t pad filenames so that they align in the output.

     -p, --preserve-date
             On systems that support utime(2) or utimes(2), attempt to
             preserve the access time of files analyzed, to pretend that file
             never read them.

     -r, --raw
             Don’t translate unprintable characters to \ooo.  Normally file
             translates unprintable characters to their octal representation.

     -s, --special-files
             Normally, file only attempts to read and determine the type of
             argument files which stat(2) reports are ordinary files.  This
             prevents problems, because reading special files may have
             peculiar consequences.  Specifying the -s option causes file 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 file to disregard the file size as
             reported by stat(2) since on some systems it reports a zero size
             for raw disk partitions.

     -v, --version
             Print the version of the program and exit.

     -z, --uncompress
             Try to look inside compressed files.

     -0, --print0
             Output a null character ‘\0’ after the end of the filename. Nice
             to cut(1) the output. This does not affect the separator which is
             still printed.

     --help  Print a help message and exit.


     /usr/share/misc/magic.mgc  Default compiled list of magic.
     /usr/share/misc/magic      Directory containing default magic files.


     The environment variable MAGIC can be used to set the default magic file
     name.  If that variable is set, then file will not attempt to open
     $HOME/.magic.  file adds ‘.mgc’ to the value of this variable as
     appropriate.  However, file has to exist in order for file.mime to be
     considered.  The environment variable POSIXLY_CORRECT controls (on
     systems that support symbolic links), whether file will attempt to follow
     symlinks or not. If set, then file follows symlink, otherwise it does
     not. This is also controlled by the -L and -h options.


     magic(5), strings(1), od(1), hexdump(1), file(1posix)


     This program is believed to exceed the System V Interface Definition of
     FILE(CMD), as near as one can determine from the vague language contained
     therein.  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.

     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,

           >10     string  language impress        (imPRESS data)

     in an existing magic file would have to be changed to

           >10     string  language\ impress       (imPRESS data)

     In addition, in this version, if a pattern string contains a backslash,
     it must be escaped.  For example

           0       string          \begindata      Andrew Toolkit document

     in an existing magic file would have to be changed to

           0       string          \\begindata     Andrew Toolkit document

     SunOS releases 3.2 and later from Sun Microsystems include a file 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
     ‘&’ operator, used as, for example,

           >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


           $ 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 file command in every 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

     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 -i option to
     output mime type strings, using an alternative magic file and internal

     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 ‘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 tar.h and is_tar.c were written by John Gilmore from his
     public-domain 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?

     file uses several algorithms that favor speed over accuracy, thus it can
     be misled about the contents of text files.

     The support for text files (primarily for programming languages) is
     simplistic, inefficient and requires recompilation to update.

     The list of keywords in ascmagic probably belongs in the Magic file.
     This could be done by using some keyword like ‘*’ 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 of ‘how good’ a
     guess is.  We end up removing guesses (e.g.  ‘Fromas first 5 chars of
     file) because’ they are not as good as other guesses (e.g.  ‘Newsgroups:’
     versus ‘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.


     file returns 0 on success, and non-zero on error.


     You can obtain the original author’s latest version by anonymous FTP on in the directory /pub/file/file-X.YZ.tar.gz

     This Debian version adds a number of new magic entries. It can be
     obtained from every site carrying a Debian distribution (that is and mirrors).