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I have some database dumps from a Windows system on my box. They are text files. I'm using cygwin to grep through them. These appear to be plain text files; I open them with text editors such as notepad and wordpad and they look legible. However, when I run grep on them, it will say binary file foo.txt matches.

I have noticed that the files contain some ascii NUL characters, which I believe are artifacts from the database dump.

So what makes grep consider these files to be binary? The NUL character? Is there a flag on the filesystem? What do I need to change to get grep to show me the line matches?

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--null-data may be useful if NUL is the delimiter. –  Steve-o Sep 1 '11 at 13:27

4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

If there is a NUL character anywhere in the file, grep will consider it as a binary file.

There might a workaround like this cat file | tr -d '\000' | yourgrep to eliminate all null first, and then to search through file.

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... or use -a/--text, at least with GNU grep. –  derobert Nov 26 '12 at 20:44
@derobert: actually, on some (older) systems, grep see lines, but its output will truncate each matching line at the first NUL (probably becauses it calls C's printf and gives it the matched line?). On such a system a grep cmd .sh_history will return as many empty lines as there are lines matching 'cmd', as each line of sh_history has a specific format with a NUL at the begining of each line. (but your comment "at least on GNU grep" probably comes true. I don't have one at hand right now to test, but I expect they handle this nicely) –  Olivier Dulac Nov 25 '13 at 11:46

You can use the strings utility to extract the text content from any file and then pipe it through grep, like this: strings file | grep pattern.

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Ideal for grepping log files that might be partly corrupted –  Hannes R. Feb 27 at 7:43

The file /etc/magic or /usr/share/misc/magic has a list of sequences that the command file uses for determining the file type.

Note that binary may just be a fallback solution. Sometimes files with strange encoding are considered binary too.

grep on Linux has some options to handle binary files like --binary-files or -U / --binary

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One of my text files was suddenly being seen as binary by grep

  file Tel.txt  
  Tel.txt: ISO-8859 text  


   iconv -t UTF-8 -f ISO-8859-1 Tel.txt > TelNew.txt
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