I have two files encoded in UTF-8 with/without BOM:

/tmp/bom$ ls
list.bom.txt  list.nobom.txt
/tmp/bom$ cat list.nobom.txt 
/tmp/bom$ diff list.nobom.txt list.bom.txt 
< apple
> apple
/tmp/bom$ file list.nobom.txt list.bom.txt 
list.nobom.txt: UTF-8 Unicode text
list.bom.txt:   UTF-8 Unicode (with BOM) text

The only diff between two files is header BOM EF BB BF.

Then, in order to filter the lines that begin with 'a', I write a short awk script using a caret.

/tmp/bom$ gawk '/^a.*/' list.nobom.txt
/tmp/bom$ gawk '/^a.*/' list.bom.txt

Unfortunately, with header BOM, apple in the first line is ignored.

Therefore, my question is: Is there any way to handle this?

I consider three solutions:

  1. Write BOM bytes directly. For example,

    gawk 'BEGIN { pat = "^(\xef\xbb\xbf)?a.*" } $0 ~ pat { print }'

    works in UTF-8. However, this doesn't handle other encodings. Moreover, if there is U+FEFF used as Zero Width Non-Breaking Space (see comments), the above script fails in some cases.

  2. Delete BOM bytes by re-encoding with nkf. For example,

    nkf --oc=UTF-8 list.bom.txt | gawk '/^a.*/'

    works. However, I wonder if there is a more sophisticated way.

  3. [ADDED] This is an improvement of the first one, using bash feature.

    gawk -v bom="$(echo -e '\uFEFF')" '
        NR == 1 {
            pat = "^" bom;
            sub(pat, "")
        /^a.*/ {

    This works for both UTF-8 with/without BOM. However this doesn't works for UTF-16 in my environment. So, the second solution is better.

Moreover, I think this is also the problem for grep, sed, or other scripts using regular expression matching. So, if there is a general solution, it would be more appreciated.

  • The file with the BOM does not start with 'a', it starts with the BOM (also known as Unicode character Zero Width No-Break Space). The files do not have the same content, just as a file with starting with a regular space character differs from a file starting with the character 'a'. – Johan Myréen Jan 20 '17 at 11:57
  • @JohanMyréen Thanks for the comment! However, U+FEFF (BOM, or Zero Width No-Break Space) is now neither control nor graphic character, according to Unicode Standard, Version 9.0.0, Section 23.8 "Specials". This section also says "(Except for compatibility,) U+FEFF is not used with the semantics of zero width no-break space." And I think this time it's not a compatibility matter. (Is this correct?) – nekketsuuu Jan 20 '17 at 12:30
  • Anyway, I know backward compatibility is very important, so it's OK that the beginning 'a' of the file with BOM is not matched in the intuitive way. But I want to know an option or something for this problem, if it exists. – nekketsuuu Jan 20 '17 at 12:30
  • 2
    Yes, I am aware that the definition changed and U+FEFF is now only used for BOM. I find it unfortunate that the BOM has found its way to UTF-8, where it is not needed for its original purpose (because UTF-8 does not have a byte order). Using BOM for UTF-8 files is just asking for trouble, which this question has shown. My recommendation is to not use BOM for UTF-8 at all. You can't use it to decide if a file is encoded using UTF-8 or not, because there are UTF-8 files without BOM anyway. The Unicode standard recommends to not use BOM for UTF-8 files. – Johan Myréen Jan 20 '17 at 14:39
  • I think so too.... (But then why Visual Studio use utf-8 with BOM by default?) So my second solution (converting all to uft-8 without BOM) is recommended? – nekketsuuu Jan 20 '17 at 16:20

A BOM doesn't make sense in UTF-8. Those are generally added by mistake by bogus software on Microsoft OSes.

dos2unix will remove it and also take care of other idiosyncrasies of Windows text files.

dos2unix < file.win.txt | awk ...
  • It may be that the BOM is not official UTF-8, but there are some use cases where it is handy. For example if you are creating a CSV file to be read by Excel, to get Excel to import the file as UTF-8 requires jumping through a few hoops that you might not realize until you see some mis-formed text, perhaps after having some some other work on the file. If the file has a BOM, Excel behaves as you'd like. – Mike Gleen Apr 6 '20 at 15:10

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