iconv - Linux


The iconv command in Linux is used for converting the encoding of characters in text from one form to another. It is crucial for software applications that need to handle multiple character encodings and is extensively used in data processing to ensure text is compatible across different systems and locales.


The basic syntax of the iconv command is as follows:

  • FROM-ENCODING specifies the encoding of the input file.
  • TO-ENCODING specifies the encoding for the output.
  • INPUTFILE is the name of the file whose encoding is to be converted. If no input file is provided, iconv reads from standard input.


  • -f, --from-code=NAME: Defines the character encoding of the input text (e.g., UTF-8, ISO-8859-1).
  • -t, --to-code=NAME: Defines the character encoding for the output.
  • -c: Omits invalid characters from output.
  • -o, --output=FILE: Specifies the file to write the output to, instead of standard output.
  • -s: Silences warnings about invalid characters.
  • -l, --list: Lists all known encoded character sets.


  1. Basic Conversion: Convert a file from UTF-8 to ISO-8859-1.

    iconv -f UTF-8 -t ISO-8859-1 input.txt > output.txt
  2. Handling Invalid Characters: Convert a file while omitting invalid characters.

    iconv -c -f UTF-8 -t ASCII input.txt > output.txt
  3. Listing Encodings: Display a list of all supported encodings.

    iconv -l
  4. Using Standard Input and Output: Convert text directly from the terminal.

    echo 'This is a test.' | iconv -f UTF-8 -t ISO-8859-1

Common Issues

  • Encoding Errors: If iconv encounters characters that can’t be represented in the target encoding, it will by default raise an error. To avoid this, use the -c option to ignore these characters.
  • Misidentification of Encoding: Sometimes, the source encoding might be incorrectly identified leading to garbled output. Ensure the correct source encoding is specified.


iconv can be effectively combined with other commands for powerful text processing. Here’s an example where iconv is used with grep to find specific strings in an encoded file:

iconv -f ISO-8859-1 -t UTF-8 file.txt | grep 'example'

This converts file.txt from ISO-8859-1 to UTF-8, then pipes the output to grep to search for “example”.

  • utf8proc: A tool to process UTF-8 encoded data.
  • uconv: Offers similar functionality with additional features for Unicode.

For more detailed documentation, you can check the official GNU iconv page or use man iconv in your terminal.