Command Line Tools to dump files in hex,octal and bin formats

There are lot of command line tools available in Linux to dump files as ASCII, decimal, hexadecimal, octal and binary forms. Often it will be helpful when you want to study internals of any file structure or debugging/troubleshooting network systems. This article will introduce you to various available command line tools on Linux to dump files in different formats like octal, hexadecimal and binary. Major hexdump tools available on Linux include hexdump, od and xxd.

Hexdump command line tools are also play vital role in computer forensics to investigate content of binary files.

hexdump Command

Command line tool hexdump is available at disposal on most Linux disbributions. This tool is available on most Linux distributions by default. Command hd is an alias for hexdump

hexdump command usage

 hexdump [-bcCdovx] [-e fmt] [-f fmt_file] [-n length]
               [-s skip] [file ...]
       hd      [-bcdovx]  [-e fmt] [-f fmt_file] [-n length]
               [-s skip] [file ...]

To quickly hexdump data of a give file. hexdump <path to file>

hedump msg.txt  
hexdump command to print content of file as hexadecimal strings
hexdump comand to dump content of file as four digit hexadecimal strings

xxd Command

The command xxd provides lot more flexibility compared to hexdump. This command xxd can be used to dump content as binary, octal and hexadecimal strings.

Usage of comand xxd

        xxd [options] [infile [outfile]]                                                          
        xxd -r [-s [-]offset] [-c cols] [-ps] [infile [outfile]]                                  
     -a          toggle autoskip: A single '*' replaces nul-lines. Default off.                   
     -b          binary digit dump (incompatible with -ps,-i,-r). Default hex.                    
     -c cols     format  octets per line. Default 16 (-i: 12, -ps: 30).                     
     -E          show characters in EBCDIC. Default ASCII.                                        
     -e          little-endian dump (incompatible with -ps,-i,-r).                                
     -g          number of octets per group in normal output. Default 2 (-e: 4).                  
     -h          print this summary.                                                              
     -i          output in C include file style.                                                  
     -l len      stop after  octets.                                                         
     -o off      add  to the displayed file position.                                        
     -ps         output in postscript plain hexdump style.                                        
     -r          reverse operation: convert (or patch) hexdump into binary.                       
     -r -s off   revert with  added to file positions found in hexdump.                      
     -s [+][-]seek  start at  bytes abs. (or +: rel.) infile offset.                        
     -u          use upper case hex letters.                                                      
     -v          show version: "xxd V1.10 27oct98 by Juergen Weigert".                            

Quickly dump content of file in hex format, run xxd <path to file>

xxd msg.txt
simple xxd command to content of file as strings of hexadecimal strings
Simple xxd command to dump content of file as hexadecimal strings in groups of two bytes

Dump content of file in binary (digits bits 1 or 0).

xxd -b msg.txt

xxd -b command to binary digit dump content of file
xxd -b command to binary digit dump content of file

The command xxd is quite useful, see full potential of this command at #TBA

od Command

The command od can also be used to dump files in binary, hex and octal formats. This command od can also be used to swap byte order. Where od is an acronym for “octal dump”

Syntax of command od

od [OPTION]... [FILE]...
od [-abcdfilosx]... [FILE] [[+]OFFSET[.][b]]
od --traditional [OPTION]... [FILE] [[+]OFFSET[.][b] [+][LABEL][.][b]]


The command hexcurse is more of a ncurses-based hex editor. It will not only display hexadecimal strings and actual message in split view but also allow you to edit hexadecimal strings

Install on Debian Based System (Ubuntu)

apt install -y hexcurse

Syntax of command hexcurse

hexcurse [ -?  |  -help ] [ -a ] [ -r rnum ] [ -o outputfile ] [ [ -i ] inputfile ]

Command usage

hexcurse [-?|help] [-a] [-r rnum] [-o outputfile] [[-i] infile]

    -a          Output addresses in decimal format initially
    -e          Output characters in EBCDIC format rather than ASCII
    -r rnum     Resize the display to "rnum" bytes wide
    -o outfile  Write output to outfile by default
    -? | -help  Display usage and version of hexcurse program
    [-i] infile Read from data from infile (-i required if not last argument)

Keyboard shortctus

│ CTRL+?    Help     - help screen
│ CTRL+S    Save     - saves the current file open
│ CTRL+O    Open     - opens a new file
│ CTRL+G    Goto     - goto a specified address
│ CTRL+F    Find     - search for a hex/ascii value
│ CTRL+A    HexAdres - toggle between hex/decimal address
│ TAB       Hex Edit - toggle between hex/ASCII windows
│ CTRL+Q    Quit     - exit out of the program
│ CTRL+U    Page up  - scrolls one screen up
│ CTRL+D    Page down- scrolls one screen down
│ CTRL+Z    Undo     - reverts last modification
│ CTRL+T    Home     - returns to the top of the file
│ CTRL+B    End      - jumps to the bottom of the file

To open selected file in hexcurse: hexcurse <path to file>

hexcurse msg.txt
Hexcurse command to hexdump file content
Hexcurse command uses ncurses to hexdump content of file that is displayed in split window. On left hexdump while on right actual text


Wow! this is just an amazing tool. This tools visualizes raw text or binary data in the form hexadecimal and ASCII formats in different categories in colored output. This can be quite useful to understand, learn and troubleshoot internals of different binary file formats

To Install on Debian Based Systems (Ubuntu)

apt install -y hexyl

Syntax of hexyl

hexyl [OPTIONS]  [file]

hexdump using command hexyl

hexyl  msg.txt
hexdump using command hexyl
Hexdump using command hexyl

Vim Editor

Text editor “vim” can also be used to view and edit files in the form of hexadecimal or binary. Vim allows other Linux commands to be executed inside in command mode like ls, mkdir and rm. Using this feature another command like xxd or hexdump is used to display actual data in either binary or hexadecimal format.

Display text as 16-bit hexdecimal strings


Following image shows reading of hexdump of a file into current buffer

Use command xxd inside vim to display file content in binary
Use :%xxd inside vim to display file content in binary

You may edit hex bytes then convert back to normal. Use following command to turn content back to normal text (binary)

:%!xxd -r

To display binary strings (ones and zeros)

:%!xxd -b

To return back to normal, as shown earlier use :%xxd -r

As you use the command xxd to display content in binary, content will be displayed in different columns. Following images identifies the different components or areas in the output of :%!xxd command used inside vim. Vim text editor will not only allow you to dump files in different formats like binary, octal and hexadecimal using different hexdump commands but also would allow to edit files in those formats.

xxd command inside vim to hexdump content
vim-xxd command to Hexdump the content of file opened

Emacs Editor

Emacs is great text editor. Lot of Linux distributions ship with Emacs. Emacs has special mode for editing binary files called “Hexl mode”. To switch to Hexl mode, use “M-x hexl-mode” to display current buffer or opened file into hex. This mode is especially helpful to edit binary files. When you switch to Hexl mode file is displayed in hex and will be converted back to binary when you save automatically

Switch to Hexl Mode

M-x hexl-mode
Emacs editor - Hexl mode to hexdump and edit content
Switch to Hexl mode in Emacs to edit binary files in Hex

As shown in above figure, once switched to Hexl mode. Current buffer will be displayed in hex format. Data is displayed in 3 columns. First column contains the offset of first byte in a line, second column contains hexadecimal representation of binary data and third column shows content of file as printable characters (ASCII)

Command statements in Emacs begin with either Ctrl or Meta keys
M meas meta key which is usually the Alt
C stands for Ctrl
To initiate a command “M-x” type Alt + x
For suppose command to exit Emacs is “C-x C-c” which means type Ctrl + x followed by Ctrl + c

Following commands will help to work with and navigate through content in Hexl mode

C-M-dInsert a byte by taking input in decimal
C-M-oInsert a byte by taking input in octal
C-M-xInsert a byte by taking input in hex
C-M-bMove Backward Short
C-M-fMove Forward Short
C-M-aBeginning of 512 byte page
C-M-eEnd of 512 byte page
C-x [Move to Beginning of 1K page
C-x ]Move to End of 1K page
M-gMove to an address given in hex
M-jMove to an address given in decimal
C-c C-cExit Hexl mode to go back to normal mode or previous buffer you had before switching to Hexl mode

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Naveen T aka neotam. Programming language agnostic, Software architect, Python expert, Networking & DevOps engineer & consultant with 7+ years of experience in creating serious web applications, real time event-driven non blocking applications and database driven applications ranging from small scale to enterprise grade. website
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