MirBSD manpage: file(1)

FILE(1)                      BSD Reference Manual                      FILE(1)


     file - determine file type


     file [-bckLNnrsvz] [-F separator] [-f namefile] [-m magicfiles] file ...
     file [-m magicfiles] -C


     The file utility tests each argument in an attempt to classify it. There
     are three sets of tests, performed in this order: filesystem tests, magic
     number 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 ASCII characters and is probably safe to read on an ASCII
     terminal), "executable" (the file contains the result of compiling a pro-
     gram 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 modifying the file /etc/magic or
     the program itself, preserve these keywords.

     People depend on knowing that all the readable files in a directory have
     the word "text" printed. Don't do as Berkeley did; 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 <sys/stat.h>.

     The magic number tests are used to check for files with data in particu-
     lar fixed formats. The canonical example of this is a binary executable
     (compiled program) a.out file, whose format is defined in <a.out.h> and
     possibly <exec.h> in the standard include directory and is explained in
     a.out(5). 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 magic number 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 in these files
     is read from the magic file /etc/magic.

     If an argument appears to be an ASCII file, file attempts to guess its
     language. The language tests look for particular strings (cf 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) and determine whether an unknown file should be labelled as
     "ASCII text" or "data".

     The options are as follows:

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

     -C      For each magic number file, write a magic.mgc output file that
             contains a preparsed (compiled) version of it.

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

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

     -f 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.

     -k      Don't stop at the first match, keep going.

     -L      Cause symlinks to be followed, as the like-named option in ls(1)
             (on systems that support symbolic links).

     -m magicfiles
             Specify an alternate list, magicfiles, of files containing magic
             numbers. This can be a single file or a colon-separated list of
             files. If a compiled magic file is found alongside, it will be
             used instead.

     -N      Don't pad filenames so that they align in the output.

     -n      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.

     -r      Don't translate unprintable characters to '\ooo'. Normally file
             translates unprintable characters to their octal representation
             (raw mode).

     -s      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 pecu-
             liar 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 op-
             tion 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      Print the version of the program and exit.

     -z      Try to look inside files that have been run through compress(1).


     MAGIC   Default magic number files, separated by colon characters. file
             adds ".mgc" to the value of this variable as appropriate.


     /etc/magic  default list of magic numbers


     compress(1), hexdump(1), ls(1), od(1), strings(1), a.out(5), magic(5)


     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 behaviour 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 mag-
     ic file entries. A consolidation of magic file entries will be distribut-
     ed periodically. The order of entries in the magic file is significant.
     Depending on what system you are using, the order that they are put to-
     gether may be incorrect. If your old file command uses a magic file, keep
     the old magic file around for comparison purposes (rename it to


     There has been a file command in every UNIX since at least Research Ver-
     sion 4 (man page dated November, 1973). The System V version introduced
     one significant major change: the external list of magic number types.
     This slowed the program down slightly but made it a lot more flexible.

     This program, based on the System V version, was written by
     Ian F. 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 en-
     tries. Contributions to 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 <christos@zoulas.com>.

     Altered by
     Chris Lowth, 2000, to optionally report MIME types. This required an al-
     ternative magic file, and is not available in OpenBSD.

     Altered by
     Eric Fischer, July, 2000, to identify character codes and attempt to
     identify the languages of non-ASCII files.

     The list of contributors to the "magdir" directory (source for the
     /etc/magic file) is too long to include here. You know who you are; thank


     Copyright (c) Ian F. Darwin, Toronto, Canada, 1986-1999. Covered by the
     standard Berkeley Software Distribution copyright; see the file
     LEGAL.NOTICE in the distribution.

     The files tar.h and is_tar.c were written by
     John Gilmore from his public-domain tar program, and are not covered by
     the above license, but, as of 2019-02-10 (confirmed by eMail), alterna-
     tively licenced under
     https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/legalcode (CC0).


     There must be a better way to automate the construction of the Magic file
     from all the glop in Magdir. What is it? Better yet, the magic file
     should be compiled into binary (say, ndbm(3) or, better yet, fixed-length
     ASCII strings for use in heterogenous network environments) for faster
     startup. Then the program would run as fast as the Version 7 program of
     the same name, with the flexibility of the System V version.

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

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

     There should be an "else" clause to follow a series of continuation

     The magic file and keywords should have regular expression support. Their
     use of ASCII TAB as a field delimiter is ugly and makes it hard to edit
     the files, but is entrenched.

     It might be advisable to allow upper-case letters in keywords for e.g.,
     troff(1) commands vs man page macros. Regular expression support would
     make this easy.

     The program doesn't grok FORTRAN. It should be able to figure FORTRAN by
     seeing some keywords which appear indented at the start of line. Regular
     expression support would make this easy.

     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.

     Another optimization would be to sort the magic file so that we can just
     run down all the tests for the first byte, first word, first long, etc,
     once we have fetched it. Complain about conflicts in the magic file en-
     tries. Make a rule that the magic entries sort based on file offset rath-
     er 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., "From " as 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 program is slower than some vendors' file commands.

     This manual page, and particularly this section, is too long.


     You can obtain the original author's latest version by anonymous FTP on
     ftp.astron.com in the directory /pub/file/file-X.YY.tar.gz.

MirBSD #10-current            February 14, 2019                              4

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