I'm trying to use vim as a hex editor.

I am using the %!xxd / %!xxd -r method, and it worked fine until I tried a some bytes that didn't work as expected :

00000000: 1337 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161  .7aaaaaaaaaaaaaa
00000010: 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 62ff  aaaaaaaaaaaaaabR
00000020: 3713 0000 0a                             7....

With this in the vim buffer, running %!xxd -r and then %!xxd will produce :

00000000: 1337 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161  .7aaaaaaaaaaaaaa
00000010: 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 62c3  aaaaaaaaaaaaaab.
00000020: bf37 1300 000a                           .7....

Notice the difference at the end of the second line.

Now you might think that xxd is not used correctly, however running this : cat bytes | xxd -r | xxd will yield :

00000000: 1337 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161  .7aaaaaaaaaaaaaa
00000010: 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 6161 62ff  aaaaaaaaaaaaaab.
00000020: 3713 0000 0a                             7....

which is what I was expecting to see in vim.

Do you have any idea of what I am doing wrong ? Thank you for your help.

  • Combinaison = combination? (Et bienvenue à Vi and Vim!)
    – D. Ben Knoble
    Apr 4, 2020 at 14:14
  • merci :D I'll change that, good catch.
    – aguilbau
    Apr 4, 2020 at 14:20
  • Interesting! It's turning \u00ff into \xc3\xbf, which is exactly the UTF-8 encoding of that Unicode character. So encoding is the source of the problem here. The solution might be using vim -b to enable binary mode (see :help 'binary'), but not sure if that will break anything on the xxd view (since that's textual and not really binary...)
    – filbranden
    Apr 4, 2020 at 15:22

1 Answer 1


This will happen if you start editing the xxd-dumped version of the binary file, in which case Vim will assume a UTF-8 encoding (which you can confirm with :set fenc? returning fileencoding=utf-8).

When you turn the file back into binary form, the character still looks correct (using ga on top of it shows <ÿ> 255, Hex 00ff, Oct 377, Digr y:), but that's actuall not considering the encoding, so if you were to save this file now, the UTF-8 encoding will kick in and will turn \u00ff into the bytes \xc3\xbf, which are the UTF-8 encoded version of this Unicode character.

One possible workaround is to use a different file encoding such as latin1, which is a 8-bit encoding and shouldn't expand characters above 127.

A better solution is to use vim -b to enable the 'binary' option. (You can also use :set binary from inside Vim.) Enabling 'binary' will disable a file encoding completely (:set fenc? returns fileencoding=) and should preserve 8-bit characters as they are.

It turns out this works OK with the xxd-dumped output since xxd only uses 7-bit ASCII characters in its output, so using 'binary' doesn't really hurt it too much.

(From a purist's point of view, an ideal solution here would use two separate buffes in Vim, one for the xxd-dumped output and a separate one with 'binary' set for the binary encoded output of xxd. A plug-in facilitating binary editing would probably help manage the separate buffers and set the right options on all of them.)

  • 2
    very good analysis, thank you !
    – aguilbau
    Apr 6, 2020 at 10:43

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