iconv {base}R Documentation

Convert Character Vector between Encodings


This uses system facilities to convert a character vector between encodings: the ‘i’ stands for ‘internationalization’.


iconv(x, from = "", to = "", sub = NA, mark = TRUE, toRaw = FALSE)




a character vector, or an object to be converted to a character vector by as.character, or a list with NULL and raw elements as returned by iconv(toRaw = TRUE).


a character string describing the current encoding.


a character string describing the target encoding.


character string. If not NA it is used to replace any non-convertible bytes in the input. (This would normally be a single character, but can be more.) If "byte", the indication is "<xx>" with the hex code of the byte. If "Unicode" and converting from UTF-8, the Unicode point in the form "<U+xxxx>", or if c99, a C99-style escape "\uxxxx". (For points in a ‘supplementary plane’, "\Uxxxxxxxx" is used, with zero-padding)


logical, for expert use. Should encodings be marked?


logical. Should a list of raw vectors be returned rather than a character vector?


The names of encodings and which ones are available are platform-dependent. All R platforms support "" (for the encoding of the current locale), "latin1" and "UTF-8". Generally case is ignored when specifying an encoding.

On most platforms iconvlist provides an alphabetical list of the supported encodings. On others, the information is on the man page for iconv(5) or elsewhere in the man pages (but beware that the system command iconv may not support the same set of encodings as the C functions R calls). Unfortunately, the names are rarely supported across all platforms.

Elements of x which cannot be converted (perhaps because they are invalid or because they cannot be represented in the target encoding) will be returned as NA (or NULL for toRaw = TRUE) unless sub is specified.

Most versions of iconv will allow transliteration by appending ‘⁠//TRANSLIT⁠’ to the to encoding: see the examples.

Encoding "ASCII" is accepted, and on most systems "C" and "POSIX" are synonyms for ASCII. Where "ASCII/TRANSLIT" is unsupported by the OS, "ASCII" is used with sub = "c99" if from UTF-8, else sub = "?". (However, musl's version of "ASCII" substitutes *.)

Elements of x with a declared encoding (UTF-8 or latin1, see Encoding) are converted from that encoding if from = "", otherwise they are taken as being in the encoding specified by from.

Note that implementations of iconv typically do not do much validity checking and will often mis-convert inputs which are invalid in encoding from.

If sub = "Unicode" or sub = "c99" is used for a non-UTF-8 input it is the same as sub = "byte".


If toRaw = FALSE (the default), the value is a character vector of the same length and the same attributes as x (after conversion to a character vector). If conversion fails for an element that element of the result is set to NA_character_. (NB: whether conversion fails is implementation-specific.) NA_character_ inputs give NA_character_ outputs.

If mark = TRUE (the default) the elements of the result have a declared encoding if to is "latin1" or "UTF-8", or if to = "" and the current locale's encoding is detected as Latin-1 (or its superset CP1252 on Windows) or UTF-8.

If toRaw = TRUE, the value is a list of the same length and the same attributes as x whose elements are either NULL (if conversion fails or the input was NA_character_) or a raw vector.

For iconvlist(), a character vector (typically of a few hundred elements) of known encoding names.

Implementation Details

There are three main implementations of iconv in use. Linux's most common C runtime, ‘⁠glibc⁠’, contains one. Several platforms supply versions or emulations of GNU ‘⁠libiconv⁠’, including previous versions of macOS and FreeBSD, in some cases with additional encodings. On Windows we use a version of Yukihiro Nakadaira's ‘⁠win_iconv⁠’, which is based on Windows' codepages. (We have added many encoding names for compatibility with other systems.) All three have iconvlist, ignore case in encoding names and support ‘⁠//TRANSLIT⁠’ (but with different results, and for ‘⁠win_iconv⁠’ currently a ‘best fit’ strategy is used except for to = "ASCII").

The macOS 14 implementation is attributed to the ‘Citrus Project’: the Apple headers declare it as ‘compatible’ with GNU ‘⁠libiconv⁠’ 1.11 from 2006. However, it differs in significant ways including using transliteration for conversions which cannot be represented exactly in the target encoding. (It seems this implementation is also used in recent versions of FreeBSD. Earlier versions of macOS used GNU ‘⁠libiconv⁠’ 1.11 and some CRAN builds still do.) For a failing conversion macOS 14 generally translated character(s) to ? but 14.1 gives an error (so an NA result in R).

Most commercial Unixes contain an implementation of iconv but none we have encountered have supported the encoding names we need: the ‘R Installation and Administration’ manual recommended installing GNU ‘⁠libiconv⁠’ on Solaris and AIX.

Some Linux distributions use ‘⁠musl⁠’ as their C runtime. This is less comprehensive than ‘⁠glibc⁠’: it does not support ‘⁠//TRANSLIT⁠’ but does inexact conversions (currently using ‘⁠*⁠’).

There are other implementations, e.g. NetBSD has used one from the Citrus project (which does not support ‘⁠//TRANSLIT⁠’) and there is an older FreeBSD port.

Note that you cannot rely on invalid inputs being detected, especially for to = "ASCII" where some implementations allow 8-bit characters and pass them through unchanged or with transliteration or substitution.

Some of the implementations have interesting extra encodings: for example GNU ‘⁠libiconv⁠’ and macOS 14 allow to = "C99" to use ‘⁠\uxxxx⁠’ escapes (or if needed ‘⁠\Uuxxxxxxxx⁠’) for non-ASCII characters.

Byte Order Marks

most commonly known as ‘BOMs’.

Encodings using character units which are more than one byte in size can be written on a file in either big-endian or little-endian order: this applies most commonly to UCS-2, UTF-16 and UTF-32/UCS-4 encodings. Some systems will write the Unicode character U+FEFF at the beginning of a file in these encodings and perhaps also in UTF-8. In that usage the character is known as a BOM, and should be handled during input (see the ‘Encodings’ section under connection: re-encoded connections have some special handling of BOMs). The rest of this section applies when this has not been done so x starts with a BOM.

Implementations will generally interpret a BOM for from given as one of "UCS-2", "UTF-16" and "UTF-32". Implementations differ in how they treat BOMs in x in other from encodings: they may be discarded, returned as character U+FEFF or regarded as invalid.


The most portable name for the ISO 8859-15 encoding, commonly known as ‘Latin 9’, is "iso885915": most platforms support both "latin-9" and"latin9" but GNU ‘⁠libiconv⁠’ does not support the latter. ‘⁠musl⁠’ (as used by Alpine Linux and other lightweight Linux distributions) supports neither, but R remaps there to "iso885915".

Encoding names "utf8", "mac" and "macroman" are not portable. "utf8" is converted to "UTF-8" for from and to by iconv, but not for e.g. fileEncoding arguments. "macintosh" is the official (and most widely supported) name for ‘Mac Roman’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mac_OS_Roman).

Using sub substitutes each non-convertible byte in the input, so when converting from UTF-8 a non-convertible character may be replaced by two or more bytes. Using sub = "c99" or sub = "Unicode" will be clearer.

See Also

localeToCharset, file.


## In principle, as not all systems have iconvlist
try(utils::head(iconvlist(), n = 50))

## Not run: 
## convert from Latin-2 to UTF-8: two of the glibc iconv variants.
iconv(x, "ISO_8859-2", "UTF-8")
iconv(x, "LATIN2", "UTF-8")

## End(Not run)

## Both x below are in latin1 and will only display correctly in a
## locale that can represent and display latin1.
x <- "fran\xE7ais"
Encoding(x) <- "latin1"
charToRaw(xx <- iconv(x, "latin1", "UTF-8"))

## The results in the comments are those from glibc and GNU libiconv
iconv(x, "latin1", "ASCII")           #   NA
iconv(x, "latin1", "ASCII", "?")      # "fran?ais"
iconv(x, "latin1", "ASCII", "")       # "franais"
iconv(x, "latin1", "ASCII", "byte")   # "fran<e7>ais"
iconv(xx, "UTF-8", "ASCII", "Unicode")# "fran<U+00E7>ais"
iconv(xx, "UTF-8", "ASCII", "c99")    # "fran\\u00e7ais"

## Extracts from old R help files (they are nowadays in UTF-8)
x <- c("Ekstr\xf8m", "J\xf6reskog", "bi\xdfchen Z\xfcrcher")
Encoding(x) <- "latin1"
try(iconv(x, "latin1", "ASCII//TRANSLIT"))  # platform-dependent
## glibc gives "Ekstroem" "Joreskog" "bisschen Zurcher"
## macOS 14 gives "Ekstrom" "J\"oreskog" "bisschen Z\"urcher"
## musl gives "Ekstr*m" "J*reskog" "bi*chen Z*rcher"
iconv(x, "latin1", "ASCII", sub = "byte")

## and for Windows' 'Unicode'
str(xx <- iconv(x, "latin1", "UTF-16LE", toRaw = TRUE))
iconv(xx, "UTF-16LE", "UTF-8")

emoji <- "\U0001f604"
iconv(emoji,, "latin1", sub = "Unicode") # "<U+1F604>"
iconv(emoji,, "latin1", sub = "c99")

[Package base version 4.4.1 Index]