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I know nothing about coding but received an email attachment as .txt opened and all I can see are a bunch of characters like %S^$^%$$//// is there a way to translate it?

Can you direct me to a program that will do this?

I ask because this email came from his work email 2 days before his death.

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jul 3 '10 at 15:09

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It is very unlikely to be a text file. I would ask the sender what kind of file it was intended to be. –  Pekka 웃 Jul 3 '10 at 14:56

6 Answers 6

It's possible that the file is a zip or a pdf or a docx or a thousand other things. And you could poke around wikipedia and find the format rules for such file types. Most of them start with a highly recognizable sequence of characters. I blogged about doing this once at http://www.gregcons.com/KateBlog/IDoLoveSolvingAMystery.aspx and recommended Marco Pontello's absolutely cool File Identifier, TrID, which you could try.

BUT - why don't you just hit reply and ask the person what they sent you? If you don't know them, the mystery attachment is probably malicious. Don't open it. If you know them, ask them what's in the attachment.

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the person that sent it was known to me, but has died in an accident...this was his last email to me. –  Perdidomike Jul 3 '10 at 15:03
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I do apologize for this sounds harsh, but that would be an evil new tactic by spammers lol –  MrStatic Jul 3 '10 at 15:26

Many office firewalls block the email of certain types of attachments. He may have renamed the file to avoid this issue.

Try pasting the first few characters into google.. it may be able to tell you the file type.. then rename the .txt file to the true filetype and try opening it.

I would run a virus scanner on it before attempting this though. It's quite possible it's a malicious worm that your friend didn't know about.

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It would help to know which email clients were you and your friend using, and the name of the attachment.

It would also help, unless it's too personal, to post the received mail for us.
To save the mail, use Save As in your client (normally in .eml format), or drag the mail to the desktop (if this is supported).

I don't suppose that the attachment is called winmail.dat by any chance?
(Dealing with the winmail.dat file)

Add a comment to this answer, if you do wish me to have a look at this email.

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There are various applications to identify file types by their content. On Linux/Unix e.g. there's [file][1], which is invoked on the command line simply as

file *unknownfile*

and will tell you the type it guessed. It does not recognize everything, but still a lot. If you don't have access to a Linux computer, any modern Linux LiveCD (e.g. Ubuntu) will do.

You might also want to consider whether the file is really a text file, but in an uncommon encoding. Do you know which language the text is likely in? If it's some Asian language, it might just be an unusual encoding.

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It's possible that it could be an encoding problem. Encoding is the way that your computer interprets and displays a file containing text. If the file contains characters that are not supported in a specific encoding, it could create a problem like the one you describe. If you open the file in a text editor with multiple encoding support (other than the default Notepad, unfortunately) you may be able to choose a function such as "Reload As..." and then choose from a list of encodings. Your best bet might be to try to load it as a Unicode (UTF) encoding.

See here for more information about encoding.

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You can use TrID to identify the file type.

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