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I want to print the first 1000 characters in an UTF-8 encoded file. I know that the head tool can print the first n bytes of a file, but it may cut a character in the middle so that I get garbled output at the end.

I can write a awk program to do this, but may I know if there is any simpler way?

PS. I found it unreasonable that head and tail do not support character encoding (the LANG environment variable), while other tools such as cut, wc, sed and awk all support character encoding.

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One other thing to think about - even if you output whole code points, you may still end up separating base characters from their subsequent combining characters. If that’s a problem for your application you’ll need to do something a bit more sophisticated than the answer so far. – Richard Kettlewell Jul 19 '12 at 7:55
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Not sure it is simpler, but this my way:

cat file | iconv -t UTF-32 | head -c $[1000 *4+4] | iconv -f UTF-32

This converts to a fixed-width form of Unicode so that the 1000 will always represent whole characters.

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iconv (the one included in glibc) has a bug of buffering the whole input before making any output. This has a huge performance impact. Nevertheless, your approach works. – Wu Yongzheng Jan 30 '13 at 4:44

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