Why is every other line of my file mysteriously changed to nonsense Chinese characters?

Raymond Chen

A customer found that every other line of their file mysteriously changed to nonsense Chinese characters:

// Microsoft Visual C++ generated resource script.
⌀椀渀挀氀甀搀攀 ∀爀攀猀漀甀爀挀攀⸀栀∀ഀ
⼀⼀ 䜀攀渀攀爀愀琀攀搀 昀爀漀洀 琀栀攀 吀䔀堀吀䤀一䌀䰀唀䐀䔀 爀攀猀漀甀爀挀攀⸀ഀ

My goodness, that does indeed look mysterious.

But it’s less mysterious if you look at it in a hex editor:

FF FE 2F 00 2F 00 4D 00-69 00 63 00 72 00 6F 00  .././.M.i.c.r.o.
73 00 6F 00 66 00 74 00-20 00 56 00 69 00 73 00  s.o.f.t. .V.i.s.
75 00 61 00 6C 00 20 00-43 00 2B 00 2B 00 20 00  u.a.l. .C.+.+. .
67 00 65 00 6E 00 65 00-72 00 61 00 74 00 65 00  g.e.n.e.r.a.t.e.
64 00 20 00 72 00 65 00-73 00 6F 00 75 00 72 00  d. .r.e.s.o.u.r.
63 00 65 00 20 00 73 00-63 00 72 00 69 00 70 00  c.e. .s.c.r.i.p.
74 00 2E 00 0D 00 0D 0A-00 23 00 69 00 6E 00 63  t........#.i.n.c
00 6C 00 75 00 64 00 65-00 20 00 22 00 72 00 65  .l.u.d.e. .".r.e
00 73 00 6F 00 75 00 72-00 63 00 65 00 2E 00 68  .s.o.u.r.c.e...h
00 22 00 0D 00 0D 0A 00-23 00 64 00 65 00 66 00  ."......#.d.e.f.
69 00 6E 00 65 00 20 00-41 00 50 00 53 00 54 00  i.n.e. .A.P.S.T.
55 00 44 00 49 00 4F 00-5F 00 52 00 45 00 41 00  U.D.I.O._.R.E.A.
44 00 4F 00 4E 00 4C 00-59 00 5F 00 53 00 59 00  D.O.N.L.Y._.S.Y.
4D 00 42 00 4F 00 4C 00-53 00 0D 00 0D 0A 00 2F  M.B.O.L.S....../
00 2F 00 20 00 47 00 65-00 6E 00 65 00 72 00 61  ./. .G.e.n.e.r.a
00 74 00 65 00 64 00 20-00 66 00 72 00 6F 00 6D  .t.e.d. .f.r.o.m
00 20 00 74 00 68 00 65-00 20 00 54 00 45 00 58  . .t.h.e. .T.E.X
00 54 00 49 00 4E 00 43-00 4C 00 55 00 44 00 45  .T.I.N.C.L.U.D.E
00 20 00 72 00 65 00 73-00 6F 00 75 00 72 00 63  . .r.e.s.o.u.r.c
00 65 00 2E 00 0D 00 0D-0A 00 2F 00 2F 00 0D 00  .e.......././...

The first few bytes of the file are clearly recognizable as encoded in UTF-16LE, complete with U+FEFF BOM.

And then something weird happens at the end of the first line of text: You would expect the line to end with the byte sequence 0D 00 0A 00, corresponding to the UTF-16LE encoding of U+000D CARRIAGE RETURN followed by U+000A LINE FEED. But instead, there’s this extra 0D byte stuck into the stream before the 0A, and that messes things up.

Since UTF-16LE encoding uses pairs of bytes, inserting a single byte throws off the synchronization. All the even bytes become odd, and all odd bytes become even. This is why the second line (outlined) comes out as Chinese nonsense: Putting ASCII alphabetics in the high-order byte of UTF-16 code units results in nonsense Chinese characters.

When we get to the end of the (now garbled) line, again there is a mystery 0D interloper byte immediately before the 0A. This second unwanted byte restores parity, which means that the bytes of the third line of text are properly paired again, and they appear normal.

And then when we get to the end of the third line, the cycle repeats, with a rogue 0D throwing off the synchronization and causing the fourth line to become gibberish. This continues for the remainder of the file: The corrupted line ending causes every other line to turn into nonsense.

Okay, so now we know what’s going on, but how did the file get corrupted in this way?

The insertion of 0D before 0A is coming from CRLF/LF conversion. Windows text files end with carriage return and line feed, but Unix text files end with just line feed. The usual algorithm for converting from Windows format to Unix format is to remove carriage returns if they are immediately followed by a line feed. And the usual algorithm for converting from Unix format to Windows format is to insert carriage returns before every line feed.

Of course, if you “insert” and “remove” the carriage return, you have to do so with the correct encoding.

What happened here is that the original file was encoded in UTF-16LE and used Windows line endings. My guess is that this file was then stored in a system that uses Unix line endings, so the line endings were converted, but the conversion code interprets the file as UTF-8, which encodes a CRLF as the byte sequence 0D 0A. That sequence does not occur in the file, so the conversion is a nop, and the file goes into storage unchanged.

Some time later, the file is retrieved from storage, and the line endings are now converted from Unix-style to Windows-style. Again, the conversion code assumes the file is UTF-8 encoded, so it inserts a carriage return 0D before every line feed 0A.

And that is why the 0A bytes are being inserted and messing up the file.

There is a German word for this: ver­schlimm­bessern: To make something worse in a well-intentioned but failed attempt to improve it.

A common place you’ll see this type of corruption is when you ask Visual Studio to create a new project with a git repo.

Some Visual Studio project templates create source files encoded as UTF-16LE, and it’s common to add a .gitattributes file that says that source files are text eol=crlf. If you do that, then git follows your instructions and converts files from Windows line endings to Unix line endings when committing, and performs the reverse conversion when checking files out.

However, git assumes text files are encoded as UTF-8.

To avoid Verschlimmbesserung, you should re-encode your UTF-16LE files as UTF-8 before adding them to the git repo. Note that Resource Compiler *.rc files default to the ANSI code page, even if the file begins with a UTF-8 BOM. You need to explicitly inform the Resource Compiler that the file is encoded as UTF-8 by saying

#pragma code_page(65001) // UTF-8


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  • 紅樓鍮 0

    Usually when told stories like this, one would pull out that classical line: “Just use UTF-8. It has the best compatibility. It’s the most efficient. All the other UTFs themselves are the Verschlimmbesserungen.” And honestly, since I personally rarely touch non-ASCII plain text, I would reckon adopting UTF-8 universally should be the best solution indeed.

    Except that my native tongue is Chinese, and that UTF-8 is 50% more space-inefficient than UTF-16 at handling Chinese text, and even more so CPU-wise. There are huge practical motivations for using UTF-16 in applications targeting the East Asian market that require high-performance text processing. And that’s why I can never agree with Rust taking the same stance as all the rest of “modern programming languages” on non-UTF-8-encoded strings.

    • Sunil Joshi 0

      I agree – Indic languages also require more space in UTF-8. It’s a very Western-Centric view of the world.

    • Richard Russell 0

      > And that’s why I can never agree with Rust taking the same stance as all the rest of “modern programming languages” on non-UTF-8-encoded strings.

      Except that a ‘programming language’ will be using files containing mostly ASCII characters (keywords, numbers, symbols, variables, function names etc.) with those Chinese/Indic characters limited mainly to literal strings and comments. So I would expect UTF-8 to win over UTF-16 with a typical source-code file, even in those regions. Admittedly Raymond’s example of a RC file might be an exception.

      • Chris Iverson 0

        > So I would expect UTF-8 to win over UTF-16 with a typical source-code file, even in those regions.

        Except he’s not talking about a source-code file anymore.

        Raymond’s post was talking about source code files, and in those cases, you’d be correct: the majority of the file would be comprised of characters that are more efficiently encoded in UTF-8 as compared to UTF-16. UTF-8 is simply a win.

        However, he was talking about heavy string manipulation and text processing, not just writing a source code file. He’s talking about the facilities the language provides for working with strings. In particular, he mentions Rust, whose String type and all associated string and text manipulation libraries/utilities use UTF-8 as their internal representation.

        This very much WOULD slow his processing down quite a bit compared to UTF-16 representation for any non-Western languages, and based on what he’s saying, it does indeed do so.

        The issue he has is that with languages like Rust, he has no real choice. The only choice of text encoding that you can use with Rust’s string libraries is UTF-8; if you have anything else, you either have to convert it to UTF-8 to use Rust’s provided utilities, or write your own utilities.

        So his choices are (if he uses such a language) to use the inbuilt text functions that are well documented and supported, and just deal with the fact that it’s going to be (possibly monumentally) slower, or write it all himself from scratch, and wind up with faster, but less tested, less supported, less documented, and possibly less stable code.

  • Nathan Williams 0

    Line ending conversation tools that can only process UTF-8 and other 8-bit ASCII supersets, git included, should reject a UTF-16 file as being binary rather than text. By default, git should behave correctly here and leave the file untouched. This most likely happened because someone forced git to treat the file as text, which IMO is never a good idea.

  • Georg Rottensteiner 0

    I think one of the big problems causing this is that the Git install on Windows defaults to futzing with the line breaks. It should really really default to “do not touch”.

    I can’t fathom why someone would think that a source control tool should mess with the files.

    • Kythyria Tieran 0

      Torvalds said his work with filesystems influenced the design of git. There’s one influence the entire unix tradition refuses to admit influences any part of it, and that is record-oriented filesystems. Git doesn’t store arrays of bytes (well, it can, but that’s not the primary mode of usage). It stores arrays of lines, which are byte arrays that are assumed to not contain the bytes 0x0A or 0x0D.

      From this perspective, nothing about the data is being changed by line ending conversion.

    • Sunil Joshi 0

      The worst is when you add files to Git that have LR line endings – it will convert them to CRLF! We have had difficulties where that’s happened to bash scripts checked into a repo that were then uploaded from a Windows system to a Linux box.

  • Dave Gzorple 0

    >There is a German word for this: ver­schlimm­bessern

    I think this word describes at least 50% of all software (OS, browser, application, you name it) UI “innovation” performed in the last ten to fifteen years.

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