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The GNU C Library

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6.5.2 A complete iconv example

The example below features a solution for a common problem. Given that one knows the internal encoding used by the system for wchar_t strings, one often is in the position to read text from a file and store it in wide character buffers. One can do this using mbsrtowcs, but then we run into the problems discussed above.

file2wcs (int fd, const char *charset, wchar_t *outbuf, size_t avail)
  char inbuf[BUFSIZ];
  size_t insize = 0;
  char *wrptr = (char *) outbuf;
  int result = 0;
  iconv_t cd;

  cd = iconv_open ("WCHAR_T", charset);
  if (cd == (iconv_t) -1)
      /* Something went wrong.  */
      if (errno == EINVAL)
        error (0, 0, "conversion from '%s' to wchar_t not available",
        perror ("iconv_open");

      /* Terminate the output string.  */
      *outbuf = L'\0';

      return -1;

  while (avail > 0)
      size_t nread;
      size_t nconv;
      char *inptr = inbuf;

      /* Read more input.  */
      nread = read (fd, inbuf + insize, sizeof (inbuf) - insize);
      if (nread == 0)
          /* When we come here the file is completely read.
             This still could mean there are some unused
             characters in the inbuf.  Put them back.  */
          if (lseek (fd, -insize, SEEK_CUR) == -1)
            result = -1;

          /* Now write out the byte sequence to get into the
             initial state if this is necessary.  */
          iconv (cd, NULL, NULL, &wrptr, &avail);

      insize += nread;

      /* Do the conversion.  */
      nconv = iconv (cd, &inptr, &insize, &wrptr, &avail);
      if (nconv == (size_t) -1)
          /* Not everything went right.  It might only be
             an unfinished byte sequence at the end of the
             buffer.  Or it is a real problem.  */
          if (errno == EINVAL)
            /* This is harmless.  Simply move the unused
               bytes to the beginning of the buffer so that
               they can be used in the next round.  */
            memmove (inbuf, inptr, insize);
              /* It is a real problem.  Maybe we ran out of
                 space in the output buffer or we have invalid
                 input.  In any case back the file pointer to
                 the position of the last processed byte.  */
              lseek (fd, -insize, SEEK_CUR);
              result = -1;

  /* Terminate the output string.  */
  if (avail >= sizeof (wchar_t))
    *((wchar_t *) wrptr) = L'\0';

  if (iconv_close (cd) != 0)
    perror ("iconv_close");

  return (wchar_t *) wrptr - outbuf;

This example shows the most important aspects of using the iconv functions. It shows how successive calls to iconv can be used to convert large amounts of text. The user does not have to care about stateful encodings as the functions take care of everything.

An interesting point is the case where iconv returns an error and errno is set to EINVAL. This is not really an error in the transformation. It can happen whenever the input character set contains byte sequences of more than one byte for some character and texts are not processed in one piece. In this case there is a chance that a multibyte sequence is cut. The caller can then simply read the remainder of the takes and feed the offending bytes together with new character from the input to iconv and continue the work. The internal state kept in the descriptor is not unspecified after such an event as is the case with the conversion functions from the ISO C standard.

The example also shows the problem of using wide character strings with iconv. As explained in the description of the iconv function above, the function always takes a pointer to a char array and the available space is measured in bytes. In the example, the output buffer is a wide character buffer; therefore, we use a local variable wrptr of type char *, which is used in the iconv calls.

This looks rather innocent but can lead to problems on platforms that have tight restriction on alignment. Therefore the caller of iconv has to make sure that the pointers passed are suitable for access of characters from the appropriate character set. Since, in the above case, the input parameter to the function is a wchar_t pointer, this is the case (unless the user violates alignment when computing the parameter). But in other situations, especially when writing generic functions where one does not know what type of character set one uses and, therefore, treats text as a sequence of bytes, it might become tricky.

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