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How to easily convert Hex to ASCII in Linux Terminal

Converting hexadecimal to ASCII in the Linux command line is a handy technique for developers and system administrators. This guide demonstrates how to use command-line tools like xxd and printf for efficient hex-to-ASCII conversion, simplifying data decoding and analysis in Linux environments.

by Arun Kumar
convert hex to ascii in linux

The need to convert hexadecimal (hex) to ASCII characters is a common task for many Linux users, especially those involved in software development, data analysis, and system administration. Hexadecimal, a base-16 number system, is widely used in computing for its efficiency in representing binary data. However, for human readability and interpretation, converting this data into ASCII format becomes essential.

In this blog post, we explore various methods to perform this conversion right in the Linux command line, using tools and scripts in environments like Ubuntu. From using xxd and awk to leveraging the power of scripting languages like Perl and Python, we delve into several approaches, ensuring that there’s a solution for every preference and need.

Why convert hex to ASCII?

Before we start, let’s address the elephant in the room: why do this conversion at all? Hexadecimal is a base-16 number system, often used in computing and programming as a more human-friendly representation of binary data. ASCII, on the other hand, is a character encoding standard for text. Converting hex to ASCII can reveal readable text or provide insights into the data you’re working with. It’s a skill that’s handy for programmers, system admins, and curious minds alike.

Using the xxd command

One of my favorite tools for this task is xxd. It’s simple, efficient, and usually comes pre-installed on Ubuntu.

How to install xxd

If, for some reason, xxd isn’t on your system, install it using:

sudo apt-get install xxd

How to use xxd

To convert hex to ASCII, use the following command:

echo "46534F5353204C696E7578" | xxd -r -p

Example output:

FOSS Linux

Here, “46534F5353204C696E7578” is the hex representation of the word “FOSS Linux”. The -r option tells xxd to reverse the operation (convert hex to binary), and -p makes xxd read the plain hex dump without any formatting.

The echo and awk combo

If you’re not a fan of xxd or want to try something different, you can use a combination of echo and awk. Here’s how:

Using echo and awk

First, input your hex data using echo, then pipe it to awk for conversion:

echo "68656c6c6f" | awk '{print $1}' | xxd -r -p

Example output:


This method might seem a bit roundabout, but I like how it showcases the power of piping in Linux. Plus, awk is a fantastic tool for text processing!

Scripting your way out

For those who need to convert hex to ASCII regularly, scripting is your friend. Here’s a simple Bash script to do the job:

echo "Enter hex value:"
read hex
echo -n $hex | xxd -r -p

Save this script as hex2ascii.sh, make it executable with chmod +x hex2ascii.sh, and run it whenever you need a quick conversion.

Using printf in a loop

The printf command in bash can be very powerful. Here’s a method that loops through each byte of hex and converts it:

Script with printf

for (( i=0; i<${#hex_string}; i+=2 )); do
    echo -n "${hex_string:$i:2}" | xxd -r -p

Example output:


In this script, we loop through the hex string, taking two characters at a time and converting them using xxd. This method is particularly useful if you’re dealing with longer strings or want more control over the conversion process.

Using Perl

Perl is a highly capable scripting language, especially for text processing. Here’s how you can use it for our hex-to-ASCII task:

Using Perl

echo "68656c6c6f" | perl -ne 'print pack("H*", $_)'

Example output:


This one-liner uses Perl’s pack function, which can handle hex-to-ASCII conversion neatly. It’s a powerful option for those who are comfortable with Perl.

Using Python

Python is another versatile scripting language that can make this task easy. Here’s a Python one-liner:

Using Python

echo "68656c6c6f" | python3 -c "import sys; print(bytes.fromhex(sys.stdin.read().strip()).decode('utf-8'))"

Example output:


This command reads the hex string from stdin, converts it to bytes using fromhex, and then decodes it to a string. Python’s extensive standard library makes it a great choice for various text processing tasks, including this one.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hex to ASCII conversion in Linux

1. What is hexadecimal (hex) encoding?

Hexadecimal encoding is a base-16 number system used in digital systems for a compact representation of binary data. It uses 16 distinct symbols: 0-9 to represent values zero to nine, and A-F (or a-f) to represent values ten to fifteen.

2. Why do we need to convert hex to ASCII in Linux?

Hex to ASCII conversion is often needed in data analysis, debugging, and software development. It helps in understanding and interpreting the data, which is often represented in hex format for compactness and efficiency.

3. Can these methods be used in all Linux distributions?

Yes, most of the methods described (like using xxd, awk, printf, Perl, and Python) can be used across various Linux distributions. However, the availability of certain tools like xxd or Perl might vary, and you may need to install them.

4. Are there any GUI tools for hex to ASCII conversion in Linux?

Yes, there are GUI tools like GHex (GNOME Hex Editor) or Bless Hex Editor in Linux for hex editing and conversion. However, for quick conversions, command-line tools are often more efficient.

5. How do I convert ASCII back to hex?

To convert ASCII back to hex, you can use xxd with the -p option. For example:

echo -n "hello" | xxd -p

This will output the hex representation of the word “hello”.

6. Is it safe to convert any hex string to ASCII?

While it’s technically possible to convert any hex string to ASCII, not all hex strings will result in meaningful ASCII text. Some hex strings might represent binary data that doesn’t translate into human-readable text.

7. Can these methods handle non-English characters?

The methods described are generally focused on basic ASCII, which includes English characters and common symbols. For extended character sets, like UTF-8 encoded characters, you might need additional steps or different tools.

8. Is programming knowledge required for these conversions?

Basic understanding of the command line and shell scripting is sufficient for most of these methods. However, having a programming background can be helpful, especially for understanding and using scripting languages like Perl and Python.

9. Are there any online tools for hex to ASCII conversion?

Yes, there are many online tools available that can convert hex to ASCII. These can be convenient for quick conversions but be cautious about using them for sensitive data.

10. Can hex to ASCII conversion be automated in Linux?

Absolutely! You can automate this process by writing scripts (in Bash, Perl, Python, etc.) and scheduling them using cron jobs for regular automated tasks.


As we’ve seen, the Linux command line offers a plethora of tools and methods for this task, ranging from simple one-liners with xxd to more complex scripts in Perl or Python. Each method has its own unique appeal and can be chosen based on the user’s comfort level and specific requirements. Moreover, understanding these techniques not only enhances one’s technical repertoire but also provides deeper insights into the workings of data encoding and processing.

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1 comment

Carlos January 13, 2024 - 5:16 AM

Thanks. I Had not idea about XXD. MAGNIFIC.


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