How can I re-encode a text file (or string) so that non-ASCII characters will be represented using Mathematica's standard names?

For example, if the original contents of the file was


then the re-encoded file should contain


Using the CharacterEncoding "Mathematica7" comes close, but it is too aggressive: it also encodes ASCII characters like x and y:

ExportString["xαy", "Text", CharacterEncoding -> "Mathematica7"]
(* "\\170\\[Alpha]\\171" *)

I do not want this. Update: Looking more closely, this is probably not the purpose of the "MathematicaN" character encodings.

I also do not want to change the contents of the file, only change its encoding. This means that re-wrapping lines, eliminating whitespace, changing new lines, etc. is not acceptable.

Why do I need this? I want to take a package file that is UTF-8 encoded and make it platform independent. How such a file gets read by Get depends on $CharacterEncoding, which may differ between computers.

  • $\begingroup$ What is about saving it as "Package"? $\endgroup$ – Alexey Popkov Apr 30 '17 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ ExportString[xαy, "Package"] returns a string with x\[Alpha]y as the last line. Isn't it what you need? $\endgroup$ – Alexey Popkov Apr 30 '17 at 13:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AlexeyPopkov You can type anything in an .m file. I typed non-ASCII characters. Others have done the same because on both OS X and Linux UTF-8 works just fine with Mathematica. On Windows, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. It depends on the settings. There are .m files around with non-ASCII encodings. I do not want to go through the file and fix everything manually. I want Mathematica to do it for me. $\endgroup$ – Szabolcs Apr 30 '17 at 14:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Then probably replacement with escaped versions would solve this: ExportString[StringReplace["xαy", "α" -> "\\[Alpha]"], "Text"]? $\endgroup$ – Alexey Popkov Apr 30 '17 at 14:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Could this be of any help? $\endgroup$ – Chip Hurst May 1 '17 at 0:47

Based off information from this thread, the following should work.

fromCode[c_Integer] /; c < 160 := FromCharacterCode[c];

fromCode[c_Integer] := "\\[" <> System`Private`LookupNameByCode[c] <> "]";


Export["myfile", "x\[Alpha]y", "Text"];

StringJoin[fromCode /@ ToCharacterCode[
  Import["myfile", "Text", CharacterEncoding -> "UTF-8"]]]

Here is a robust version of fromCode which uses only well-documented functionality, and correctly handles extended-ASCII and Unicode characters with which the original version fails:

fromCode[c_Integer] /; c <= 127 := FromCharacterCode[c];
fromCode[c_Integer] := 
  StringTake[ToString[FromCharacterCode[c], InputForm, 
    CharacterEncoding -> "PrintableASCII"], {2, -2}];


  1. The ASCII character set contains characters with codes up to 127 inclusively, so the upper bound is set to 127.

  2. When importing as "Text" we don't have to specify CharacterEncoding -> "UTF8" explicitly, since

    Import["file.txt"] reads a text file, taking the character encoding to be "UTF8" by default.


Export["myfile", "xαy\nLamé \[LongRightArrow] αβ+", "Text"];

StringJoin[fromCode /@ ToCharacterCode[Import["myfile", "Text"]]]
Lam\\[EAcute] \\[LongRightArrow] \\[Alpha]\\[Beta]+"

Another approach is to use ExportAsASCII function from this answer which should be much more efficient:

ExportAsASCII["myfileInASCII", Import["myfile", "Text"]]

For the particular use case I am interested in (i.e. replacing non-ASCII characters in package files), one can simply open the file (.m or .wl) with the Front End and re-save it.

This can also be automated:

NotebookSave@NotebookOpen["mypackage.m"] (* Warning: this overwrites the file! *)

This method does insert (:: Package ::) at the beginning of the file, and does require the system character encoding to be the same as that of the .m file. It may also change the newline style (LF vs CR/LF). But these are relatively minor inconveniences.

The code formatting (indentation, etc.) is preserved.

I verified that nothing else is changed by diffing the end result with the original input file.


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