The byte order mark, or BOM for short, is a special Unicode character that can be used to indicate that a file’s contents is Unicode. Visual Studio is one of those editors that like to use the BOM when saving UTF-8 files. There are a few problems with the BOM. It can break shell scripts, as it precedes the shebang. It can cause unnecessary diff noise in git history, just like any other invisible character mismatch (spaces vs tabs, different line endings, lack of EOL at EOF). In short, I don’t like it and I’d like to get rid of it.

I was working on a Yeoman generator that creates a C# project, so this BOM issue was annoying at unit tests. Some source files had the BOM while their corresponding expected files didn’t. As usual in the JavaScript world, there’s a npm package that solves the problem. I added the package gulp-stripbom and this is how it looks like in my gulpfile.js:

const stripBom = require('gulp-stripbom');

gulp.task('stripbom', function() {
return gulp.src(['**/*.*', '!node_modules/**'])

Side note: I started using gulp instead of grunt and I find it a bit better. A common problem with gulp and grunt tasks is that documentation is spread over the tasks and the libraries they’re wrapping. I think gulp gives you more flexibility and I like its streams. End of side note.

This gulp task just removes the BOM character from all files in the project, case closed.

I do have other projects however which don’t use gulp or JavaScript for that matter. How do I do a one time cleanup to get rid of the BOM character?

I poked around in the dependencies of gulp-stripbom and I found it’s using the strip-bom package, which is essentially a very simple function. There’s also the strip-bom-cli package, but it doesn’t edit files in-place.

I ended up writing this long bash line:

$ find . -type f -iname "*.cs" -exec node -e "var f = process.argv[1]; var contents = fs.readFileSync(f, 'utf8'); if (contents.charCodeAt(0) === 0xFEFF) { fs.writeFileSync(f, contents.slice(1), 'utf8'); } " \{\} \;

Disclaimer: You should have a backup. Better try this on a git directory, so that you can rollback if needed.

What does this code do? It uses find to find all files I want to change (*.cs) and runs the given inline node script (node -e) for every match.

The node script can be reviewed easier if I format it in multiple lines:

var f = process.argv[1]; // get the filename passed as parameter to the node script by find
var contents = fs.readFileSync(f, 'utf8'); // read the file contents in utf8
if (contents.charCodeAt(0) === 0xFEFF) { // if the first character the BOM?
    fs.writeFileSync(f, contents.slice(1), 'utf8'); // save the file, stripping the first character

This way is suboptimal, as it launches a separate node process for each file, but I don’t care for a one time cleanup.

If I do git diff I can see the invisible BOM:

$ git diff
diff --git a/NGSoftware.Common/IStoppable.cs b/NGSoftware.Common/IStoppable.cs
index bb592a5..c13522d 100644
--- a/NGSoftware.Common/IStoppable.cs
+++ b/NGSoftware.Common/IStoppable.cs
@@ -1,4 +1,4 @@
-<U+FEFF>using System;
+using System;
using System.Threading;

It’s the U+FEFF character being removed. I’m not sure if it’s also visible when reviewing a pull request on a browser.

For JavaScript files, you can also use ESLint to prevent the usage BOM with the unicode-bom rule.