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Using Iconv to convert UTF-8 to ASCII (on Linux)

21 August 2007

There are situations where you want to remove all the UTF-8 goodness from a string (mostly because of legacy systems you’re working with). Now, this is rather easy to do. I’ll give you an example: çéß

Should be converted to cess. On my mac, I can simply use the following snippet to convert the string:

s = "çéß"
s = Iconv.iconv('ascii//translit', 'utf-8', s).to_s # returns "c'ess"
s.gsub(/\W/, '') # return "cess"

Very nice and all, but when I deploy to my Debian 4.0 linux system, the I get an error that tells me that invalid characters were present. Why? Because the Mac has unicode goodness built-in. Linux does not (in most cases).

So, how do you go about solving this? Easy! Get unicode support!

sudo apt-get install unicode

Now, try again.


If you want to convert a sentence (or anything else with spaces in it), you’ll notice that spaces are removed by the gsub command. I solve this by splitting up the string first into words. Convert the words and then joining the words together again.

words = s.split(" ")
words = words.collect do |word|
  word = Iconv.iconv('ascii//translit', 'utf-8', word).to_s
  word = word.gsub(/\W/,'')
words.join(" ")

Like this? Why not write a mix-in for String?