How to create a broken UTF-8 CSV

Create a broken utf8 CSV for use in your unit tests

How to create a broken UTF-8 CSV


I recently worked on a solution for this error:

'utf-8' codec can't decode byte 0x96 in position 19: invalid start byte

This happened because we switched to a new function: pandas.read_csv and the default behavior on error is to throw a UnicodeDecodeError exception. For us the fix was easy, it is just a matter of setting encoding_errors="ignore" to replicate the previous behavior.

What wasn't as easy was creating a broken file to run our tests against. There's a lot of information online for how to fix this error, but not a lot on how to replicate it. I do not have access to the data that caused the issue and I do not know how it was created (although I suspect it was exported from Excel on Windows).


This Python script will create a csv file and insert the binary 0x96 character we need.

# Open normally and write the first section
with open('broken.csv', 'w') as f:

# Open again in binary append
with open('broken.csv', 'ab') as f:

# Open one final time to append a few more characters
with open('broken.csv', 'a') as f:
vim shows the character as <96>


Now that I have this file I can assert on 2 things in my unit tests:

  • That the default function throws (check the csv is actually broken).
  • That the function with ignore reads the contents as expected.

There are 2 functions on Linux that helped validate the 'broken' nature of this file.

$ iconv -f utf8 broken.csv -t utf8 -o /dev/null
iconv: illegal input sequence at position 19
Tries to convert a utf8 file to a utf8 file. stderr on illegal characters


$ file -bi broken.csv
text/plain; charset=unknown-8bit
our healthy csv would show charset=utf8