I know that certain processors are Big Endian and others are Little Endian. But is there a command, bash script, python script or series of commands that can be used at the command line to determine if a system is Big Endian or Little Endian? Something like:

if <some code> then
    echo Big Endian
    echo Little Endian

Or is it more simple to just determine what processor the system is using and go with that to determine its Endianess?

10 Answers 10

up vote 102 down vote accepted

On a Big Endian-System (Solaris on SPARC)

$ echo -n I | od -to2 | head -n1 | cut -f2 -d" " | cut -c6 


On a little endian system (Linux on x86)

$ echo -n I | od -to2 | head -n1 | cut -f2 -d" " | cut -c6 


The solution above is clever and works great for Linux *86 and Solaris Sparc.

I needed a shell-only (no Perl) solution that also worked on AIX/Power and HPUX/Itanium. Unfortunately the last two don't play nice: AIX reports "6" and HPUX gives an empty line.

Using your solution, I was able to craft something that worked on all these Unix systems:

$ echo I | tr -d [:space:] | od -to2 | head -n1 | awk '{print $2}' | cut -c6

Regarding the Python solution someone posted, it does not work in Jython because the JVM treats everything as Big. If anyone can get it to work in Jython, please post!

Also, I found this, which explains the endianness of various platforms. Some hardware can operate in either mode depending on what the O/S selects: http://labs.hoffmanlabs.com/node/544

If you're going to use awk this line can be simplified to:

echo -n I | od -to2 | awk '{ print substr($2,6,1); exit}'

For small Linux boxes that don't have 'od' (say OpenWrt) then try 'hexdump':

echo -n I | hexdump -o | awk '{ print substr($2,6,1); exit}'
  • 2
    That's an upper-case I (eye) rather than a lower-case l (ell) by the way. – Dennis Williamson Jul 23 '10 at 17:13
  • 1
    (Solaris) -> (Solaris, Sparc), although Sparc >= V9 is bi endian. – Cristian Ciupitu Sep 17 '10 at 22:13
  • 1
    Care to explain how it works? – Massimo Apr 1 '16 at 11:40
  • This doesn't seem to work on Android (Nexus 5). Not sure why... – wjandrea Apr 9 '17 at 17:20
  • printf "\x1" | od -to2 | awk 'NR==1{print$2==1}' – Kaz May 25 '17 at 23:24

Here is a more elegant python one-line script

python -c "import sys;sys.exit(0 if sys.byteorder=='big' else 1)"

exit code 0 means big endian and 1 means little endian

or just change sys.exit to print for a printable output

  • 4
    This won't work on RHEL 5.x/CentOS 5.x systems which are running Python 2.4.x. Here's a fix: python -c "import sys;sys.exit(int(sys.byteorder!='big'))" – JPaget Jun 14 '14 at 23:55

If you are on a fairly recent Linux machine (most anything after 2012) then lscpu now contains this information:

$ lscpu | grep Endian
Byte Order:            Little Endian

This was added to lscpu in version 2.19, which is found in Fedora >= 17, CentOS >= 6.0, Ubuntu >= 12.04.

Note that I found this answer from this terrific answer on Unix.SE. That answer has a lot of relevant information, this post is just a summary of it.

The main answer can be simplified slightly using awk:

On a Big Endian system (Solaris, SPARC)

$ echo -n I | od -to2 | awk 'FNR==1{ print substr($2,6,1)}'

On a Little Endian system (Linux, Intel)

$ echo -n I | od -to2 | awk 'FNR==1{ print substr($2,6,1)}'

Newer Linux Kernels

As of version 2.19 of the util-linux package the command lscpu started including a field related to Endianness. So now you can simply use this command to find this out:

$ lscpu | grep -i byte
Byte Order:            Little Endian

This has been confirmed on Ubuntu 12.10 and CentOS 6. So I would be willing to assume that most 3.0+ Linux Kernels are now offering this.

On Debian/Ubuntu systems you can also use this command, not sure of when it became available:

$ dpkg-architecture | grep -i end


This Python script should work for you:

#!/usr/bin/env python
from struct import pack
if pack('@h', 1) == pack('<h', 1):
    print "Little Endian"
    print "Big Endian"
  • 4
    One liner: python -c "from struct import pack;import sys;sys.exit(int(pack('@h',1)==pack('<h',1)))". The exit code is 0 for big endian and 1 for little endian. – Cristian Ciupitu Sep 17 '10 at 20:51
  • Ha! Pretty neat! Thanks guys! – Viet Oct 25 '12 at 10:47
python -c "import sys; print(sys.byteorder)"

It would print the endianess of the system.

I found a way to do it in Jython. Since Jython (Python on the JVM) runs on a VM, it always reports big endian, regardless of the hardware.

This solution works for Linux, Solaris, AIX, and HPUX. Have not tested on Windows:

    from java.lang import System
    for property, value in dict(System.getProperties()).items():
        if property.endswith('cpu.endian'):
            return value

You can take advantage of ELF file format to determine the endianness of your system. For example, print the first six bytes of an arbitrary ELF file in hex:

xxd -c 1 -l 6 /bin/ls

0000000: 7f . 0000001: 45 E 0000002: 4c L 0000003: 46 F 0000004: 02 . 0000005: 01 .

If the last line (the sixed byte) is 01, according to ELF format, 01 is little endian and 02 is big endian.

  • This is exactly what I needed. Thanks! – Vasily G Jan 25 at 10:14
  • I think you mean of an arbitrary ELF ... Since there are other executable types including shell scripts, perl, python, etc. Not saying you're wrong otherwise though - just saying that it's worth remembering that there are other executable types (and for interest the code is in the text segment hence the old text file busy error). – Pryftan Feb 11 at 0:30
  • 1
    @Pryftan Thanks for pointing that out. Corrected it! – Tong Zhou Feb 11 at 20:36
  • @TongZhou Welcome; glad to be of help! – Pryftan Feb 12 at 14:39

A single-line command based on ELF format:
hexdump -s 5 -n 1 /bin/sh

  • Edit: -n 1, sorry ;) – fae Apr 1 '16 at 11:44
  • 1
    This is the exact same method as a previous answer, which also provided more details than yours. – kasperd Apr 1 '16 at 12:31

Slightly different requirement: I need a test like this in a program build configure script to determine whether the compile target machine is bit or little endian, without executing code. The script must deposit #define HAVE_LITTLE_ENDIAN 1 into a config.h header, or else #define HAVE_LITTLE_ENDIAN 0.

The compile target machine may be different from the build machine, since we may be cross-compiling, which also explains why the test mustn't try to run any compiled code. It is out of the question to have a little C program with a printf statement that spits out the answer.

A possible solution is this. We generate a file called conftest.c which contains this:

#define USPELL(C0, C1, C2, C3) \                                             
  ((unsigned) C0 << 24 | \                                              
   (unsigned) C1 << 16 | \                                              
   (unsigned) C2 << 8 | (unsigned) C3)                                       

unsigned x[6] = {                                                       
  USPELL('L', 'I', 'S', 'P'),                                                
  USPELL('U', 'N', 'I', 'X'),                                                
  USPELL('C', 'O', 'R', 'E'),                                                
  USPELL('D', 'W', 'I', 'M'),                                                

Now, we compile this to conftest.o using:

$ /path/to/cross-compiling/cc conftest.c -c

Then we run:

$ strings conftest.o

If the string PSILXINUEROCMIWD occurs, the target is little-endian. If the string LISPUNIXCOREDWIM occurs, it is big-endian. If neither string occurs or, even more astonishingly, both do, then the test has failed.

This approach works because the "fourcc" constants calculated in the program have machine-independent values, denoting the same integers regardless of endianness. Their storage representation in the object file follows the endianness of the target system, and that is visible via the character-based view under strings.

The two zero guard words ensure that the string is isolated. That isn't strictly necessary, but it ensures that the string we are looking for is not embedded in some other string, meaning that strings will output it on a line by itself.

P.S. the USPELL macro doesn't parenthesize the argument insertions because it's crafted for this specific purpose, not for re-use.

  • Not that it is necessary for all projects but does autoconf/automake not have this check? My projects are always small enough where I can make my own Makefiles (though not always basic) so I don't really know those tools other than making some modifications when necessary and the general interface..but I do wonder if they have detection. Perhaps you didn't need it even if it does, just thought I'd throw the possibility out. – Pryftan Feb 11 at 0:34

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