When email in a .msg file is not ASCII
September 18th, 2017 by miki

Got myself an exported message from (apparently) Exchange/Outlook in a file with .msg extension. My initial thought was that this was just a plain ASCII email (seem to remember having handled .msg files as such at some point), but looking at it as text exposed a load of binary and the “file” utility reported it being of type “Composite Document File V2 Document, Cannot read section info”.

What is it?

Some searching reveals .msg is in a proprietary format called “Outlook Item (.msg) File Format” (or formally, MS-OXMSG, find the specification  in the MSDN document entitled “[MS-OXMSG]: Outlook Item (.msg) File Format“). This format is related to the CFBF ([MS-CFB]: Compound File Binary File Format).

Check out what Library of Congress has to say about .msg files.

Interpreting it


The GNOME project has developed an open source library and some tools for interacting with files of this type, check out libgsf documentation at and source code at Or install the package named libgsf-bin in Debian/Ubuntu for access to the “gsf” binary (man page) that can inspect and dump contents from a .msg file. This is quite rudimentary if you just want to read the content.

MSGViewer (java)

MSGViewer is a stand alone java application that can display/convert different mail-format, including .msg. On GitHub I found a fork which claims to provide further features than the original.

msgconv (perl)

msgconv (github source) is a perl script that converts a .msg file into standard RFC822/2822/5322 format .eml (email) format. Install as package “libemail-outlook-message-perl” on Debian/Ubuntu.

$ file test.msg
test.msg: Composite Document File V2 Document, Cannot read section info
$ msgconvert test.msg
$ file test.eml
test.eml: UTF-8 Unicode text, with very long lines, with CRLF line terminators

I prefer the approach of using a standard format for storing data, so I ended up accepting the .eml from msgconv which I propagated to other recipients of the file.

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