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What is a Hex Editor?

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  • Written By: A. Rohlandt
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A hex editor is also known as a binary file editor or byte editor and is an application that edits binary files. The name hex editor is derived from the fact that it shows the contents of a file in hexadecimal form. A binary file contains data in a format that is easily read by a computer, and changing the binary file changes the way a program functions.

The most common use of a hex editor is to change certain features within a program. Hex editors have also been used to cheat game software by altering saved game files or character data. Another use of hex editors is to modify raw hard drive partitions. Hex editors can be used for many things.

The editing process starts by identifying the binary string that needs to be edited, and using a hex editor makes this process simple. A decent hex editor will allow the user to find and replace binary code, which saves having to locate and replace the information manually. Hex editors operate in much the same way as text editors, featuring cursors that can be used to highlight or modify data.

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Hex editor displays usually have three sections: a hexadecimal area, a character area, and an address area. The hexadecimal area is used the most, as this is where the data is displayed and edited. The data is represented in table form with generally 16 bytes to one row. The character area represents the hex code interpreted as characters, which helps to identify different parts of the code. The address area shows the location of the first byte in each line, so if a file consists of 512 bytes, the addresses would start at zero and go up to 512.

When editing a binary file, one should back up the file and terminate the program using it. Then open the binary file in the hex editor. Once the file is open, find a binary string to edit. This can be done with the search function. The replace function can then be used to replace the string with another, or the data can be altered manually. Any changes made within the hex editor need to be saved to take effect.

Product updates may negate the changes made to a file. It is best to turn off automatic updates for a program once it has been edited. When used properly, hex editors can rid users of annoying features and change the way a program functions to improve its performance.

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