Hex editors are typically used for serious work, but they can also be fun to experiment with. Whether you’re a professional developer, a hobbyist, or a complete novice, there is probably a hex editor that is a good fit for you. This article lists five good choices among the many hex editors that are available today.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.

1: HxD Hex Editor

HxD Hex Editor (Figure A) is a free tool that seems to have all the basics covered. When you open a file, the editor displays the offset, a hexadecimal representation of the file, and an ASCII representation of the file. This is standard behavior for most of the hex editors I have used over the years. The program also includes a search-and-replace function, which is essential for a hex editor. The one thing that sets this editor apart from barebones editors is its ability to open RAM and to open a disk.

Figure A

2: Hex Workshop

Hex Workshop (Figure B) is a much more advanced hex editor. In addition to displaying the basic information provided by HxD Hex Editor and similar tools, it provides a Data At Offset, Structures, and Compare Result view. Hex Workshop also contains other handy functions, such as a base converter, a hex calculator, and a checksum generator.

Figure B

Hex Workshop sells for $89.95, but a free trial version is available for download.

3: Cygnus Hex Editor Free Edition

Cygnus Hex Editor Free Edition (Figure C) is another free hex editor. Like HxD Hex Editor, Cygnus displays the offset, hexadecimal, and ASCII codes for the data that is being edited. There is also a handy data view for looking at the currently selected byte, word, etc. Cygnus has all the features you would expect from a basic hex editor, such as the ability to modify, insert, and delete data and to do search and replace. One especially nice feature is the ability to paste from a file. This could be handy for manually repairing a file that has a damaged header.

Figure C

4: Free Hex Editor Neo

Free Hex Editor Neo (Figure D) offers a huge feature set. It can do all the basic things that the previously described hex editors can do–but it can also open processes, files, volumes, and physical disks. In addition, Neo supports bookmarks, which is extremely helpful when editing large files. Neo includes a large set of operators you can use when editing a file, including rotations, logical shifts, arithmetic shifts, negation, and many more. The software even supports the use of encryption.

Figure D

5: Hackman Suite

Hackman Suite (Figure E) is a collection of “hacking” utilities, one of which is a hex editor. A lot of times when a vendor bundles utilities into a single package, the individual utilities aren’t as good as some of the standalone utilities that are available. In the case of the Hackman Suite, however, the included hex editor is quite good.

Figure E

This tool can be used to examine data for files, folders, drives, memory, and ports. It also supports the use of filters, merging and splitting of files, and the creation of executables, and it includes additional tools, such as a color picker, a calculator, and a template editor.

Hackman Suite sells for $27, but a free trial version is available for download.

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