Python and unicode

See Introducing Unicode for an introduction to Unicode.

See also:

Python supports unicode with unicode strings:

s = u'Hello world'

There are various ways of inputing characters you cannot type at your prompt. The simplest is to give the unicode code point in octal:

question = u'\u00bfHabla espa\u00f1ol?'  # ¿Habla español?

where 00bf is the code for the inverted question mark; see Use the \u0000 format, i.e. \u followed by 4 octal digits. For code points outside the 16 bit range (outside the BMP - see Introducing Unicode - use capital U and eight octal digits, like this:

complicated = u'\U0001D11A is musical symbol 5 line staff'

See below for some complications of using these 32 bit unicode characters in python though.

You can also use the standard unicode name (see ):

less_opaque = u'\N{MUSICAL SYMBOL FIVE-LINE STAFF} is more obviously a five line staff'

To create an utf-8 encoded version of a string - for example to write to a text file:

question = u'\u00bfHabla espa\u00f1ol?'  # ¿Habla español?
raw_str = question.encode('utf-8')

Similarly for UTF-16, or other encodings:

raw_str = question.encode('utf-16')

To get a unicode string from text that has been encoded:

question = raw_str.decode('utf-8')

Python internal encoding of unicode strings

Python - as of version 2.2 - either stores its unicode strings in UCS-2 or UCS-4 format. See Introducing Unicode for definitions of UCS-2 and UCS-4. Which one of these it uses is dictated by a compile time flag such as -enable-unicode=ucs2.

To tell which format your python uses:

import sys
ucs2 = sys.maxunicode == 65535

If ucs2 is True, you have UCS2, otherwise you have UCS4.

See also:

Python and 32 bit unicode code points

If you have a UCS-2 build of python, and want to use a 32 bit code point, then some oddness occurs:

complicated = u'\U0001D11A '
print ord(complicated[0])
print ord(complicated[1])

On a UCS-2 build the above gives you:


In this case, the 32 bit value has been represented by two 16 bit values - a surrogate pair - see Introducing Unicode.

On a UCS-4 build you get:


which might have been more what you were expecting - 119066 is the decimal representation of octal 1D11A. The difference between the two builds can mean some oddness in slicing strings... (as noted in

Recent discussion about UCS-2, UCS-4 and Python 3 here:

Relevant python modules and commands


String methods

  • encode
  • decode


  • unichr - unicode equivalent of chr
  • unicode - constructor for unicode strings


  • UnicodeEncodeError