Python: Unicode Tutorial 🐍

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Unicode Characters in Source Code

What is Python source code's default encoding?

For Python 2.x, it's ASCII. [see ASCII Table]

For Python 3.x, it's UTF-8.

Python 2: If your source code contains Unicode characters, you must declare the file's encoding in the first line or second line, Like this:

-*- coding: utf-8 -*-

#-*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# python 2

x = u"i β™₯ cats"

print x

The #-*- coding: utf-8 -*- declaration in the first line is a convention adopted from the text editor Emacs. [see Emacs and Unicode Tips] It tells any program reading the file that the file is encoded using a particular encoding. [see HTML: Character Sets and Encoding] This convention is also used by Ruby. [see Ruby: Unicode Tutorial πŸ’Ž]

For a basic introduction to Unicode, see: Unicode Basics: What's Character Set, Character Encoding, UTF-8?

Python 2: Declare Unicode String

For Python 2, strings that contain Unicode characters must start with u in front of the string.

#-*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# python 2

aa = u"I β™₯ U"  # unicode string starts with β€œu”

print aa # I β™₯ U

The u makes the string a Unicode datatype. Without the u, string is just byte sequence.

Sometimes when you print Unicode strings, you may get a error like this:

# UnicodeEncodeError: 'ascii' codec can't encode character u'\u03b1' in position 16: ordinal not in range(128).

The solution is to use the .encode() or .decode() method.

#-*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# python 2

myStr = u'Ξ±'

# Bad. This is a error.
print 'Greek alpha: ', myStr

# Good
print 'Greek alpha: ', myStr.encode('utf-8')

Unicode Escape Sequence in String

You can have a unicode character literally in a string, such as u'i β™₯ u'.

You can also use escape sequences. There are 2 forms:

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# python 2

x = u"β™₯" # BLACK HEART SUIT, hex 2665
y = u"\u2665"

print x == y # True
# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# python 2

# unicode escape sequence, for char with more than 4 hex digits

x = u"😸"  # name: GRINNING CAT FACE WITH SMILING EYES, hex 1f638
y = u"\U0001f638"

print x == y # True

2. Lexical analysis β€” Python v2.7.6 documentation#string-literals

Unicode in Regex

When using regex on Unicode string, and you want the word patterns {\w, \W} and boundary patterns {\b, \B}, dependent on the Unicode character properties, you need to add the Unicode flag re.U when calling regex functions.

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# python 2

# example showing the difference of using re.U regex flag

import re

rr = re.findall(r"\w+", u"β™₯Ξ±Ξ²Ξ³!", re.U)

if rr:
    print rr
    print "no match"

# prints [u'\u03b1\u03b2\u03b3']

# if re.U is not used, it prints γ€Œno match」 because the γ€Œ\w+」 pattern for β€œword” only consider ASCII letters

See: Python Regex Flags.

Find/Replace Unicode Char in String

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# python 2

# example of finding all unicode char in a string

import re

ss = u"iβ™₯NY 😸"

# find all unicode chars
myResult = re.findall(u"[^\u0000-\u007e]+", ss)

if myResult:
    print myResult  # [u'\u2665', u'\U0001f638']
    print "no match"

Find/Replace Strings in Unicode Files

Python: Find Replace Strings in Unicode Files

Find Unicode Character's Name, Codepoint, Properties

See: Python: Process Unicode, unicodedata Module.

Convert File's Encoding

See: Python: Convert File Encoding.

Unicode in Python 3

In Python 3, everything is Unicode (UTF-8). You do not need # -*- coding: utf-8 -*-, nor u"…".

Python 3 supports Unicode in variable and function names.

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*- ← optional, but still good to indicate encoding
# python 3

def Ζ’(n):
    return n+1

Ξ± = 4
print(Ζ’(Ξ±)) # prints 5

Note, unicode that are not letters are not allowed.

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# python 3

β™₯ = 4


#     β™₯ = 4
#     ^
# SyntaxError: invalid character in identifier

Unicode Characters Search

Unicode Characters βˆ‘ β™₯ πŸ˜„

[see Unicode Basics: What's Character Set, Character Encoding, UTF-8?]

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Python by Example

  1. Python Basics
  2. Print Version String
  3. Builtin Help


  1. Quote String
  2. String Operations
  3. String Methods
  4. Format String

Branching, Loop

  1. True, False
  2. if then else
  3. for, while, Loops


  1. List Basics
  2. Loop Thru List
  3. Map Function to List
  4. List Comprehension
  5. List Methods


  1. Dictionary
  2. Loop Thru Dictionary
  3. Dictionary Methods


  1. Function Parameter


  1. Class and Object


  1. List Modules
  2. Write a Module


  1. Python + Unicode 🐍
  2. Process Unicode
  3. Convert File Encoding

Common Tasks

  1. Read/Write File
  2. Traverse Directory
  3. Complex Numbers
  4. Get Env Var
  5. JSON


  1. Regex Basics
  2. Split Line by Regex
  3. Regex Reference


  1. Copy Nested List
  2. Tuple vs List
  3. Sets, Union, Intersection
  4. Closure in Python 2
  5. Decorator
  6. Append String in Loop
  7. Timing Functions with timeit
  8. Keyword Argument Default Value Unstable
  1. Find Python Script Path
  2. Manipulate Path
  3. Sort Matrix, Object


  1. Find/Replace Strings on Multiple Files
  2. Find/Replace Multi-line Strings in a Dir
  3. Find/Replace Mulitple Pairs of Strings
  4. Find/Replace by Regex
  5. Find/Replace Strings in Unicode Files
  6. Python, Perl: Find/Replace Strings in a File


  1. Sending Email
  2. GET Web Page
  3. Web Crawler
  1. A Script to check HTML file size
  2. Thumbnail Generation


  1. System Call
  2. Decompress Gzip