Lately, I’ve had lots of trouble with __repr__(), format(), and encodings. Should the output of __repr__() be encoded or be a unicode string? Is there a best encoding for the result of __repr__() in Python? What I want to output does have non-ASCII characters.

I use Python 2.x, and want to write code that can easily be adapted to Python 3. The program thus uses

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
from __future__ import unicode_literals, print_function  # The 'Hello' literal represents a Unicode object

Here are some additional problems that have been bothering me, and I’m looking for a solution that solves them:

  1. Printing to an UTF-8 terminal should work (I have sys.stdout.encoding set to UTF-8, but it would be best if other cases worked too).
  2. Piping the output to a file (encoded in UTF-8) should work (in this case, sys.stdout.encoding is None).
  3. My code for many __repr__() functions currently has many return ….encode('utf-8'), and that’s heavy. Is there anything robust and lighter?
  4. In some cases, I even have ugly beasts like return ('<{}>'.format(repr(x).decode('utf-8'))).encode('utf-8'), i.e., the representation of objects is decoded, put into a formatting string, and then re-encoded. I would like to avoid such convoluted transformations.

What would you recommend to do in order to write simple __repr__() functions that behave nicely with respect to these encoding questions?

In Python2, __repr__ (and __str__) must return a string object, not a
unicode object. In Python3, the situation is reversed, __repr__ and __str__
must return unicode objects, not byte (née string) objects:

class Foo(object):
    def __repr__(self):
        return u'\N{WHITE SMILING FACE}' 

class Bar(object):
    def __repr__(self):
        return u'\N{WHITE SMILING FACE}'.encode('utf8')

repr(Bar())
# ?
repr(Foo())
# UnicodeEncodeError: 'ascii' codec can't encode character u'\u263a' in position 0: ordinal not in range(128)

In Python2, you don’t really have a choice. You have to pick an encoding for the
return value of __repr__.

By the way, have you read the PrintFails wiki? It may not directly answer
your other questions, but I did find it helpful in illuminating why certain
errors occur.


When using from __future__ import unicode_literals,

'<{}>'.format(repr(x).decode('utf-8'))).encode('utf-8')

can be more simply written as

str('<{}>').format(repr(x))

assuming str encodes to utf-8 on your system.

Without from __future__ import unicode_literals, the expression can be written as:

'<{}>'.format(repr(x))

I think a decorator can manage __repr__ incompatibilities in a sane way. Here’s what i use:

from __future__ import unicode_literals, print_function
import sys

def force_encoded_string_output(func):

    if sys.version_info.major < 3:

        def _func(*args, **kwargs):
            return func(*args, **kwargs).encode(sys.stdout.encoding or 'utf-8')

        return _func

    else:
        return func


class MyDummyClass(object):

    @force_encoded_string_output
    def __repr__(self):
        return 'My Dummy Class! \N{WHITE SMILING FACE}'

I use a function like the following:

def stdout_encode(u, default="UTF8"):
    if sys.stdout.encoding:
        return u.encode(sys.stdout.encoding)
    return u.encode(default)

Then my __repr__ functions look like this:

def __repr__(self):
    return stdout_encode(u'<MyClass {0} {1}>'.format(self.abcd, self.efgh))