Writing Unicode text to a text file?

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I’m pulling data out of a Google doc, processing it, and writing it to a file (that eventually I will paste into a WordPress page).

It has some non-ASCII symbols. How can I convert these safely to symbols that can be used in HTML source?

Currently I’m converting everything to Unicode on the way in, joining it all together in a Python string, then doing:

import codecs
f = codecs.open('out.txt', mode="w", encoding="iso-8859-1")
f.write(all_html.encode("iso-8859-1", "replace"))

There is an encoding error on the last line:

UnicodeDecodeError: ‘ascii’ codec can’t decode byte 0xa0 in position
12286: ordinal not in range(128)

Partial solution:

This Python runs without an error:

row = [unicode(x.strip()) if x is not None else u'' for x in row]
all_html = row[0] + "<br/>" + row[1]
f = open('out.txt', 'w')

But then if I open the actual text file, I see lots of symbols like:


Maybe I need to write to something other than a text file?

Deal exclusively with unicode objects as much as possible by decoding things to unicode objects when you first get them and encoding them as necessary on the way out.

If your string is actually a unicode object, you’ll need to convert it to a unicode-encoded string object before writing it to a file:

foo = u'?, ?, ?, ? ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, and ?.'
f = open('test', 'w')

When you read that file again, you’ll get a unicode-encoded string that you can decode to a unicode object:

f = file('test', 'r')
print f.read().decode('utf8')

In Python 2.6+, you could use io.open() that is default (builtin open()) on Python 3:

import io

with io.open(filename, 'w', encoding=character_encoding) as file:

It might be more convenient if you need to write the text incrementally (you don’t need to call unicode_text.encode(character_encoding) multiple times). Unlike codecs module, io module has a proper universal newlines support.

Unicode string handling is already standardized in Python 3.

  1. char’s are already stored in Unicode (32-bit) in memory
  2. You only need to open file in utf-8
    (32-bit Unicode to variable-byte-length utf-8 conversion is automatically performed from memory to file.)

    out1 = "(???? ???????????????? )"
    fobj = open("t1.txt", "w", encoding="utf-8")

Preface: will your viewer work?

Make sure your viewer/editor/terminal (however you are interacting with your utf-8 encoded file) can read the file. This is frequently an issue on Windows, for example, Notepad.

Writing Unicode text to a text file?

In Python 2, use open from the io module (this is the same as the builtin open in Python 3):

import io

Best practice, in general, use UTF-8 for writing to files (we don’t even have to worry about byte-order with utf-8).

encoding = 'utf-8'

utf-8 is the most modern and universally usable encoding – it works in all web browsers, most text-editors (see your settings if you have issues) and most terminals/shells.

On Windows, you might try utf-16le if you’re limited to viewing output in Notepad (or another limited viewer).

encoding = 'utf-16le' # sorry, Windows users... :(

And just open it with the context manager and write your unicode characters out:

with io.open(filename, 'w', encoding=encoding) as f:

Example using many Unicode characters

Here’s an example that attempts to map every possible character up to three bits wide (4 is the max, but that would be going a bit far) from the digital representation (in integers) to an encoded printable output, along with its name, if possible (put this into a file called uni.py):

from __future__ import print_function
import io
from unicodedata import name, category
from curses.ascii import controlnames
from collections import Counter

try: # use these if Python 2
    unicode_chr, range = unichr, xrange
except NameError: # Python 3
    unicode_chr = chr

exclude_categories = set(('Co', 'Cn'))
counts = Counter()
control_names = dict(enumerate(controlnames))
with io.open('unidata', 'w', encoding='utf-8') as f:
    for x in range((2**8)**3): 
            char = unicode_chr(x)
        except ValueError:
            continue # can't map to unicode, try next x
        cat = category(char)
        if cat in exclude_categories:
            continue # get rid of noise & greatly shorten result file
            uname = name(char)
        except ValueError: # probably control character, don't use actual
            uname = control_names.get(x, '')
            f.write(u'{0:>6x} {1}    {2}\n'.format(x, cat, uname))
            f.write(u'{0:>6x} {1}  {2}  {3}\n'.format(x, cat, char, uname))
# may as well describe the types we logged.
for cat, count in counts.items():
    print('{0} chars of category, {1}'.format(count, cat))

This should run in the order of about a minute, and you can view the data file, and if your file viewer can display unicode, you’ll see it. Information about the categories can be found here. Based on the counts, we can probably improve our results by excluding the Cn and Co categories, which have no symbols associated with them.

$ python uni.py

It will display the hexadecimal mapping, category, symbol (unless can’t get the name, so probably a control character), and the name of the symbol. e.g.

I recommend less on Unix or Cygwin (don’t print/cat the entire file to your output):

$ less unidata

e.g. will display similar to the following lines which I sampled from it using Python 2 (unicode 5.2):

     0 Cc NUL
    20 Zs     SPACE
    b6 So  ¶  PILCROW SIGN
   e59 Nd  ?  THAI DIGIT NINE
  2887 So  ?  BRAILLE PATTERN DOTS-1238

My Python 3.5 from Anaconda has unicode 8.0, I would presume most 3’s would.

The file opened by codecs.open is a file that takes unicode data, encodes it in iso-8859-1 and writes it to the file. However, what you try to write isn’t unicode; you take unicode and encode it in iso-8859-1 yourself. That’s what the unicode.encode method does, and the result of encoding a unicode string is a bytestring (a str type.)

You should either use normal open() and encode the unicode yourself, or (usually a better idea) use codecs.open() and not encode the data yourself.

How to print unicode characters into a file:

Save this to file: foo.py:

#!/usr/bin/python -tt
# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
import codecs
import sys 
UTF8Writer = codecs.getwriter('utf8')
sys.stdout = UTF8Writer(sys.stdout)
print(u'e with obfuscation: é')

Run it and pipe output to file:

python foo.py > tmp.txt

Open tmp.txt and look inside, you see this:

[email protected]:~$ cat tmp.txt 
e with obfuscation: é

Thus you have saved unicode e with a obfuscation mark on it to a file.

That error arises when you try to encode a non-unicode string: it tries to decode it, assuming it’s in plain ASCII. There are two possibilities:

  1. You’re encoding it to a bytestring, but because you’ve used codecs.open, the write method expects a unicode object. So you encode it, and it tries to decode it again. Try: f.write(all_html) instead.
  2. all_html is not, in fact, a unicode object. When you do .encode(...), it first tries to decode it.

In case of writing in python3

>>> a = u'bats\u00E0'
>>> print a
>>> f = open("/tmp/test", "w")
>>> f.write(a)
>>> f.close()
>>> data = open("/tmp/test").read()
>>> data

In case of writing in python2:

>>> a = u'bats\u00E0'
>>> f = open("/tmp/test", "w")
>>> f.write(a)

Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
UnicodeEncodeError: 'ascii' codec can't encode character u'\xe0' in position 4: ordinal not in range(128)

To avoid this error you would have to encode it to bytes using codecs “utf-8” like this:

>>> f.write(a.encode("utf-8"))
>>> f.close()

and decode the data while reading using the codecs “utf-8”:

>>> data = open("/tmp/test").read()
>>> data.decode("utf-8")

And also if you try to execute print on this string it will automatically decode using the “utf-8” codecs like this

>>> print a

The answers/resolutions are collected from stackoverflow, are licensed under cc by-sa 2.5 , cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0 .

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