Adventures in Machine Learning

Cracking the Code: A Guide to Unicode and UTF-8 Encoding in Python 3

Understanding the World of Character Encoding: Unicode and UTF-8

In today’s digital world, where everything ranges from text messages to programming codes, characters play an essential role. Characters, also referred to as glyphs, are the building blocks of an alphabet, language, or script system.

However, not all characters are easy to encode or process, which led to the development of character encodings. The two most popular character encodings today are Unicode and UTF-8.

In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of character encoding, exploring the story of ASCII, the emergence of Unicode, and the advantages and disadvantages of UTF-8 encoding. ASCII’s Limitations

In the beginning, there was ASCII or the American Standard Code for Information Interchange.

Designed in the early 1960s, ASCII was the first attempt at encoding characters for electronic communication. Unfortunately, it came with some severe limitations.

ASCII only provided 128 character codes, which consisted of alphanumeric characters, punctuation, and some control codes. This meant that it was not enough to encode all the characters in different languages, dialects, and writing systems.

For example, languages that require diacritical marks, such as French and Spanish, were excluded from ASCII. Moreover, ASCII could not accommodate the unique glyphs of different writing systems, such as Chinese, Arabic, and Japanese.

Growing necessity demanded for a new standard, one that could encode a broader range of glyphs, languages, and Unicode

Unicode has its roots in the early 1980s when a group of computer professionals decided to find a solution to the limitations of ASCII. They envisioned a standard that could encode all the characters in all the world’s writing systems.

In 1991, the Unicode standard was published, encompassing over 143,000 characters covering more than 150 writing systems. Unicode’s most significant advantage over ASCII is its vast repertoire of character codes, or code points, which can accommodate all the world’s languages and writing systems.

Unicode assigns each character a unique code point that can be used to represent the character. For example, the Unicode code point for the letter ‘A’ is U+0041, whereas the code point for the Cyrillic letter ” is U+0410.

Thanks to Unicode, modern software applications can now handle text composed of characters from multiple languages, scripts, and alphabets.

The Role of Encoding Schemes

However, merely having code points is not sufficient for the representation of text in computer systems. The encoded characters need to be stored in a specific sequence of bits to be processed by computers.

Encoding schemes or character encoding are used to convert these code points into binary form. Unicode assigns a unique binary sequence to every character or code point.

One of the popular encoding schemes designed for Unicode is UTF-8.

Unicode vs UTF-8

UTF-8 stands for Unicode Transformation Format-8. It is a variable-width encoding scheme, which means that the number of bits it uses to encode a character varies with the character.

UTF-8 encoding takes advantage of Unicode’s expansive character set and provides a representation for every character on the planet. UTF-8’s popularity lies in its efficiency and backward compatibility with ASCII.

For example, ASCII characters use only seven bits, whereas UTF-8 characters use a maximum of four bytes (32 bits), depending on the character. If an ASCII character is encoded as a single byte, it will be the same in UTF-8 encoding, making it backward compatible with ASCII.

Encoding and Decoding in Python 3

Python 3 was designed with Unicode in mind, making its support for UTF-8 seamless. Python 3 represents and manipulates strings internally as Unicode strings.

This means that a Unicode character can be used directly in a Python program without the need for any explicit conversion. UTF-8 is the most commonly used encoding scheme in Python 3 and is used by default in all string conversion operations.

For example, the following Python 3 code converts a string in UTF-8 encoding to a corresponding Unicode string:

string = bytes(“unicode string”, encoding=”utf-8″).decode(“utf-8”)

Python 3: All-In on Unicode

Python 3’s internal representation of Unicode simplifies string manipulation by enabling developers to transform strings without worrying about their encoding. This also makes cross-platform programming easier as it eliminates the need for handling different encodings for different environments.

One Byte, Two Bytes, Three Bytes, Four

As mentioned earlier, one of the primary advantages of UTF-8 encoding is its variable length. It means that it only uses the minimum number of bytes needed to represent a characterized.

The representation of characters varies from a single byte to up to four bytes. UTF-8 uses the following rules to encode characters:

– ASCII characters use a single byte and have the highest bit set to 0.

– Non-ASCII characters use from two to four bytes. – Encoding a set of characters to UTF-8 can result in varying byte lengths.

UTF-16 and UTF-32

UTF-16 and UTF-32 are other encoding formats supported by Unicode. UTF-16 is a fixed-width 16-bit encoding scheme that can encode all 143,000 Unicode characters.

It uses one or two 16-bit code units to encode a character. However, UTF-16 requires more storage space than UTF-8 and is not backward compatible with ASCII.

UTF-32 is a fixed-width 32-bit encoding scheme that uses four bytes to encode every character and is meant for in-memory processing and internal data storage. UTF-32 provides quick access to individual characters in a string, but it can be inefficient for transmitting text over networks.


In conclusion, the history of character encodings highlights the evolving nature of technology to adapt to the changing needs of communication. While ASCII laid the foundation, Unicode has revolutionized the ability of computers to represent languages and scripts from all over the world.

UTF-8’s popularity and efficiency make it the go-to encoding for characters today, with

UTF-16 and UTF-32 used in specialized cases. Python 3’s support for Unicode and UTF-8 makes text processing in the language quick and straightforward, making it a popular choice for developers.

With the increasing importance of internationalization in our digital lives, understanding character encodings is more crucial than Unicode: Mapping the World’s Characters

In this article, we will continue our exploration of Unicode by delving into its purpose, size, and relationship to ASCII. We will also discuss Unicode’s unique attributes, such as being a mapping of characters and the role of encoding schemes in its implementation.

Purpose of Unicode

Unicode’s primary objective is to provide a standard character encoding scheme that can represent all the characters used in the world’s writing systems. Unlike ASCII, which can encode only 128 characters, Unicode specifies more than a million unique code points for characters.

Unicode provides a solution to the limitations of ASCII for encoding text used in different languages, scripts, and writing systems by defining rules for representing every character of every known language and script.

Size of Unicode

Unicode assigns a unique code point for each character, from alphabets to diacritical marks, symbols, and pictographs. Currently, Unicode version 14.0, released in 2021, has over 144,697 characters, representing 154 scripts, including those used for historical and fictional writings and mathematical symbols.

Unicode’s vast array of characters is one of its most significant benefits, making it the only character encoding scheme required for encoding text in any language or script.

Relationship to ASCII

Unicode has a close relationship with ASCII. In fact, the first 128 Unicode code points are identical to ASCII, with Unicode providing an extension to cover all scripts worldwide.

This property ensures that ASCII-encoded text is still readable in software that supports Unicode encoding.

Unicode as a Mapping

Unicode’s primary attribute is that it serves as a mapping between characters and their code points. Unicode assigns a binary code point to each character, which represents or identifies the character in the Unicode Standard.

Think of Unicode as a large dictionary or database that maps every character in a writing system to its corresponding code point. This mechanism makes it possible to encode, decode, and render characters correctly in software applications.

The mapping between characters and their code points is essential in Unicode’s role as a standard, as it ensures that software developers implement their code to support a specific set of characters assigned to their code points.

Implementation of Unicode

Unicode is implemented in software systems in various ways, with character encodings being one of the essential mechanisms. A character encoding scheme is a mapping between a set of characters and their encoded binary representation.

Unicode used to be implemented using 16-bit or 32-bit character encoding schemes. However, this approach incurred numerous limitations, including storage and memory inefficiency.

The solution was a variable-length encoding scheme known as UTF-8. UTF-8 is an essential encoding scheme for Unicode due to its efficiency, simplicity, and backward compatibility with ASCII.

UTF-8 encodes characters with varying bytes depending on the Unicode code point they represent. UTF-8 can represent over a million Unicode code points, making it the encoding scheme of choice for software developers today.

Representation of Characters in Unicode

Unicode deals with representing all printable and non-printable characters used in the world’s writing systems. Unicode assigns code points to each character, and these code points are a unique identifier or a digital address for each character within the Unicode Standard.

Other than printable characters, the Unicode Standard also needs to handle non-printable characters, such as control characters and formatting codes. Control characters represent actions that affect text display and formatting.

They are essential in the Unicode Standard, as they define how text interacts with devices, such as printers.


In conclusion, Unicode is an essential standard for encoding and representing characters from worldwide writing systems and scripts. With its vast number of unique code points, Unicode provides solutions to the limitations of ASCII encoding by defining rules for representing all the world’s characters.

Unicode serves as a mapping of all characters to their code points, making it possible to represent and display text correctly in applications and software systems worldwide. The implementation of Unicode in software systems is made possible through encoding schemes such as UTF-8, which allows for efficient and straightforward handling of characters to and from binary data.

Unicode plays a critical role in digital communication, making it easy for people all over the world to communicate and share information, regardless of their language or writing system.

Encoding and Decoding in Python 3: All You Need to Know

Python 3’s support for Unicode and UTF-8 makes it the go-to language for text processing. This article continues our exploration of Python 3 and covers further topics, including types, encoding and decoding, ASCII compatibility, and the use of Unicode in Python 3.

Overview of Python 3 Types

Python 3 has two primary built-in types for handling text: str and bytes. str stands for string, and it’s used to handle Unicode text, while bytes handles binary data.

Encoding and decoding are required to convert between these types.

Purpose of Encoding and Decoding

Encoding is the process of converting Unicode text to a series of bytes for storage, transmission, or processing purposes. Decoding is the inverse process of converting bytes back to Unicode text.

UTF-8 is the most commonly used encoding scheme in Python 3, and it’s supported by nearly all software platforms. Python 3’s support for UTF-8 ensures text remains correctly encoded when it’s transmitted or processed.

Default Encoding Parameter in Python 3

Python 3 assumes the “utf-8” encoding parameter is a default whenever encoding or decoding occurs. Using “utf-8” as a default encoding parameter ensures the safety of your text data when being processed in other platforms or software applications.

Results of Encoding and Decoding

The results of encoding and decoding in Python 3 are bytes object and str, respectively. The bytes object is a series of bytes that represent the original text in binary form, while str is the original Unicode string representation.

ASCII Compatibility in Python 3

Python 3 users may encounter compatibility issues when working with ASCII-encoded text literals as bytes. In Python 3, Unicode strings containing non-ASCII characters are allowed as string literals, but bytes literals must contain only ASCII characters.

For example, the bytes literal “El Nio” cannot be written directly in Python 3, as the character ‘o’ cannot be represented in ASCII encoding. Developers must use escape sequences or manually encode before using these literals.

Python 3: All-In on Unicode

Default Encoding and Source Code in Python 3

Python 3 assumes the source code is in UTF-8 encoding. This assumption ensures that the source code contents can be read and executed correctly on different platforms.

To specify a different encoding, you can use the following statement as a first or second line of your Python script. # -*- coding: UTF-8 -*-

This statement is a declaration that the source code is encoded using the specified encoding.

Unicode Default in Python 3

In Python 3, str represents text as Unicode, and bytes represents text in binary data. Unicode provides a way to represent nearly all characters in writing systems worldwide and makes it possible to handle text in multiple languages with ease.

Use of Unicode Code Points in Identifiers

Python 3 supports the use of Unicode code points in identifiers, variable names, function names, class names, and object names. This feature expands the possibilities of naming symbols in a program.

For example, the variable name ‘rsum’ can be encoded using Unicode code points as ‘u2211’ for the summation symbol, resulting in ”.

re Module Defaults in Python 3

Python 3’s re module defaults to using Unicode mode, which means that all reported matches in search functions are Unicode strings. However, developers can specify the mode to operate in ASCII encoding mode for compatibility with older code that requires it.

Default Encoding in str.encode() and bytes.decode() in Python 3

Whenever you use str.encode(encoding=’utf-8′) in Python 3, the default encoding used is ‘utf-8’. The bytes.decode(encoding=’utf-8′) method in Python 3 uses the ‘utf-8’ encoding scheme as well by default.

Default Encoding to the built-in open() Function in Python 3

The built-in open() function in Python 3 accepts an optional encoding parameter to specify the encoding used to read and write text files. However, if the encoding parameter is not specified, the function uses the platform-dependent encoding specified by the locale.getpreferredencoding() function.


In conclusion, Python 3 has first-class support for Unicode and UTF-8 encoding, making it a powerful tool for text processing and internationalization. With its default “utf-8” encoding parameter and support for Unicode code points in identifiers, Python 3 can handle text data in different languages and writing systems with ease.

Python 3’s support for Unicode mode in the re module and the ability to specify encoding parameters in file functions provide developers with greater flexibility when working with text data. With its advanced support for Unicode, Python 3 is the perfect choice for building applications that handle text data from worldwide languages and writing systems.

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