[Numpy-discussion] A one-byte string dtype?

Chris Barker chris.barker at noaa.gov
Fri Jan 17 17:30:19 EST 2014


I've been blathering away on the related threads a lot -- sorry if it's too
much. It's gotten a bit tangled up, so I thought I'd start a new one to
address this one question (i.e. dont bring up genfromtext here):

Would it be a good thing for numpy to have a one-byte--per-character string

We did have that with the 'S' type in py2, but the changes in py3 have made
it not quite the right thing. And it appears that enough people use 'S' in
py3 to mean 'bytes', so that we can't change that now.

The only difference may be that 'S' currently auto translates to a bytes
object, resulting in things like:

np.array(['some text',],  dtype='S')[0] == 'some text'

yielding False on Py3. And you can't do all the usual text stuff with the
resulting bytes object, either. (and it probably used the default encoding
to generate the bytes, so will barf on some inputs, though that may be
unavoidable.) So you need to decode the bytes that are given back, and now
that I think about it, I have no idea what encoding you'd need to use in
the general case.

So the correct solution is (particularly on py3) to use the 'U' (unicode)
dtype for text in numpy arrays.

However, the 'U' dtype is 4 bytes per character, and that may be "too big"
for some use-cases. And there is a lot of text in scientific data sets that
are pure ascii, or at least some 1-byte-per-character encoding.

So, in the spirit of having multiple numeric types that use different
amounts of memory, and can hold different ranges of values, a one-byte-per
character dtype would be nice:

(note, this opens the door for a 2-byte per (UCS-2) dtype too, I personally
don't think that's worth it, but maybe that's because I'm an english

It could use the 's' (lower-case s) type identifier.

For passing to/from python built-in objects, it would

* Allow either Python bytes objects or Python unicode objects as input
     a) bytes objects would be passed through as-is
     b) unicode objects would be encoded as latin-1

[note: I'm not entirely sure that bytes objects should be allowed, but it
would provide an nice efficiency in a fairly common case]

* It would create python unicode text objects, decoded as latin-1.

Could we have a way to specify another encoding? I'm not sure how that
would fit into the dtype system.

I've explained the latin-1 thing on other threads, but the short version is:

 - It will work perfectly for ascii text
 - It will work perfectly for latin-1 text (natch)
 - It will never give you an UnicodeEncodeError regardless of what
arbitrary bytes you pass in.
 - It will preserve those arbitrary bytes through a encoding/decoding

(it still wouldn't allow you to store arbitrary unicode -- but that's the
limitation of one-byte per character...)


Bad idea all around: shut up already!


Fine idea, but who's going to write the code? not me!


We really should do this.

(of course, with the options of amending the above not-very-fleshed out



Christopher Barker, Ph.D.

Emergency Response Division
NOAA/NOS/OR&R            (206) 526-6959   voice
7600 Sand Point Way NE   (206) 526-6329   fax
Seattle, WA  98115       (206) 526-6317   main reception

Chris.Barker at noaa.gov
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://mail.python.org/pipermail/numpy-discussion/attachments/20140117/2d742346/attachment.html>

More information about the NumPy-Discussion mailing list