How do you read unicode files?

Martin v. Loewis martin at
Fri Jun 7 08:11:09 CEST 2002

"Matt Gerrans" <mgerrans at> writes:

> How do you read in a unicode file and convert it to a standard string?

Depends on what you mean by "unicode file". A file always uses a
byte-oriented encoding; the term "unicode file" does not imply byte
orientation. People usually associated UTF-8 and UTF-16 (with and
without BOM) with that term.

> It seems that when you open a file and read it, what you get is a
> string of single-byte characters.  I've tried all kinds of
> permutations of calls to unicode(), decode(), encode(), etc. with
> different flavors of encoding ('utf-8', 'utf-16' and so on).

The best way to read such a file is to use If you already
have byte data, _decoding_ them to Unicode, with the unicode builtin,
is the right thing to do.

> I could parse the data myself (skipping the initial two bytes and then every
> other one -- I'm only working with ASCII in double byte format, so the high
> order byte is always 0), but I imagine there must be a way to get the
> existing tools to work.

Ah, so there are two initial bytes. That most certainly means that you
have a file in UTF-16 with BOM; so you should use "utf-16" as the
encoding name (without BOM, you need to know the byte order, and
specify utf-16be or utf-16le respectively).

> What I want to be able to do is write a search and replace tool that
> will work equally well on ANSI and Unicode (or double-byte) text
> files (without changing the file type, of course)...

Then is the right solution; for "ANSI" files, the encoding
is "mbcs" (neither the term "ANSI" nor the term "mbcs" are
particularly well-chosen to describe what they do).


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