error messages containing unicode

Steven D'Aprano steve at
Tue Jan 30 03:48:11 CET 2007

On Mon, 29 Jan 2007 18:01:56 -0800, Jim wrote:

> Hello,
> I'm trying to write exception-handling code that is OK in the 
> presence
> of unicode error messages.  I seem to have gotten all mixed up and 
> I'd
> appreciate any un-mixing that anyone can give me.


>>> class MyException(Exception): pass
>>> raise MyException("hello")
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in ?
__main__.MyException: hello

Works fine with an ASCII argument, but not with Unicode:

>>> raise MyException(fn)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in ?

Notice the terminal problem? (The error message doesn't print, and the
prompt ends up stuck after the exception.)

Let's capture the exception and dissect it:

>>> try: raise MyException(fn)
... except Exception, err:
...     print type(err)
...     print err
<type 'instance'>
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 4, in ?
UnicodeEncodeError: 'ascii' codec can't encode character u'\xf6' in
position 1: ordinal not in range(128)

Now we have the answer: your exception (which just sub-classes Exception)
does the simplest conversion of Unicode to ASCII possible, and when it
hits a character it can't deal with, it barfs. That doesn't happen
until you try to print the exception, not when you create it. 

The easiest ways to fix that are:

(1) subclass an exception that already knows about Unicode; 

(2) convert the file name to ASCII before you store it; or 

(3) add a __str__ method to your exception that is Unicode aware.

I'm going to be lazy and do a real simple-minded version of (2):

>>> class MyBetterException(Exception):
...     def __init__(self, arg):
...             self.args = arg.encode('ascii', 'replace')
...             self.unicode_arg = arg  # save the original in case

>>> raise MyBetterException(fn)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in ?
__main__.MyBetterException: a?k

And now it works.

Steven D'Aprano 

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