Unrecognized escape sequences in string literals

Carl Banks pavlovevidence at gmail.com
Mon Aug 10 09:37:33 CEST 2009

On Aug 9, 11:10 pm, Steven D'Aprano
<ste... at REMOVE.THIS.cybersource.com.au> wrote:
> On Sun, 09 Aug 2009 18:34:14 -0700, Carl Banks wrote:
> >> Why should a backslash in a string literal be an error?
> > Because the behavior of \ in a string is context-dependent, which means
> > a reader can't know if \ is a literal character or escape character
> > without knowing the context, and it means an innocuous change in context
> > can cause a rather significant change in \.
> *Any* change in context is significant with escapes.
> "this \nhas two lines"
> If you change the \n to a \t you get a significant difference. If you
> change the \n to a \y you get a significant difference. Why is the first
> one acceptable but the second not?

Because when you change \n to \t, you've haven't changed the meaning
of the \ character; but when you change \n to \y, you have, and you
did so without even touching the backslash.

> > IOW it's an error-prone mess.
> I've never had any errors caused by this.

Thank you for your anecdotal evidence.  Here's mine: This has gotten
me at least twice, and a compiler complaint would have reduced my bug-
hunting time from tens of minutes to ones of seconds.  [Aside: it was
when I was using Python on Windows for the first time]

> I've never seen anyone write to
> this newsgroup confused over escape behaviour, or asking for help with an
> error caused by it, and until this thread, never seen anyone complain
> about it either.

More anecdotal evidence.  Here's mine: I have.

> Excuse my cynicism, but I believe that you are using "error-prone" to
> mean "I don't like this behaviour" rather than "it causes lots of errors".

No, I'm using error-prone to mean error-prone.

Someone (obviously not you because you're have perfect knowledge of
the language and 100% situation awareness at all times) might have a
string like "abcd\stuv"  and change it to "abcd\tuvw" without even
thinking about the fact that the s comes after the backslash.

Worst of all: they might not even notice the error, because the repr
of this string is:


They might not notice that the backslash is single, because (unlike
you) mortal fallible human beings don't always register tiny details
like a backslash being single when it should be double.

Point is, this is a very bad inconsistency.  It makes the behavior of
\ impossible to learn by analogy, now you have to memorize a list of
situations where it behaves one way or another.

Carl Banks

More information about the Python-list mailing list