How do I check if a string is unicode or ascii? – Dev

The best answers to the question “How do I check if a string is unicode or ascii?” in the category Dev.


What do I have to do in Python to figure out which encoding a string has?


How to tell if an object is a unicode string or a byte string

You can use type or isinstance.

In Python 2:

>>> type(u'abc')  # Python 2 unicode string literal
<type 'unicode'>
>>> type('abc')   # Python 2 byte string literal
<type 'str'>

In Python 2, str is just a sequence of bytes. Python doesn’t know what
its encoding is. The unicode type is the safer way to store text.
If you want to understand this more, I recommend

In Python 3:

>>> type('abc')   # Python 3 unicode string literal
<class 'str'>
>>> type(b'abc')  # Python 3 byte string literal
<class 'bytes'>

In Python 3, str is like Python 2’s unicode, and is used to
store text. What was called str in Python 2 is called bytes in Python 3.

How to tell if a byte string is valid utf-8 or ascii

You can call decode. If it raises a UnicodeDecodeError exception, it wasn’t valid.

>>> u_umlaut = b'\xc3\x9c'   # UTF-8 representation of the letter 'Ü'
>>> u_umlaut.decode('utf-8')
>>> u_umlaut.decode('ascii')
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
UnicodeDecodeError: 'ascii' codec can't decode byte 0xc3 in position 0: ordinal not in range(128)


In Python 3, all strings are sequences of Unicode characters. There is a bytes type that holds raw bytes.

In Python 2, a string may be of type str or of type unicode. You can tell which using code something like this:

def whatisthis(s):
    if isinstance(s, str):
        print "ordinary string"
    elif isinstance(s, unicode):
        print "unicode string"
        print "not a string"

This does not distinguish “Unicode or ASCII”; it only distinguishes Python types. A Unicode string may consist of purely characters in the ASCII range, and a bytestring may contain ASCII, encoded Unicode, or even non-textual data.


Unicode is not an encoding – to quote Kumar McMillan:

If ASCII, UTF-8, and other byte strings are “text” …

…then Unicode is “text-ness”;

it is the abstract form of text

Have a read of McMillan’s Unicode In Python, Completely Demystified talk from PyCon 2008, it explains things a lot better than most of the related answers on Stack Overflow.


In python 3.x all strings are sequences of Unicode characters. and doing the isinstance check for str (which means unicode string by default) should suffice.

isinstance(x, str)

With regards to python 2.x,
Most people seem to be using an if statement that has two checks. one for str and one for unicode.

If you want to check if you have a ‘string-like’ object all with one statement though, you can do the following:

isinstance(x, basestring)