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Python’s Internal Representation of Unicode – Explained

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Python, one of the most popular programming languages in the world, has a unique way of representing Unicode internally. If you’re not familiar with the concept of Unicode, it’s essentially a system that assigns each character in any imaginable script or language a unique number, which can then be used to represent that character digitally. It’s what makes it possible for us to use all sorts of different scripts and languages on our computers and smartphones.

In this article, we will delve deeper into Python’s internal representation of Unicode. This is a topic that is particularly relevant for developers who are working with text-heavy applications and want to ensure that their software can handle text in different languages and scripts properly. Whether you’re just starting out as a programmer or you’re an experienced developer, understanding how Python handles Unicode is essential knowledge.

So, what exactly is Python’s internal representation of Unicode? Essentially, Python uses a format called UTF-32 to store Unicode characters internally. This format stores each Unicode character as a fixed-length sequence of 32 bits, which makes it easy and fast to access individual characters. However, it also means that Python applications that deal with large amounts of text can end up using a significant amount of memory.

If you want to learn more about Python’s internal representation of Unicode, including how it handles different types of characters, how it supports non-BMP (Basic Multilingual Plane) characters, and how it handles character encoding errors, then read on! We’ll explore all of these topics and more, giving you a comprehensive understanding of how Python works with Unicode.

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“How Is Unicode Represented Internally In Python?” ~ bbaz


Python, as a modern programming language, comes equipped with a built-in standard library to handle Unicode, a popular character encoding standard. Unicode is used to represent characters and symbols from different languages and scripts, and support for it is essential for any programming language.

Unicode Support in Python

Python supports Unicode natively and can handle strings of different languages and scripts. However, Unicode characters take up more space than the ASCII characters Python was originally designed to handle. This means that Python requires a special internal representation to deal with these larger and more complex characters.

Python’s Internal Representation of Unicode

Python uses a two-step process to handle Unicode internally. First, it encodes every Unicode character using a unique number, a Unicode code point. Then, it transforms this sequence of Unicode code points into a series of bytes so that it can be stored and processed in memory.

The Importance of Internal Representation

The internal representation of Unicode is critical for Python to understand how to process and display text. When you type text, Python does not store the actual characters on your screen, but rather a sequence of numbers that represent those characters. It is this sequence of numbers that Python then transforms into physical text that you can see and interact with.

Unicode Encodings in Python

There are different ways to encode Unicode characters in bytes, and Python supports several of them. Here are some of the most popular:

Name Description
UTF-8 A variable-width encoding that can represent any Unicode character while still being backward compatible with ASCII.
UTF-16 Another variable-width encoding, but with a larger minimum size than UTF-8.
UTF-32 A fixed-width encoding that takes up more memory but can represent any Unicode character in a single code unit.

Choosing an Encoding

When choosing an encoding for your Python script, you need to consider several factors. Some encodings are more space-efficient but may not be backward compatible with ASCII. Others may be more compatible but take up more space. The choice of encoding will ultimately depend on the specific requirements of your project.

Pros and Cons of Python’s Internal Representation of Unicode


Python’s internal representation of Unicode enables it to handle strings of different languages and scripts seamlessly. It also allows Python to support several different Unicode encodings, making it more versatile than other programming languages.


The internal representation of Unicode takes up more space than ASCII, which can lead to performance issues in certain situations. Additionally, choosing the wrong encoding can lead to compatibility issues when working with different systems or applications.


Overall, Python’s native support for Unicode is one of its major strengths as a programming language. Its internal representation of Unicode, while not perfect, enables it to handle a wide range of strings and characters from different scripts and languages. Understanding how Python handles Unicode can help you choose the right encoding for your next project and prevent compatibility issues down the road.

We hope that you found our explanation of Python’s internal representation of Unicode to be informative and helpful. As the world becomes increasingly globalized, it is important to understand the complexities of different character sets and encoding schemes. Python’s built-in Unicode support provides developers with a powerful tool for working with text in a variety of languages and scripts.

It is important to note that while Python’s Unicode support is robust, it is not always perfect. There are still challenges that developers may face when working with certain character sets or when trying to convert between different encodings. It is also worth noting that there are other programming languages that handle Unicode differently, so if you are working on a project with multiple team members, it is important to ensure that everyone is using the same approach.

Overall, Python’s internal representation of Unicode is a fascinating and complex topic, but we hope that our explanation has demystified some of the more confusing aspects. As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. Thank you for taking the time to read our blog!

Below are some common questions that people ask about Python’s internal representation of Unicode, along with their corresponding answers:

  1. What is Unicode?

    Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world’s writing systems. It provides a unique number, called a code point, for every character, no matter what the platform, device, application, or language is.

  2. How does Python represent Unicode internally?

    Python represents Unicode internally using a variable-length, 16-bit encoding scheme called UTF-16. This means that each Unicode character takes up either 2 or 4 bytes of memory, depending on its code point value.

  3. Why use UTF-16 and not UTF-8?

    UTF-8 is another popular Unicode encoding scheme that uses variable-length, 8-bit units to represent characters. However, UTF-16 is better suited for languages and scripts that require more than 16 bits to represent their characters, such as CJKV (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese) and emoji. Moreover, UTF-16 allows for direct access to individual code units, which can be faster and more memory-efficient than UTF-8’s byte-by-byte processing.

  4. Can Python handle non-Unicode encodings?

    Yes, Python can handle non-Unicode encodings such as ASCII, Latin-1, and UTF-8 as well. However, it needs to convert them to Unicode first, using the appropriate codec or encoding scheme.

  5. Are there any performance implications of using Unicode in Python?

    Yes, there can be some performance implications of using Unicode in Python, especially when dealing with large amounts of text or non-ASCII characters. This is because Python needs to perform more complex operations, such as encoding and decoding, normalization, and string manipulation, on Unicode objects than on byte strings. However, these overheads can be mitigated by using optimized libraries, caching results, and avoiding unnecessary conversions.