Django natively supports Unicode data everywhere. Providing your database can somehow store the data, you can safely pass around Unicode strings to templates, models and the database.
This document tells you what you need to know if you’re writing applications that use data or templates that are encoded in something other than ASCII.
Creating the database¶
Make sure your database is configured to be able to store arbitrary string data. Normally, this means giving it an encoding of UTF-8 or UTF-16. If you use a more restrictive encoding – for example, latin1 (iso8859-1) – you won’t be able to store certain characters in the database, and information will be lost.
- MySQL users, refer to the MySQL manual for details on how to set or alter the database character set encoding.
- PostgreSQL users, refer to the PostgreSQL manual (section 22.3.2 in PostgreSQL 9) for details on creating databases with the correct encoding.
- Oracle users, refer to the Oracle manual for details on how to set (section 2) or alter (section 11) the database character set encoding.
- SQLite users, there is nothing you need to do. SQLite always uses UTF-8 for internal encoding.
All of Django’s database backends automatically convert Unicode strings into the appropriate encoding for talking to the database. They also automatically convert strings retrieved from the database into Python Unicode strings. You don’t even need to tell Django what encoding your database uses: that is handled transparently.
For more, see the section “The database API” below.
General string handling¶
Whenever you use strings with Django – e.g., in database lookups, template rendering or anywhere else – you have two choices for encoding those strings. You can use Unicode strings, or you can use normal strings (sometimes called “bytestrings”) that are encoded using UTF-8.
In Python 3, the logic is reversed, that is normal strings are Unicode, and
when you want to specifically create a bytestring, you have to prefix the
string with a ‘b’. As we are doing in Django code from version 1.5,
we recommend that you import
unicode_literals from the __future__ library
in your code. Then, when you specifically want to create a bytestring literal,
prefix the string with ‘b’.
Python 2 legacy:
my_string = "This is a bytestring" my_unicode = u"This is an Unicode string"
Python 2 with unicode literals or Python 3:
from __future__ import unicode_literals my_string = b"This is a bytestring" my_unicode = "This is an Unicode string"
See also Python 3 compatibility.
A bytestring does not carry any information with it about its encoding. For that reason, we have to make an assumption, and Django assumes that all bytestrings are in UTF-8.
If you pass a string to Django that has been encoded in some other format,
things will go wrong in interesting ways. Usually, Django will raise a
UnicodeDecodeError at some point.
If your code only uses ASCII data, it’s safe to use your normal strings, passing them around at will, because ASCII is a subset of UTF-8.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that if your
DEFAULT_CHARSET setting is set
to something other than
'utf-8' you can use that other encoding in your
DEFAULT_CHARSET only applies to the strings generated as
the result of template rendering (and email). Django will always assume UTF-8
encoding for internal bytestrings. The reason for this is that the
DEFAULT_CHARSET setting is not actually under your control (if you are the
application developer). It’s under the control of the person installing and
using your application – and if that person chooses a different setting, your
code must still continue to work. Ergo, it cannot rely on that setting.
In most cases when Django is dealing with strings, it will convert them to Unicode strings before doing anything else. So, as a general rule, if you pass in a bytestring, be prepared to receive a Unicode string back in the result.
Aside from Unicode strings and bytestrings, there’s a third type of string-like object you may encounter when using Django. The framework’s internationalization features introduce the concept of a “lazy translation” – a string that has been marked as translated but whose actual translation result isn’t determined until the object is used in a string. This feature is useful in cases where the translation locale is unknown until the string is used, even though the string might have originally been created when the code was first imported.
Normally, you won’t have to worry about lazy translations. Just be aware that
if you examine an object and it claims to be a
django.utils.functional.__proxy__ object, it is a lazy translation.
unicode() with the lazy translation as the argument will generate a
Unicode string in the current locale.
For more details about lazy translation objects, refer to the internationalization documentation.
Useful utility functions¶
Because some string operations come up again and again, Django ships with a few useful functions that should make working with Unicode and bytestring objects a bit easier.
django.utils.encoding module contains a few functions that are handy
for converting back and forth between Unicode and bytestrings.
smart_text(s, encoding='utf-8', strings_only=False, errors='strict')converts its input to a Unicode string. The
encodingparameter specifies the input encoding. (For example, Django uses this internally when processing form input data, which might not be UTF-8 encoded.) The
strings_onlyparameter, if set to True, will result in Python numbers, booleans and
Nonenot being converted to a string (they keep their original types). The
errorsparameter takes any of the values that are accepted by Python’s
unicode()function for its error handling.
If you pass
smart_text()an object that has a
__unicode__method, it will use that method to do the conversion.
force_text(s, encoding='utf-8', strings_only=False, errors='strict')is identical to
smart_text()in almost all cases. The difference is when the first argument is a lazy translation instance. While
smart_text()preserves lazy translations,
force_text()forces those objects to a Unicode string (causing the translation to occur). Normally, you’ll want to use
force_text()is useful in template tags and filters that absolutely must have a string to work with, not just something that can be converted to a string.
smart_bytes(s, encoding='utf-8', strings_only=False, errors='strict')is essentially the opposite of
smart_text(). It forces the first argument to a bytestring. The
strings_onlyparameter has the same behavior as for
force_text(). This is slightly different semantics from Python’s builtin
str()function, but the difference is needed in a few places within Django’s internals.
Normally, you’ll only need to use
smart_text(). Call it as early as
possible on any input data that might be either Unicode or a bytestring, and
from then on, you can treat the result as always being Unicode.
URI and IRI handling¶
Web frameworks have to deal with URLs (which are a type of IRI). One requirement of URLs is that they are encoded using only ASCII characters. However, in an international environment, you might need to construct a URL from an IRI – very loosely speaking, a URI that can contain Unicode characters. Quoting and converting an IRI to URI can be a little tricky, so Django provides some assistance.
- The function
django.utils.encoding.iri_to_uri()implements the conversion from IRI to URI as required by the specification (RFC 3987#section-3.1).
- The functions
django.utils.http.urlquote_plus()are versions of Python’s standard
urllib.quote_plus()that work with non-ASCII characters. (The data is converted to UTF-8 prior to encoding.)
These two groups of functions have slightly different purposes, and it’s
important to keep them straight. Normally, you would use
urlquote() on the
individual portions of the IRI or URI path so that any reserved characters
such as ‘&’ or ‘%’ are correctly encoded. Then, you apply
the full IRI and it converts any non-ASCII characters to the correct encoded
Technically, it isn’t correct to say that
iri_to_uri() implements the
full algorithm in the IRI specification. It doesn’t (yet) perform the
international domain name encoding portion of the algorithm.
iri_to_uri() function will not change ASCII characters that are
otherwise permitted in a URL. So, for example, the character ‘%’ is not
further encoded when passed to
iri_to_uri(). This means you can pass a
full URL to this function and it will not mess up the query string or anything
An example might clarify things here:
>>> urlquote('Paris & Orléans') 'Paris%20%26%20Orl%C3%A9ans' >>> iri_to_uri('/favorites/François/%s' % urlquote('Paris & Orléans')) '/favorites/Fran%C3%A7ois/Paris%20%26%20Orl%C3%A9ans'
If you look carefully, you can see that the portion that was generated by
urlquote() in the second example was not double-quoted when passed to
iri_to_uri(). This is a very important and useful feature. It means that
you can construct your IRI without worrying about whether it contains
non-ASCII characters and then, right at the end, call
iri_to_uri() on the
Similarly, Django provides
implements the conversion from URI to IRI as per RFC 3987#section-3.2.
It decodes all percent-encodings except those that don’t represent a valid
An example to demonstrate:
>>> uri_to_iri('/%E2%99%A5%E2%99%A5/?utf8=%E2%9C%93') '/♥♥/?utf8=✓' >>> uri_to_iri('%A9helloworld') '%A9helloworld'
In the first example, the UTF-8 characters and reserved characters are unquoted. In the second, the percent-encoding remains unchanged because it lies outside the valid UTF-8 range.
uri_to_iri() functions are idempotent, which means the
following is always true:
iri_to_uri(iri_to_uri(some_string)) == iri_to_uri(some_string) uri_to_iri(uri_to_iri(some_string)) == uri_to_iri(some_string)
So you can safely call it multiple times on the same URI/IRI without risking double-quoting problems.
Because all strings are returned from the database as Unicode strings, model fields that are character based (CharField, TextField, URLField, etc.) will contain Unicode values when Django retrieves data from the database. This is always the case, even if the data could fit into an ASCII bytestring.
You can pass in bytestrings when creating a model or populating a field, and Django will convert it to Unicode when it needs to.
If you are on Python 3, you can skip this section because you’ll always
__str__() rather than
__unicode__(). If you’d like
compatibility with Python 2, you can decorate your model class with
One consequence of using Unicode by default is that you have to take some care when printing data from the model.
In particular, rather than giving your model a
__str__() method, we
recommended you implement a
__unicode__() method. In the
method, you can quite safely return the values of all your fields without
having to worry about whether they fit into a bytestring or not. (The way
Python works, the result of
__str__() is always a bytestring, even if you
accidentally try to return a Unicode object).
You can still create a
__str__() method on your models if you want, of
course, but you shouldn’t need to do this unless you have a good reason.
Model base class automatically provides a
implementation that calls
__unicode__() and encodes the result into UTF-8.
This means you’ll normally only need to implement a
and let Django handle the coercion to a bytestring when required.
Taking care in
URLs can only contain ASCII characters. If you’re constructing a URL from
pieces of data that might be non-ASCII, be careful to encode the results in a
way that is suitable for a URL. The
handles this for you automatically.
If you’re constructing a URL manually (i.e., not using the
function), you’ll need to take care of the encoding yourself. In this case,
urlquote() functions that were documented
above. For example:
from django.utils.encoding import iri_to_uri from django.utils.http import urlquote def get_absolute_url(self): url = '/person/%s/?x=0&y=0' % urlquote(self.location) return iri_to_uri(url)
This function returns a correctly encoded URL even if
something like “Jack visited Paris & Orléans”. (In fact, the
call isn’t strictly necessary in the above example, because all the
non-ASCII characters would have been removed in quoting in the first line.)
The database API¶
You can pass either Unicode strings or UTF-8 bytestrings as arguments to
filter() methods and the like in the database API. The following two
querysets are identical:
from __future__ import unicode_literals qs = People.objects.filter(name__contains='Å') qs = People.objects.filter(name__contains=b'\xc3\x85') # UTF-8 encoding of Å
You can use either Unicode or bytestrings when creating templates manually:
from __future__ import unicode_literals from django.template import Template t1 = Template(b'This is a bytestring template.') t2 = Template('This is a Unicode template.')
But the common case is to read templates from the filesystem, and this creates
a slight complication: not all filesystems store their data encoded as UTF-8.
If your template files are not stored with a UTF-8 encoding, set the
setting to the encoding of the files on disk. When Django reads in a template
file, it will convert the data from this encoding to Unicode. (
is set to
'utf-8' by default.)
DEFAULT_CHARSET setting controls the encoding of rendered templates.
This is set to UTF-8 by default.
If you intend to allow users to upload files, you must ensure that the
environment used to run Django is configured to work with non-ASCII file names.
If your environment isn’t configured correctly, you’ll encounter
UnicodeEncodeError exceptions when saving files with file names that
contain non-ASCII characters.
Filesystem support for UTF-8 file names varies and might depend on the environment. Check your current configuration in an interactive Python shell by running:
import sys sys.getfilesystemencoding()
This should output “UTF-8”.
LANG environment variable is responsible for setting the expected
encoding on Unix platforms. Consult the documentation for your operating system
and application server for the appropriate syntax and location to set this
In your development environment, you might need to add a setting to your
~.bashrc analogous to::
Django’s email framework (in
django.core.mail) supports Unicode
transparently. You can use Unicode data in the message bodies and any headers.
However, you’re still obligated to respect the requirements of the email
specifications, so, for example, email addresses should use only ASCII
The following code example demonstrates that everything except email addresses can be non-ASCII:
from __future__ import unicode_literals from django.core.mail import EmailMessage subject = 'My visit to Sør-Trøndelag' sender = 'Arnbjörg Ráðormsdóttir <email@example.com>' recipients = ['Fred <firstname.lastname@example.org'] body = '...' msg = EmailMessage(subject, body, sender, recipients) msg.attach("Une pièce jointe.pdf", "%PDF-1.4.%...", mimetype="application/pdf") msg.send()
HTML form submission is a tricky area. There’s no guarantee that the submission will include encoding information, which means the framework might have to guess at the encoding of submitted data.
Django adopts a “lazy” approach to decoding form data. The data in an
HttpRequest object is only decoded when you access it. In fact, most of
the data is not decoded at all. Only the
HttpRequest.POST data structures have any decoding applied to them. Those
two fields will return their members as Unicode data. All other attributes and
HttpRequest return data exactly as it was submitted by the
By default, the
DEFAULT_CHARSET setting is used as the assumed encoding
for form data. If you need to change this for a particular form, you can set
encoding attribute on an
HttpRequest instance. For example:
def some_view(request): # We know that the data must be encoded as KOI8-R (for some reason). request.encoding = 'koi8-r' ...
You can even change the encoding after having accessed
request.POST, and all subsequent accesses will use the new encoding.
Most developers won’t need to worry about changing form encoding, but this is a useful feature for applications that talk to legacy systems whose encoding you cannot control.
Django does not decode the data of file uploads, because that data is normally treated as collections of bytes, rather than strings. Any automatic decoding there would alter the meaning of the stream of bytes.