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Mako 1.1.4 Documentation

Release: 1.1.4
Mako 1.1.4 Documentation » The Unicode Chapter

The Unicode Chapter

The Unicode Chapter


this chapter was written many years ago and is very Python-2 centric. As of Mako 1.1.3, the default template encoding is utf-8.

The Python language supports two ways of representing what we know as “strings”, i.e. series of characters. In Python 2, the two types are string and unicode, and in Python 3 they are bytes and string. A key aspect of the Python 2 string and Python 3 bytes types are that they contain no information regarding what encoding the data is stored in. For this reason they were commonly referred to as byte strings on Python 2, and Python 3 makes this name more explicit. The origins of this come from Python’s background of being developed before the Unicode standard was even available, back when strings were C-style strings and were just that, a series of bytes. Strings that had only values below 128 just happened to be ASCII strings and were printable on the console, whereas strings with values above 128 would produce all kinds of graphical characters and bells.

Contrast the “byte-string” type with the “unicode/string” type. Objects of this latter type are created whenever you say something like u"hello world" (or in Python 3, just "hello world"). In this case, Python represents each character in the string internally using multiple bytes per character (something similar to UTF-16). What’s important is that when using the unicode/string type to store strings, Python knows the data’s encoding; it’s in its own internal format. Whereas when using the string/bytes type, it does not.

When Python 2 attempts to treat a byte-string as a string, which means it’s attempting to compare/parse its characters, to coerce it into another encoding, or to decode it to a unicode object, it has to guess what the encoding is. In this case, it will pretty much always guess the encoding as ascii… and if the byte-string contains bytes above value 128, you’ll get an error. Python 3 eliminates much of this confusion by just raising an error unconditionally if a byte-string is used in a character-aware context.

There is one operation that Python can do with a non-ASCII byte-string, and it’s a great source of confusion: it can dump the byte-string straight out to a stream or a file, with nary a care what the encoding is. To Python, this is pretty much like dumping any other kind of binary data (like an image) to a stream somewhere. In Python 2, it is common to see programs that embed all kinds of international characters and encodings into plain byte-strings (i.e. using "hello world" style literals) can fly right through their run, sending reams of strings out to wherever they are going, and the programmer, seeing the same output as was expressed in the input, is now under the illusion that his or her program is Unicode-compliant. In fact, their program has no unicode awareness whatsoever, and similarly has no ability to interact with libraries that are unicode aware. Python 3 makes this much less likely by defaulting to unicode as the storage format for strings.

The “pass through encoded data” scheme is what template languages like Cheetah and earlier versions of Myghty do by default. Mako as of version 0.2 also supports this mode of operation when using Python 2, using the disable_unicode=True flag. However, when using Mako in its default mode of unicode-aware, it requires explicitness when dealing with non-ASCII encodings. Additionally, if you ever need to handle unicode strings and other kinds of encoding conversions more intelligently, the usage of raw byte-strings quickly becomes a nightmare, since you are sending the Python interpreter collections of bytes for which it can make no intelligent decisions with regards to encoding. In Python 3 Mako only allows usage of native, unicode strings.

In normal Mako operation, all parsed template constructs and output streams are handled internally as Python unicode objects. It’s only at the point of Template.render() that this unicode stream may be rendered into whatever the desired output encoding is. The implication here is that the template developer must :ensure that the encoding of all non-ASCII templates is explicit (still required in Python 3), that all non-ASCII-encoded expressions are in one way or another converted to unicode (not much of a burden in Python 3), and that the output stream of the template is handled as a unicode stream being encoded to some encoding (still required in Python 3).

Specifying the Encoding of a Template File

Changed in version 1.1.3: As of Mako 1.1.3, the default template encoding is “utf-8”. Previously, a Python “magic encoding comment” was required for templates that were not using ASCII.

Mako templates support Python’s “magic encoding comment” syntax described in pep-0263:

## -*- coding: utf-8 -*-

Alors vous imaginez ma surprise, au lever du jour, quand
une drôle de petite voix m’a réveillé. Elle disait:
 « S’il vous plaît… dessine-moi un mouton! »

As an alternative, the template encoding can be specified programmatically to either Template or TemplateLookup via the input_encoding parameter:

t = TemplateLookup(directories=['./'], input_encoding='utf-8')

The above will assume all located templates specify utf-8 encoding, unless the template itself contains its own magic encoding comment, which takes precedence.

Handling Expressions

The next area that encoding comes into play is in expression constructs. By default, Mako’s treatment of an expression like this:

${"hello world"}

looks something like this:

context.write(unicode("hello world"))

In Python 3, it’s just:

context.write(str("hello world"))

That is, the output of all expressions is run through the ``unicode`` built-in. This is the default setting, and can be modified to expect various encodings. The unicode step serves both the purpose of rendering non-string expressions into strings (such as integers or objects which contain __str()__ methods), and to ensure that the final output stream is constructed as a unicode object. The main implication of this is that any raw byte-strings that contain an encoding other than ASCII must first be decoded to a Python unicode object. It means you can’t say this in Python 2:

${"voix m’a réveillé."}  ## error in Python 2!

You must instead say this:

${u"voix m’a réveillé."}  ## OK !

Similarly, if you are reading data from a file that is streaming bytes, or returning data from some object that is returning a Python byte-string containing a non-ASCII encoding, you have to explicitly decode to unicode first, such as:


Note that filehandles acquired by open() in Python 3 default to returning “text”, that is the decoding is done for you. See Python 3’s documentation for the open() built-in for details on this.

If you want a certain encoding applied to all expressions, override the unicode builtin with the decode built-in at the Template or TemplateLookup level:

t = Template(templatetext, default_filters=['decode.utf8'])

Note that the built-in decode object is slower than the unicode function, since unlike unicode it’s not a Python built-in, and it also checks the type of the incoming data to determine if string conversion is needed first.

The default_filters argument can be used to entirely customize the filtering process of expressions. This argument is described in The default_filters Argument.

Defining Output Encoding

Now that we have a template which produces a pure unicode output stream, all the hard work is done. We can take the output and do anything with it.

As stated in the “Usage” chapter, both Template and TemplateLookup accept output_encoding and encoding_errors parameters which can be used to encode the output in any Python supported codec:

from mako.template import Template
from mako.lookup import TemplateLookup

mylookup = TemplateLookup(directories=['/docs'], output_encoding='utf-8', encoding_errors='replace')

mytemplate = mylookup.get_template("foo.txt")

Template.render() will return a bytes object in Python 3 if an output encoding is specified. By default it performs no encoding and returns a native string.

Template.render_unicode() will return the template output as a Python unicode object (or string in Python 3):


The above method disgards the output encoding keyword argument; you can encode yourself by saying:

print(mytemplate.render_unicode().encode('utf-8', 'replace'))

Buffer Selection

Mako does play some games with the style of buffering used internally, to maximize performance. Since the buffer is by far the most heavily used object in a render operation, it’s important!

When calling Template.render() on a template that does not specify any output encoding (i.e. it’s ascii), Python’s cStringIO module, which cannot handle encoding of non-ASCII unicode objects (even though it can send raw byte-strings through), is used for buffering. Otherwise, a custom Mako class called FastEncodingBuffer is used, which essentially is a super dumbed-down version of StringIO that gathers all strings into a list and uses u''.join(elements) to produce the final output – it’s markedly faster than StringIO.

Saying to Heck with It: Disabling the Usage of Unicode Entirely

Some segments of Mako’s userbase choose to make no usage of Unicode whatsoever, and instead would prefer the “pass through” approach; all string expressions in their templates return encoded byte-strings, and they would like these strings to pass right through. The only advantage to this approach is that templates need not use u"" for literal strings; there’s an arguable speed improvement as well since raw byte-strings generally perform slightly faster than unicode objects in Python. For these users, assuming they’re sticking with Python 2, they can hit the disable_unicode=True flag as so:

# -*- coding:utf-8 -*-
from mako.template import Template

t = Template("drôle de petite voix m’a réveillé.", disable_unicode=True, input_encoding='utf-8')

The disable_unicode mode is strictly a Python 2 thing. It is not supported at all in Python 3.

The generated module source code will contain elements like these:

# -*- coding:utf-8 -*-
#  ...more generated code ...

def render_body(context,**pageargs):
        __M_locals = dict(pageargs=pageargs)
        # SOURCE LINE 1
        context.write('dr\xc3\xb4le de petite voix m\xe2\x80\x99a r\xc3\xa9veill\xc3\xa9.')
        return ''

Where above that the string literal used within Context.write() is a regular byte-string.

When disable_unicode=True is turned on, the default_filters argument which normally defaults to ["unicode"] now defaults to ["str"] instead. Setting default_filters to the empty list [] can remove the overhead of the str call. Also, in this mode you cannot safely call Template.render_unicode() – you’ll get unicode/decode errors.

The h filter (HTML escape) uses a less performant pure Python escape function in non-unicode mode. This because MarkupSafe only supports Python unicode objects for non-ASCII strings.

Changed in version 0.3.4: In prior versions, it used cgi.escape(), which has been replaced with a function that also escapes single quotes.

Rules for using disable_unicode=True

  • Don’t use this mode unless you really, really want to and you absolutely understand what you’re doing.

  • Don’t use this option just because you don’t want to learn to use Unicode properly; we aren’t supporting user issues in this mode of operation. We will however offer generous help for the vast majority of users who stick to the Unicode program.

  • Python 3 is unicode by default, and the flag is not available when running on Python 3.