How to determine the encoding of text?


I received some text that is encoded, but I don't know what charset was used. Is there a way to determine the encoding of a text file using Python? How can I detect the encoding/codepage of a text file deals with C#.

2/11/2019 5:57:15 PM

Accepted Answer

Correctly detecting the encoding all times is impossible.

(From chardet FAQ:)

However, some encodings are optimized for specific languages, and languages are not random. Some character sequences pop up all the time, while other sequences make no sense. A person fluent in English who opens a newspaper and finds “txzqJv 2!dasd0a QqdKjvz” will instantly recognize that that isn't English (even though it is composed entirely of English letters). By studying lots of “typical” text, a computer algorithm can simulate this kind of fluency and make an educated guess about a text's language.

There is the chardet library that uses that study to try to detect encoding. chardet is a port of the auto-detection code in Mozilla.

You can also use UnicodeDammit. It will try the following methods:

  • An encoding discovered in the document itself: for instance, in an XML declaration or (for HTML documents) an http-equiv META tag. If Beautiful Soup finds this kind of encoding within the document, it parses the document again from the beginning and gives the new encoding a try. The only exception is if you explicitly specified an encoding, and that encoding actually worked: then it will ignore any encoding it finds in the document.
  • An encoding sniffed by looking at the first few bytes of the file. If an encoding is detected at this stage, it will be one of the UTF-* encodings, EBCDIC, or ASCII.
  • An encoding sniffed by the chardet library, if you have it installed.
  • UTF-8
  • Windows-1252
4/3/2017 3:54:53 PM

Another option for working out the encoding is to use libmagic (which is the code behind the file command). There are a profusion of python bindings available.

The python bindings that live in the file source tree are available as the python-magic (or python3-magic) debian package. It can determine the encoding of a file by doing:

import magic

blob = open('unknown-file').read()
m =
encoding = m.buffer(blob)  # "utf-8" "us-ascii" etc

There is an identically named, but incompatible, python-magic pip package on pypi that also uses libmagic. It can also get the encoding, by doing:

import magic

blob = open('unknown-file').read()
m = magic.Magic(mime_encoding=True)
encoding = m.from_buffer(blob)

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