Encodings Supported

Urwid has a single global setting for text encoding that is set on start-up based on the configured locale. You may change that setting with the set_encoding() method. eg.


There are two distinct modes of handling encodings with Urwid: Unicode or Pass-through. The mode corresponds to using Unicode strings or normal strings in your widgets.

txt_a = urwid.Text(u"El Niño")
txt_b = urwid.Text("El Niño")

txt_a will be automatically encoded when it is displayed (Unicode mode).

txt_b is assumed to be in the encoding the user is expecting and passed through as-is (Pass-through mode). If the encodings are different then the user will see “mojibake” (garbage) on their screen.

The only time it makes sense to use pass-through mode is if you’re handling an encoding that does not round-trip to Unicode properly, or if you’re absolutely sure you know what you’re doing.

Unicode Support

Urwid has a basic understanding of character widths so that the text layout code can properly wrap and display most text. There is currently no support for right-to-left text.

You should be able to use any valid Unicode characters that are present in the global encoding setting in your widgets, with the addition of some common DEC graphic characters:

\u00A3 (£), \u00B0 (°), \u00B1 (±), \u00B7 (·), \u03C0 (π),
\u2260 (≠), \u2264 (≤), \u2265 (≥), \u23ba (⎺), \u23bb (⎻),
\u23bc (⎼), \u23bd (⎽), \u2500 (─), \u2502 (│), \u250c (┌),
\u2510 (┐), \u2514 (└), \u2518 (┘), \u251c (├), \u2524 (┤),
\u252c (┬), \u2534 (┴), \u253c (┼), \u2592 (▒), \u25c6 (◆)

If you use these characters with a non-UTF-8 encoding they will be sent using the alternate character set sequences supported by some terminals.

Pass-through Support

Supported encodings for pass-through mode:

  • UTF-8 (narrow and wide characters)

  • ISO-8859-*

  • EUC-JP (JISX 0208 only)

  • EUC-KR

  • EUC-CN (aka CN-GB)

  • EUC-TW (CNS 11643 plain 1 only)

  • GB2312

  • GBK

  • BIG5

  • UHC

In pass-through mode Urwid must still calculate character widths. For UTF-8 mode the widths are specified in the Unicode standard. For ISO-8859-* all bytes are assumed to be 1 column wide characters. For the remaining supported encodings any byte with the high-bit set is considered to be half of a 2-column wide character.

The additional plains in EUC are not currently supported.

Future Work

Text encoding should be a per-screen (display module) setting, not a global setting. It should be possible to simultaneously support different encodings on different screens with Urwid. Making this work involves possibly changing the function signature of many widget methods, because encoding needs to be specified along with size and focus.

Device-specific encodings should also be possible for Unicode mode. The LCD display module in development drives a device with a non-standard mapping of Unicode code points to 8-bit values, but it should still be possible to use a Unicode text to display the characters it supports.