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Python 3 handles strings a bit different. Originally there was only one type for strings: str. When unicode gained traction in the ’90s the new unicode type was added to handle Unicode without breaking pre-existing code.[1] This is effectively the same as str but with multibyte support.

In Python 3 there are two different types:

  • The bytes type. This is just a sequence of bytes, Python doesn’t know anything about how to interpret this as characters.
  • The str type. This is also a sequence of bytes, but Python knows how to interpret those bytes as characters.
  • The separate unicode type was dropped. str now supports unicode.

In Python 2 implicitly assuming an encoding can cause a lot of problems; you can end up using the wrong encoding, or the data may not be text in the first place (e.g. it’s a PNG image or some other binary data).

Explicitly telling Python which encoding to use (or explicitly telling it to guess) is often a lot better and much more in line with the “Python philosophy” of “explicit is better than implicit”.

This change is incompatible with Python 2 as many return values have changed, leading to subtle problems like this one; it’s the main reason why Python 3 adoption has been so slow. Since Python doesn’t have static typing[2] it’s hard to change this automatically with a script (such as the bundled 2to3).

  • You can convert str to bytes with bytes('h€llo', 'utf-8'); this should produce b'H\xe2\x82\xacllo'. Note how one character was converted to three bytes.
  • You can convert bytes to str with b'H\xe2\x82\xacllo'.decode('utf-8').

UTF-8 may not be the correct character set in your case, so be sure to use the correct one.

In your specific piece of code, nextline is of type bytes, not str, reading stdout and stdin from subprocess changed in Python 3 from str to bytes. This is because Python can’t be sure which encoding this uses. It probably uses the same as sys.stdin.encoding (the encoding of your system), but it can’t be sure.

You need to replace:




or maybe:


You will also need to modify if nextline == '' to if nextline == b'' since:

>>> '' == b''

Also see the Python 3 ChangeLog, PEP 358, and PEP 3112.

  1. There are some neat tricks you can do with ASCII that you can’t do with multibyte character sets; the most famous example is the “xor with space to switch case” (e.g. chr(ord('a') ^ ord(' ')) == 'A') and “set 6th bit to make a control character” (e.g. ord('\t') + ord('@') == ord('I')). ASCII was designed in a time when manipulating individual bits was an operation with a non-negligible performance impact. 

  2. Yes, you can use function annotations, but it’s a comparatively new feature and little used.