Passing UTF-8 trough HTTP

These days we should write every code as if it will be used by international people with a wide variety of personal information (just look at Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names for some headscratchers). I would like to do add my small contribution to this by showing how UTF-8 encoded strings can be passed into GET/POST parameters.

For this I’ll be using the following small PHP script, which can be quickly run by the command line PHP webserver added in PHP 5.4:

<?php header('Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8'); ?>
GETs: <?php print_r($_GET); ?>
POSTs: <?php print_r($_POST); ?>

We’ll test this with the following Python script:

# vim: set fileencoding=utf-8 :
import urllib
import urllib2

params = {'name': u'東京'}
params = { k: v.encode('utf-8') for k, v in params.iteritems() }
data = urllib.urlencode(params)

url = 'http://localhost:8000/?' + data
req = urllib2.Request(url, data)
response = urllib2.urlopen(req)


This all works well and nicely, so here are some conclusions:

  • GET and POST variables need to be UTF-8 encoded after which they need to be urlencoded (“% encoded”). See this StackOverflow answer.
  • Based on the same answer: hostnames use Punycode instead (but we are not concerned with hostnames here)

  • You might need to add the following header for POST requests to work: “Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded; charset=UTF-8”
  • Failing to observe this sequence leads to an UnicodeEncodeError in urllib.urlencode

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