5 Best Ways to Encode and Decode MIME Quoted-Printable Data Using Python

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: When working with email content in Python, a common task is to encode and decode text using the MIME Quoted-Printable format. This ensures that email content is safely transmitted over the Internet by encoding non-ASCII and special characters. For example, we might need to encode “cafΓ© β˜•” to a safe format for email transmission and then decode it back to its original form upon receipt.

Method 1: Using the ‘quopri’ Standard Library

Python’s ‘quopri’ module is part of the standard library, specifically designed to encode and decode MIME Quoted-Printable data. It provides functionality to handle the quoted-printable encoding which is often used for email message headers and bodies.

Here’s an example:

import quopri

# Encoding a string to quoted-printable
encoded_data = quopri.encodestring(b'caf\xe9 \u2615')

# Decoding the quoted-printable string
decoded_data = quopri.decodestring(encoded_data)


b'caf=E9 =E2=98=95\r\n'
b'caf\xe9 \xe2\x98\x95'

This snippet uses quopri.encodestring() to encode a byte string with special characters into Quoted-Printable format, and quopri.decodestring() for reversing the process. The ‘b’ prefix indicates that the result is a byte string which preserves the original binary data.

Method 2: Using ’email’ Standard Library for Emails

The ’email’ library included with Python provides tools to manage email messages, including encoding and decoding of quoted-printable data. It is useful when dealing with email-specific tasks.

Here’s an example:

from email import encoders
from email.mime.text import MIMEText

# Create a MIMEText object with the text content
msg = MIMEText('caf\xe9 \u2615', _charset='utf-8')

# Encode the MIMEText payload into quoted-printable

# Output the encoded content

# To decode, simply call decode method
decoded_text = msg.get_payload(decode=True)


caf=C3=A9 =E2=98=95
b'caf\xc3\xa9 \xe2\x98\x95'

This code uses the email library to construct a MIMEText object which holds the message contents and metadata. The encoders.encode_quopri(msg) method encodes the payload, which can be retrieved with msg.get_payload(). Decoding is done via the decode=True argument in the get_payload() method.

Method 3: Using the ‘codec’ Standard Library

The ‘codecs’ module in Python provides a set of functions to encode and decode data using various codecs, including Quoted-Printable. This is a flexible tool for handling different types of encoding.

Here’s an example:

import codecs

# Encoding a string to quoted-printable
encoded_text = codecs.encode('caf\xe9 \u2615', 'quopri')

# Decoding the quoted-printable string
decoded_text = codecs.decode(encoded_text, 'quopri')


b'caf=E9 =E2=98=95'
b'caf\xe9 \xe2\x98\x95'

In this snippet the codec.encode() and codec.decode() functions are used to encode and decode a Unicode string, respectively. This is a simple and straightforward approach when working with multiple encodings in Python.

Method 4: Using External Libraries like ‘python-qp’

For developers requiring more robust and specialized functionality, external libraries such as ‘python-qp’ can be useful. These libraries often offer extended support for Quoted-Printable encoding/decoding, handling edge cases more gracefully.

Here’s an example:

import qp

# Encoding a text to quoted-printable using 'python-qp'
encoded_text = qp.encode('cafΓ© β˜•', quotetabs=True)

# Decoding the quoted-printable text
decoded_text = qp.decode(encoded_text)


b'caf=C3=A9 =E2=98=95'
'CafΓ© β˜•'

The qp.encode() and qp.decode() functions from the ‘python-qp’ library provide a more tailored handling of quoted-printable conversion, demonstrating more features like quotetabs and the automatic conversion to string on decoding.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Using Comprehensions

For encoding, Python’s list comprehensions can be a clever way to manually encode a string into Quoted-Printable for simple cases, where one has a clear understanding of which characters to encode.

Here’s an example:

text = 'cafΓ© β˜•'
encoded_text = ''.join(['={:02X}'.format(ord(char)) if ord(char) > 127 else char for char in text])


caf=E9 =2615

This one-liner uses a list comprehension to iterate over each character in a string, checks if the character’s UNICODE ordinal number is greater than 127 (non-ASCII), and then applies the Quoted-Printable format if necessary. While clever, it lacks decoding capabilities and isn’t a complete solution.


  • Method 1: ‘quopri’ Standard Library. Native to Python, no external dependencies. Best for straightforward use cases. Limited to ASCII-compatible data.
  • Method 2: ’email’ Standard Library. Integrated with Python’s email handling capabilities, good for email-specific tasks. Can be more complex for simple needs.
  • Method 3: ‘codec’ Standard Library. Versatile and can handle various encodings. Its interface is not Quoted-Printable-specific, which can be a downside for those seeking simplicity.
  • Method 4: External Libraries. Often offer extended features and better handling of edge cases. However, they require additional installation and maintenance.
  • Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Quick and simple, but not a robust solution. Good for encoding in a pinch, but offers no decoding and lacks the reliability of library methods.