How to Convert an Octal Escape Sequence in Python – And Vice Versa?

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This tutorial will show you how to convert an

  • octal escape sequence to a Python string, and a
  • Python string to an octal escape sequence.

But let’s quickly recap what an octal escape sequence is in the first place! πŸ‘‡

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What Is An Octal Escape Sequence?πŸ’‘

An Octal Escape Sequence is a backslash followed by 1-3 octal digits (0-7) such as \150 which encodes the ASCII character 'h'. Each octal escape sequence encodes one character (except invalid octal sequence \000). You can chain together multiple octal escape sequences to obtain a word.

Problem Formulation

πŸ’¬ Question: How to convert an octal escape sequence to a string and vice versa in Python?


\101 \102 \103'ABC'
\101 \040 \102 \040 \103'A B C'
\141 \142 \143'abc'
\150 \145 \154 \154 \157'hello'
\150 \145 \154 \154 \157 \040 \167 \157 \162 \154 \144'hello world'

Python Octal to String Built-In Conversion

You don’t need to “convert” an octal escape sequence to a Unicode string if you already have it represented by a bytes object. Python automatically resolves the encoding.

See here:

>>> b'\101\102\103'
>>> b'101\040\102\040\103'
b'101 B C'
>>> b'\101\040\102\040\103'
b'A B C'
>>> b'\141\142\143'
>>> b'\150\145\154\154\157'
>>> b'\150\145\154\154\157\040\167\157\162\154\144'
b'hello world'

Python Octal to String Explicit Conversion

The bytes.decode('unicode-escape') function converts a given bytes object represented by an (octal) escape sequence to a Python string. For example, br'\101'.decode('unicode-escape') yields the Unicode (string) character 'A'.

def octal_to_string(x):
    ''' Converts an octal escape sequence to a string'''
    return x.decode('unicode-escape')

Example: Convert the octal representations presented above:

octals = [br'\101\102\103',

for octal in octals:

This leads to the following expected output:

hello world

Python String to Octal

To convert a Python string to an octal escape sequence representation, iterate over each character c and convert it to an octal escape sequence using oct(ord(c)).

The result uses octal representation such as '0o123'. You can do string manipulation, such as slicing and string concatenation, to bring it into the final version '\123', for instance.

Here’s the function that converts string to octal escape sequence format:

def string_to_octal(x):
    ''' Converts a string to an octal escape sequence'''
    return '\\' + '\\'.join(oct(ord(c))[2:] for c in x)

βœ… Background:

  • The ord() function takes a character (=string of length one) as an input and returns the Unicode number of this character. For example, ord('a') returns the Unicode number 97. The inverse function of ord() is the chr() function, so chr(ord('a')) returns the original character 'a'.
  • The oct() function takes one integer argument and returns an octal string with prefix "0o".

Let’s check how our strings can be converted to the octal escape sequence representation using this function:

strings = ['ABC',
           'A B C',
           'hello world']

for s in strings:

And here’s the expected output:


If you don’t like the one-liner solution provided above, feel free to use this multi-liner instead that may be easier to read:

def string_to_octal(x):
    ''' Converts a string to an octal escape sequence'''
    result = ''
    for c in x:
        result += '\\' + oct(ord(c))[2:]
    return result

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