Bytes/text management

Python 3 introduces a hard distinction between text (str) – sequences of characters (formally, Unicode codepoints) – and bytes – sequences of 8-bit values used to encode any kind of data for storage or transmission.

Python 2 has the same distinction between str (bytes) and unicode (text). However, values can be implicitly converted between these types as needed, e.g. when comparing or writing to disk or the network. The implicit encoding and decoding can be a source of subtle bugs when not designed and tested adequately.

In python-ldap 2.x (for Python 2), bytes were used for all fields, including those guaranteed to be text.

From version 3.0, python-ldap uses text where appropriate. On Python 2, the bytes mode setting influences how text is handled.

What’s text, and what’s bytes

The LDAP protocol states that some fields (distinguished names, relative distinguished names, attribute names, queries) be encoded in UTF-8. In python-ldap, these are represented as text (str on Python 3, unicode on Python 2).

Attribute values, on the other hand, MAY contain any type of data, including text. To know what type of data is represented, python-ldap would need access to the schema, which is not always available (nor always correct). Thus, attribute values are always treated as bytes. Encoding/decoding to other formats – text, images, etc. – is left to the caller.

The bytes mode

The behavior of python-ldap 3.0 in Python 2 is influenced by a bytes_mode argument to ldap.initialize(). The argument can take these values:

bytes_mode=True: backwards-compatible

Text values returned from python-ldap are always bytes (str). Text values supplied to python-ldap may be either bytes or Unicode. The encoding for bytes is always assumed to be UTF-8.

Not available in Python 3.

bytes_mode=False: strictly future-compatible

Text values must be represented as unicode. An error is raised if python-ldap receives a text value as bytes (str).

Unspecified: relaxed mode with warnings

Causes a warning on Python 2.

Text values returned from python-ldap are always unicode. Text values supplied to python-ldap should be unicode; warnings are emitted when they are not.

The warnings are of type LDAPBytesWarning, which is a subclass of BytesWarning designed to be easily filtered out if needed.

Backwards-compatible behavior is not scheduled for removal until Python 2 itself reaches end of life.

Porting recommendations

Since end of life of Python 2 is coming in a few years, projects are strongly urged to make their code compatible with Python 3. General instructions for this are provided in Python documentation and in the Conservative porting guide.

When porting from python-ldap 2.x, users are advised to update their code to set bytes_mode=False, and fix any resulting failures.

The typical usage is as follows. Note that only the result’s values are of the bytes type:

>>> import ldap
>>> con = ldap.initialize('ldap://localhost:389', bytes_mode=False)
>>> con.simple_bind_s(u'login', u'secret_password')
>>> results = con.search_s(u'ou=people,dc=example,dc=org', ldap.SCOPE_SUBTREE, u"(cn=Raphaël)")
>>> results
    ("cn=Raphaël,ou=people,dc=example,dc=org", {
        'cn': [b'Rapha\xc3\xabl'],
        'sn': [b'Barrois'],

Filtering warnings

The bytes mode warnings can be filtered out and ignored with a simple filter.

import warnings
import ldap

if hasattr(ldap, 'LDAPBytesWarning'):
    warnings.simplefilter('ignore', ldap.LDAPBytesWarning)