In the Documentation we read (emphasis is mine):

By default, the Wolfram System uses the character encoding "PrintableASCII" when saving notebooks and packages. This means that when special characters are written out to files or external programs, they are represented purely as sequences of ordinary characters. This uniform representation is crucial in allowing special characters in the Wolfram Language to be used in a way that does not depend on the details of particular computer systems.

When creating packages and notebooks, special characters are always written out using full names.

ExportString["Lamé \[LongRightArrow] αβ+", "Package"]
"(* Created by Wolfram Mathematica 10.0 : www.wolfram.com *)
\"Lam\\[EAcute] \\[LongRightArrow] \\[Alpha]\\[Beta]+\"

In InputForm, all special characters are written out fully when using "PrintableASCII".

ToString["Lamé \[LongRightArrow] αβ+", InputForm, 
 CharacterEncoding -> "PrintableASCII"]
"\"Lam\\[EAcute] \\[LongRightArrow] \\[Alpha]\\[Beta]+\""

In the above-cited examples the character é is converted into the corresponding Mathematica's platform-independent representation \[EAcute]. This is expected since this character isn't PrintableASCIIQ:

ToCharacterCode["é", "ASCII"]



Hence I expect that Exporting this character with CharacterEncoding -> "PrintableASCII" will also give me \[EAcute]:

Export["test1.txt", "é", "Text", 
  CharacterEncoding -> "PrintableASCII"] // SystemOpen

Export["test2.txt", "é", "String", 
  CharacterEncoding -> "PrintableASCII"] // SystemOpen

The first input produces a file containing e', the second – a file with é.

Is this behavior correct? How can I export strings using only "PrintableASCII" and writing all the special characters in their FullForm as it happens when I Export as "Package"?

Further considerations

Wrapping the string by InputForm doesn't work:

Export["test3.txt", InputForm@"é", "String", 
  CharacterEncoding -> "PrintableASCII"] // SystemOpen

produces a file containing "é" literally. It is worth to note that for ExportString wrapping by InputForm works:

ExportString[InputForm@"é", "String", CharacterEncoding -> "PrintableASCII"]

Wrapping by FullForm works but is unacceptable due to the quotation marks added:

Export["test4.txt", FullForm@"é", "String", 
  CharacterEncoding -> "PrintableASCII"] // SystemOpen

produces a file containing "\[EAcute]" literally.

Exporting as "Package" doesn't serve as a workaround because of the header added and also because strings are exported with the quotation marks.

The same happens with CharacterEncoding -> None.


2 Answers 2


I'm afraid support didn't answer your question correctly. However, "String" is one of the most confusing formats we have, so I am not totally suprised.

If you look at the "Background and Context" on ref/format/String, you'll see

  • Arbitrary binary data represented as a Wolfram Language string.
  • Used for importing or exporting entire raw binary data.

Note in particular that it is used for binary data--binary data in general does not use character encodings. The intended use case is something along the lines of Import["foo.png", "String"], when you wish to operate directly on the bytes of the PNG rather than the image it contains. In the import case, each byte gets mapped to the corresponding code point in the range 0-255. In the export case, we have to do something if a special character > 255 appears, so it is converted to its long name. You can think of this as akin to ToString[expr, CharacterEncoding->"ISO8859-1"]. In short, "String" is very different from "Text", which attempts to interpret textual data.

In a world where we have ByteArray, we problably wouldn't have had the "String" format, as the ByteArray would be the natural data structure. We don't yet have this format, but it is certainly on our roadmap. For now, you can Export lists a ByteArray using the "Byte" format, and import "Byte" format and then pass it to ByteArray to convert it from a lists of bytes to a proper ByteArray object.


I received a response from the official tech support on this issue ([CASE:3897096]):

As I understand, you wish to Export characters using the ASCII or PrintableASCII character sets, but Export is not giving the correct output for the character "é".

There seems to be a disregard for certain characters when Exporting with ASCII as the CharacterEncoding, regardless of their character codes. However, as a workaround, I have modified an example found in the CharacterEncoding documentation to get the desired output. Please see attached notebook.

The code shows some characters that do not have the desired output and uses the self-defined function fullname[] in order to achieve the requested Export. Please note that this workaround will work for those characters that do have a full name.

The excerpt from the attached notebook:

Helper function in use:

fullname[c_String] := 
 StringReplace[ToString[c, InputForm, CharacterEncoding -> "ASCII"], 
  "\"\\[" ~~ a__ ~~ "]\"" :> "\\[" ~~ a ~~ "]"]


Export["test2.txt", {"\[CirclePlus]", "\[Wolf]", "\[Del]", "\[RuleDelayed]", 
   "\[CloverLeaf]", "\[Mu]", "\[PartialD]"}, "String", 
  CharacterEncoding -> "PrintableASCII"] // SystemOpen

  fullname /@ {"\[CirclePlus]", "\[Wolf]", "\[Del]", "\[RuleDelayed]", 
    "\[CloverLeaf]", "\[Mu]", "\[PartialD]"}, "String", 
  CharacterEncoding -> "PrintableASCII"] // SystemOpen

The proposed workaround is (by the essence) the same as the one proposed in this answer with only difference that it won't handle correctly the characters without a full name. So that solution is better :).

Also the support guy points out that the set of "disregarded" characters is wider than I originally supposed: apart from extended ASCII characters with codes 128-255 it contains also some named Unicode characters like \[CirclePlus]. Although in the response it isn't stated clearly that this behavior is a bug, I assume that usage of words "workaround" and "disregard" in this context implies that current behavior is wrong. So I'll tag this appropriately.

  • $\begingroup$ About the "extra" disregarded characters. That's because "String" is using OutputForm, and therefore some characters are using ascii-approximations, as explained in the tutorial you linked to in your question. So \[CirclePlus] gets converted into (+). This may not be the most useful behavior, but again, this is not the intended use case, so I won't lose any sleep over it. $\endgroup$ Jul 9, 2017 at 23:34

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