PEP: 331
Title: Locale-Independent Float/String Conversions
Version: $Revision: 1842 $
Last-Modified: $Date: 2004-07-21 05:30:07 -0700 (Wed, 21 Jul 2004) $
Author: Christian R. Reis
Status: Draft
Type: Standards Track
Content-Type: text/plain
Created: 19-Jul-2003
Python-Version: 2.4
Post-History: 21-Jul-2003, 13-Aug-2003, 18-Jun-2004


    Support for the LC_NUMERIC locale category in Python 2.3 is
    implemented only in Python-space.  This causes inconsistent
    behavior and thread-safety issues for applications that use
    extension modules and libraries implemented in C that parse and
    generate floats from strings.  This document proposes a plan for
    removing this inconsistency by providing and using substitute
    locale-agnostic functions as necessary.


    Python provides generic localization services through the locale
    module, which among other things allows localizing the display and
    conversion process of numeric types.  Locale categories, such as
    LC_TIME and LC_COLLATE, allow configuring precisely what aspects
    of the application are to be localized.

    The LC_NUMERIC category specifies formatting for non-monetary
    numeric information, such as the decimal separator in float and
    fixed-precision numbers.  Localization of the LC_NUMERIC category
    is currently implemented only in Python-space; C libraries invoked
    from the Python runtime are unaware of Python's LC_NUMERIC
    setting.  This is done to avoid changing the behavior of certain
    low-level functions that are used by the Python parser and related
    code [2].

    However, this presents a problem for extension modules that wrap C
    libraries.  Applications that use these extension modules will
    inconsistently display and convert floating-point values.

    James Henstridge, the author of PyGTK [3], has additionally
    pointed out that the setlocale() function also presents
    thread-safety issues, since a thread may call the C library
    setlocale() outside of the GIL, and cause Python to parse and
    generate floats incorrectly.


    The inconsistency between Python and C library localization for
    LC_NUMERIC is a problem for any localized application using C
    extensions.  The exact nature of the problem will vary depending
    on the application, but it will most likely occur when parsing or
    formatting a floating-point value.

Example Problem

    The initial problem that motivated this PEP is related to the
    GtkSpinButton [4] widget in the GTK+ UI toolkit, wrapped by the
    PyGTK module.  The widget can be set to numeric mode, and when
    this occurs, characters typed into it are evaluated as a number.

    Problems occur when LC_NUMERIC is set to a locale with a float
    separator that differs from the C locale's standard (for instance,
    `,' instead of `.' for the Brazilian locale pt_BR).  Because
    LC_NUMERIC is not set at the libc level, float values are
    displayed incorrectly (using `.' as a separator) in the
    spinbutton's text entry, and it is impossible to enter fractional
    values using the `,' separator.

    This small example demonstrates reduced usability for localized
    applications using this toolkit when coded in Python.


    Martin v. L÷wis commented on the initial constraints for an
    acceptable solution to the problem on python-dev:

        - LC_NUMERIC can be set at the C library level without
          breaking the parser.
        - float() and str() stay locale-unaware.
        - locale-aware str() and atof() stay in the locale module.

    An analysis of the Python source suggests that the following
    functions currently depend on LC_NUMERIC being set to the C

        - Python/compile.c:parsenumber()
        - Python/marshal.c:r_object()
        - Objects/complexobject.c:complex_to_buf()
        - Objects/complexobject.c:complex_subtype_from_string()
        - Objects/floatobject.c:PyFloat_FromString()
        - Objects/floatobject.c:format_float()
        - Objects/stringobject.c:formatfloat()
        - Modules/stropmodule.c:strop_atof()
        - Modules/cPickle.c:load_float()

    The proposed approach is to implement LC_NUMERIC-agnostic
    functions for converting from (strtod()/atof()) and to
    (snprintf()) float formats, using these functions where the
    formatting should not vary according to the user-specified locale.

    The locale module should also be changed to remove the
    special-casing for LC_NUMERIC.

    This change should also solve the aforementioned thread-safety

Potential Code Contributions

    This problem was initially reported as a problem in the GTK+
    libraries [5]; since then it has been correctly diagnosed as an
    inconsistency in Python's implementation.  However, in a fortunate
    coincidence, the glib library (developed primarily for GTK+, not
    to be confused with the GNU C library) implements a number of
    LC_NUMERIC-agnostic functions (for an example, see [6]) for
    reasons similar to those presented in this paper.

    In the same GTK+ problem report, Havoc Pennington suggested that
    the glib authors would be willing to contribute this code to the
    PSF, which would simplify implementation of this PEP considerably.
    Alex Larsson, the original author of the glib code, submitted a
    PSF Contributor Agreement [7] on 2003-08-20 [8] to ensure the code
    could be safely integrated; this agreement has been received and


    There may be cross-platform issues with the provided
    locale-agnostic functions, though this risk is low given that the
    code supplied simply reverses any locale-dependent changes made to
    floating-point numbers.

    Martin and Guido pointed out potential copyright issues with the
    contributed code.  I believe we will have no problems in this area
    as members of the GTK+ and glib teams have said they are fine with
    relicensing the code, and a PSF contributor agreement has been
    mailed in to ensure this safety.

    Tim Peters has pointed out [9] that there are situations involving
    threading in which the proposed change is insufficient to solve
    the problem completely.  A complete solution, however, does not
    currently exist.


    An implementation was developed by Gustavo Carneiro <gjc at>, and attached to bug 774665 [10]

    The final patch [11] was integrated into Python CVS by Martin v.
    L÷wis on 2004-06-08, as stated in the bug report.


    [1] PEP 1, PEP Purpose and Guidelines, Warsaw, Hylton

    [2] Python locale documentation for embedding,

    [3] PyGTK homepage,

    [4] GtkSpinButton screenshot (demonstrating problem),

    [5] GNOME bug report,

    [6] Code submission of g_ascii_strtod and g_ascii_dtostr (later
        renamed g_ascii_formatd) by Alex Larsson,

    [7] PSF Contributor Agreement,

    [8] Alex Larsson's email confirming his agreement was mailed in,

    [9] Tim Peters' email summarizing LC_NUMERIC trouble with Spambayes,

    [10] Python bug report,

    [11] Integrated LC_NUMERIC-agnostic patch,


    This document has been placed in the public domain.