Character encoding

The SGF format is defined as containing ASCII-encoded data, possibly with non-ASCII characters in Text and SimpleText property values. The low-level Sgfmill functions for loading and serialising SGF data work with Python bytes or bytes-like objects.

The encoding used for Text and SimpleText property values is given by the CA root property (if that isn’t present, the encoding is ISO-8859-1).

In order for an encoding to be used in Sgfmill, it must exist as a Python built-in codec, and it must be compatible with ASCII (at least whitespace, \, ], and : must be in the usual places). Behaviour is unspecified if a non-ASCII-compatible encoding is requested.

When encodings are passed as parameters (or returned from functions), they are represented using the names or aliases of Python built-in codecs (eg "UTF-8" or "ISO-8859-1"). See standard encodings for a list. Values of the CA property are interpreted in the same way.

The raw property encoding

Each Sgf_game and Tree_node has a fixed raw property encoding, which is the encoding used internally to store the property values. The Tree_node.get_raw() and Tree_node.set_raw() methods use the raw property encoding.

When an SGF game is loaded from a bytes-like object, the raw property encoding is taken from the CA root property (unless overridden). Improperly encoded property values will not be detected until they are accessed (get() will raise ValueError; use get_raw() to retrieve the actual bytes).

When an SGF game is created from a Python string (which contains Unicode characters), the raw property encoding is always UTF-8.

Changing the CA property

When an SGF game is serialised to a string, the encoding represented by the CA root property is used. This target encoding will be the same as the raw property encoding unless CA has been changed since the Sgf_game was created.

When the raw property encoding and the target encoding match, the raw property values are included unchanged in the output (even if they are improperly encoded.)

Otherwise, if any raw property value is improperly encoded, UnicodeDecodeError is raised, and if any property value can’t be represented in the target encoding, UnicodeEncodeError is raised.

If the target encoding doesn’t identify a Python codec, ValueError is raised. The behaviour of serialise() is unspecified if the target encoding isn’t ASCII-compatible (eg, UTF-16).


Because changing the CA property has no effect until you serialise the game, it doesn’t broaden the set of characters you can use when you set() a property.

If you plan to save a file as UTF-8 and want to be able to set arbitrary strings, you can ensure the raw property encoding is UTF-8 by changing CA and reloading the game:

game = sgf.Sgf_game.from_bytes(...)
game.get_root().set("CA", "utf-8")
game = sgf.Sgf_game.from_bytes(game.serialise())
game.get_root().set("PB", "本因坊秀策")