How it works

This is a brief guide to navigating the code itself.

First, you should read A composite approach to language/encoding detection, which explains the detection algorithm and how it was derived. This will help you later when you stumble across the huge character frequency distribution tables like and language models like

The main entry point for the detection algorithm is, which has one class, UniversalDetector. (You might think the main entry point is the detect function in chardet/, but that’s really just a convenience function that creates a UniversalDetector object, calls it, and returns its result.)

There are 5 categories of encodings that UniversalDetector handles:

  1. UTF-n with a BOM. This includes UTF-8, both BE and LE variants of UTF-16, and all 4 byte-order variants of UTF-32.
  2. Escaped encodings, which are entirely 7-bit ASCII compatible, where non-ASCII characters start with an escape sequence. Examples: ISO-2022-JP (Japanese) and HZ-GB-2312 (Chinese).
  3. Multi-byte encodings, where each character is represented by a variable number of bytes. Examples: Big5 (Chinese), SHIFT_JIS (Japanese), EUC-KR (Korean), and UTF-8 without a BOM.
  4. Single-byte encodings, where each character is represented by one byte. Examples: KOI8-R (Russian), windows-1255 (Hebrew), and TIS-620 (Thai).
  5. windows-1252, which is used primarily on Microsoft Windows; its subset, ISO-8859-1 is widely used for legacy 8-bit-encoded text. chardet, like many encoding detectors, defaults to guessing this encoding when no other can be reliably established.

UTF-n with a BOM

If the text starts with a BOM, we can reasonably assume that the text is encoded in UTF-8, UTF-16, or UTF-32. (The BOM will tell us exactly which one; that’s what it’s for.) This is handled inline in UniversalDetector, which returns the result immediately without any further processing.

Escaped encodings

If the text contains a recognizable escape sequence that might indicate an escaped encoding, UniversalDetector creates an EscCharSetProber (defined in and feeds it the text.

EscCharSetProber creates a series of state machines, based on models of HZ-GB-2312, ISO-2022-CN, ISO-2022-JP, and ISO-2022-KR (defined in EscCharSetProber feeds the text to each of these state machines, one byte at a time. If any state machine ends up uniquely identifying the encoding, EscCharSetProber immediately returns the positive result to UniversalDetector, which returns it to the caller. If any state machine hits an illegal sequence, it is dropped and processing continues with the other state machines.

Multi-byte encodings

Assuming no BOM, UniversalDetector checks whether the text contains any high-bit characters. If so, it creates a series of “probers” for detecting multi-byte encodings, single-byte encodings, and as a last resort, windows-1252.

The multi-byte encoding prober, MBCSGroupProber (defined in, is really just a shell that manages a group of other probers, one for each multi-byte encoding: Big5, GB2312, EUC-TW, EUC-KR, EUC-JP, SHIFT_JIS, and UTF-8. MBCSGroupProber feeds the text to each of these encoding-specific probers and checks the results. If a prober reports that it has found an illegal byte sequence, it is dropped from further processing (so that, for instance, any subsequent calls to UniversalDetector.feed will skip that prober). If a prober reports that it is reasonably confident that it has detected the encoding, MBCSGroupProber reports this positive result to UniversalDetector, which reports the result to the caller.

Most of the multi-byte encoding probers are inherited from MultiByteCharSetProber (defined in, and simply hook up the appropriate state machine and distribution analyzer and let MultiByteCharSetProber do the rest of the work. MultiByteCharSetProber runs the text through the encoding-specific state machine, one byte at a time, to look for byte sequences that would indicate a conclusive positive or negative result. At the same time, MultiByteCharSetProber feeds the text to an encoding-specific distribution analyzer.

The distribution analyzers (each defined in use language-specific models of which characters are used most frequently. Once MultiByteCharSetProber has fed enough text to the distribution analyzer, it calculates a confidence rating based on the number of frequently-used characters, the total number of characters, and a language-specific distribution ratio. If the confidence is high enough, MultiByteCharSetProber returns the result to MBCSGroupProber, which returns it to UniversalDetector, which returns it to the caller.

The case of Japanese is more difficult. Single-character distribution analysis is not always sufficient to distinguish between EUC-JP and SHIFT_JIS, so the SJISProber (defined in also uses 2-character distribution analysis. SJISContextAnalysis and EUCJPContextAnalysis (both defined in and both inheriting from a common JapaneseContextAnalysis class) check the frequency of Hiragana syllabary characters within the text. Once enough text has been processed, they return a confidence level to SJISProber, which checks both analyzers and returns the higher confidence level to MBCSGroupProber.

Single-byte encodings

The single-byte encoding prober, SBCSGroupProber (defined in, is also just a shell that manages a group of other probers, one for each combination of single-byte encoding and language: windows-1251, KOI8-R, ISO-8859-5, MacCyrillic, IBM855, and IBM866 (Russian); ISO-8859-7 and windows-1253 (Greek); ISO-8859-5 and windows-1251 (Bulgarian); ISO-8859-2 and windows-1250 (Hungarian); TIS-620 (Thai); windows-1255 and ISO-8859-8 (Hebrew).

SBCSGroupProber feeds the text to each of these encoding+language-specific probers and checks the results. These probers are all implemented as a single class, SingleByteCharSetProber (defined in, which takes a language model as an argument. The language model defines how frequently different 2-character sequences appear in typical text. SingleByteCharSetProber processes the text and tallies the most frequently used 2-character sequences. Once enough text has been processed, it calculates a confidence level based on the number of frequently-used sequences, the total number of characters, and a language-specific distribution ratio.

Hebrew is handled as a special case. If the text appears to be Hebrew based on 2-character distribution analysis, HebrewProber (defined in tries to distinguish between Visual Hebrew (where the source text actually stored “backwards” line-by-line, and then displayed verbatim so it can be read from right to left) and Logical Hebrew (where the source text is stored in reading order and then rendered right-to-left by the client). Because certain characters are encoded differently based on whether they appear in the middle of or at the end of a word, we can make a reasonable guess about direction of the source text, and return the appropriate encoding (windows-1255 for Logical Hebrew, or ISO-8859-8 for Visual Hebrew).


If UniversalDetector detects a high-bit character in the text, but none of the other multi-byte or single-byte encoding probers return a confident result, it creates a Latin1Prober (defined in to try to detect English text in a windows-1252 encoding. This detection is inherently unreliable, because English letters are encoded in the same way in many different encodings. The only way to distinguish windows-1252 is through commonly used symbols like smart quotes, curly apostrophes, copyright symbols, and the like. Latin1Prober automatically reduces its confidence rating to allow more accurate probers to win if at all possible.