String formatting: % vs. .format vs. string literal


Python 2.6 introduced the str.format() method with a slightly different syntax from the existing % operator. Which is better and for what situations?

Python 3.6 has now introduced another string formatting format of string literals (aka "f" strings) via the syntax f"my string". Is this formatting option better than the others?

  1. The following uses each method and has the same outcome, so what is the difference?

     sub1 = "python string!"
     sub2 = "an arg"
     sub_a = "i am a %s" % sub1
     sub_b = "i am a {0}".format(sub1)
     sub_c = f"i am a {sub1}"
     arg_a = "with %(kwarg)s!" % {'kwarg':sub2}
     arg_b = "with {kwarg}!".format(kwarg=sub2)
     arg_c = f"with {sub2}!"
     print(sub_a)    # "i am a python string!"
     print(sub_b)    # "i am a python string!"
     print(sub_c)    # "i am a python string!"
     print(arg_a)    # "with an arg!"
     print(arg_b)    # "with an arg!"
     print(arg_c)    # "with an arg!"
  2. Furthermore when does string formatting occur in Python? For example, if my logging level is set to HIGH will I still take a hit for performing the following % operation? And if so, is there a way to avoid this?

     log.debug("some debug info: %s" % some_info)
8/13/2020 6:46:01 PM

Accepted Answer

To answer your first question... .format just seems more sophisticated in many ways. An annoying thing about % is also how it can either take a variable or a tuple. You'd think the following would always work:

"hi there %s" % name

yet, if name happens to be (1, 2, 3), it will throw a TypeError. To guarantee that it always prints, you'd need to do

"hi there %s" % (name,)   # supply the single argument as a single-item tuple

which is just ugly. .format doesn't have those issues. Also in the second example you gave, the .format example is much cleaner looking.

Why would you not use it?

  • not knowing about it (me before reading this)
  • having to be compatible with Python 2.5

To answer your second question, string formatting happens at the same time as any other operation - when the string formatting expression is evaluated. And Python, not being a lazy language, evaluates expressions before calling functions, so in your log.debug example, the expression "some debug info: %s"%some_infowill first evaluate to, e.g. "some debug info: roflcopters are active", then that string will be passed to log.debug().

5/1/2015 12:12:38 PM

Something that the modulo operator ( % ) can't do, afaik:

tu = (12,45,22222,103,6)
print '{0} {2} {1} {2} {3} {2} {4} {2}'.format(*tu)


12 22222 45 22222 103 22222 6 22222

Very useful.

Another point: format(), being a function, can be used as an argument in other functions:

li = [12,45,78,784,2,69,1254,4785,984]
print map('the number is {}'.format,li)   


from datetime import datetime,timedelta

once_upon_a_time = datetime(2010, 7, 1, 12, 0, 0)
delta = timedelta(days=13, hours=8,  minutes=20)

gen =(once_upon_a_time +x*delta for x in xrange(20))

print '\n'.join(map('{:%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S}'.format, gen))

Results in:

['the number is 12', 'the number is 45', 'the number is 78', 'the number is 784', 'the number is 2', 'the number is 69', 'the number is 1254', 'the number is 4785', 'the number is 984']

2010-07-01 12:00:00
2010-07-14 20:20:00
2010-07-28 04:40:00
2010-08-10 13:00:00
2010-08-23 21:20:00
2010-09-06 05:40:00
2010-09-19 14:00:00
2010-10-02 22:20:00
2010-10-16 06:40:00
2010-10-29 15:00:00
2010-11-11 23:20:00
2010-11-25 07:40:00
2010-12-08 16:00:00
2010-12-22 00:20:00
2011-01-04 08:40:00
2011-01-17 17:00:00
2011-01-31 01:20:00
2011-02-13 09:40:00
2011-02-26 18:00:00
2011-03-12 02:20:00

Assuming you're using Python's logging module, you can pass the string formatting arguments as arguments to the .debug() method rather than doing the formatting yourself:

log.debug("some debug info: %s", some_info)

which avoids doing the formatting unless the logger actually logs something.


As of Python 3.6 (2016) you can use f-strings to substitute variables:

>>> origin = "London"
>>> destination = "Paris"
>>> f"from {origin} to {destination}"
'from London to Paris'

Note the f" prefix. If you try this in Python 3.5 or earlier, you'll get a SyntaxError.



PEP 3101 proposes the replacement of the % operator with the new, advanced string formatting in Python 3, where it would be the default.


But please be careful, just now I've discovered one issue when trying to replace all % with .format in existing code: '{}'.format(unicode_string) will try to encode unicode_string and will probably fail.

Just look at this Python interactive session log:

Python 2.7.2 (default, Aug 27 2012, 19:52:55) 
[GCC 4.1.2 20080704 (Red Hat 4.1.2-48)] on linux2
; s='й'
; u=u'й'
; s
; u

s is just a string (called 'byte array' in Python3) and u is a Unicode string (called 'string' in Python3):

; '%s' % s
; '%s' % u

When you give a Unicode object as a parameter to % operator it will produce a Unicode string even if the original string wasn't Unicode:

; '{}'.format(s)
; '{}'.format(u)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
UnicodeEncodeError: 'latin-1' codec can't encode character u'\u0439' in position 0: ordinal not in range(256)

but the .format function will raise "UnicodeEncodeError":

; u'{}'.format(s)
; u'{}'.format(u)

and it will work with a Unicode argument fine only if the original string was Unicode.

; '{}'.format(u'i')

or if argument string can be converted to a string (so called 'byte array')


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