Byte Encodings and Strings
Trail: Internationalization
Lesson: Working with Text
Section: Converting Non-Unicode Text

Byte Encodings and Strings

If a byte array contains non-Unicode text, you can convert the text to Unicode with one of the String constructor methods. Conversely, you can convert a String object into a byte array of non-Unicode characters with the String.getBytes method. When invoking either of these methods, you specify the encoding identifier as one of the parameters.

The example that follows converts characters between UTF-8 and Unicode. UTF-8 is a transmission format for Unicode that is safe for UNIX file systems. The full source code for the example is in the file

The StringConverter program starts by creating a String containing Unicode characters:

String original = new String("A" + "\u00ea" + "\u00f1" + "\u00fc" + "C");

When printed, the String named original appears as:


To convert the String object to UTF-8, invoke the getBytes method and specify the appropriate encoding identifier as a parameter. The getBytes method returns an array of bytes in UTF-8 format. To create a String object from an array of non-Unicode bytes, invoke the String constructor with the encoding parameter. The code that makes these calls is enclosed in a try block, in case the specified encoding is unsupported:

try {
    byte[] utf8Bytes = original.getBytes("UTF8");
    byte[] defaultBytes = original.getBytes();

    String roundTrip = new String(utf8Bytes, "UTF8");
    System.out.println("roundTrip = " + roundTrip);
    printBytes(utf8Bytes, "utf8Bytes");
    printBytes(defaultBytes, "defaultBytes");
catch (UnsupportedEncodingException e) {

The StringConverter program prints out the values in the utf8Bytes and defaultBytes arrays to demonstrate an important point: The length of the converted text might not be the same as the length of the source text. Some Unicode characters translate into single bytes, others into pairs or triplets of bytes.

The printBytes method displays the byte arrays by invoking the byteToHex method, which is defined in the source file, Here is the printBytes method:

public static void printBytes(byte[] array, String name) {
    for (int k = 0; k < array.length; k++) {
        System.out.println(name + "[" + k + "] = " + "0x" +

The output of the printBytes method follows. Note that only the first and last bytes, the A and C characters, are the same in both arrays:

utf8Bytes[0] = 0x41
utf8Bytes[1] = 0xc3
utf8Bytes[2] = 0xaa
utf8Bytes[3] = 0xc3
utf8Bytes[4] = 0xb1
utf8Bytes[5] = 0xc3
utf8Bytes[6] = 0xbc
utf8Bytes[7] = 0x43
defaultBytes[0] = 0x41
defaultBytes[1] = 0xea
defaultBytes[2] = 0xf1
defaultBytes[3] = 0xfc
defaultBytes[4] = 0x43

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