I'm getting a python unicode error every time I try to install or update anything with apt or aptitude, preventing me to update my system.

The error I'm getting is the following:

File "/usr/bin/py3clean", line 4
SyntaxError: Non-ASCII character '\xc2' in file /usr/bin/py3clean on line 4, but no encoding declared; see http://python.org/dev/peps/pep-0263/ for details

I follow the link and it talks about magic comments to set python encoding, but of course it is not the way to go. I can bypass the error in py3clean manually adding magic comments, but then another python file reports the problem.

I'm not a python user so I'm quite stuck with it... Is there any system wide var I can set to control python encoding or any other method to solve it?

I'm with Debian testing 3.16.0-4-686-pae #1 SMP Debian 3.16.7-ckt4-3 (2015-02-03) i686 GNU/Linux.


Edit: Following is the output of aptitude dist-upgrade

The following packages will be upgraded: 
  apache2 apache2-bin apache2-data apache2-dev apache2-utils apache2.2-bin apt apt-utils avahi-daemon bind9-host binutils bsd-mailx 
  bsdutils busybox bzip2 cli-common comerr-dev console-setup console-setup-linux coreutils cpio cpp cpp-4.8 cpp-4.9 cups cups-browsed 
  cups-bsd cups-client cups-common cups-core-drivers cups-daemon cups-filters cups-filters-core-drivers cups-ppdc cups-server-common 
  curl dbus dbus-x11 debconf debconf-i18n debhelper dmsetup dnsmasq-base dnsutils dpkg dpkg-dev dselect e2fslibs e2fsprogs evince 
  evince-common evolution-data-server evolution-data-server-common exim4 exim4-base exim4-config exim4-daemon-light file 
  foomatic-db-compressed-ppds freerdp-x11 g++ g++-4.9 gcc gcc-4.8 gcc-4.8-base gcc-4.9 gcc-4.9-base gdisk gdm3 geoip-database 
  gir1.2-ebookcontacts-1.2 gir1.2-edataserver-1.2 gir1.2-evince-3.0 gir1.2-gdm3 gir1.2-gmenu-3.0 gir1.2-gtk-2.0 
  gir1.2-javascriptcoregtk-3.0 gir1.2-networkmanager-1.0 gir1.2-rest-0.7 gir1.2-upowerglib-1.0 gir1.2-webkit-3.0 gnome-font-viewer 
  gnome-orca gnome-settings-daemon gnupg gnupg-agent gnupg2 google-chrome-stable gpgv growisofs grub-common grub-pc grub-pc-bin 
  grub2-common gstreamer1.0-plugins-bad gstreamer1.0-plugins-ugly gtk2-engines-pixbuf hdparm heroku heroku-toolbelt hipchat host 
  icedtea-7-jre-jamvm icedtea-netx icedtea-netx-common iceweasel iceweasel-l10n-ca icu-devtools ifupdown initramfs-tools initscripts 
  installation-report isc-dhcp-client isc-dhcp-common keyboard-configuration krb5-locales krb5-multidev lftp libapache2-mod-php5 
  libapt-inst1.5 libapt-pkg4.12 libarchive13 libasan0 libasan1 libatomic1 libav-tools libavahi-client-dev libavahi-client3 
  libavahi-common-data libavahi-common-dev libavahi-common3 libavahi-core7 libavahi-glib-dev libavahi-glib1 libavahi-gobject0 
  libavahi-ui-gtk3-0 libavcodec56 libavdevice55 libavfilter5 libavformat56 libavresample2 libavutil54 libbind9-90 libblkid1 
  libbrlapi0.6 libbz2-1.0 libbz2-dev libc-bin libc-dev-bin libc6 libc6-dev libc6-i686 libcamel-1.2-49 libcap2-bin libcilkrts5 
  libcomerr2 libcups2 libcupscgi1 libcupsfilters1 libcupsimage2 libcupsmime1 libcupsppdc1 libcurl3 libcurl3-gnutls libcurl4-openssl-dev 
  libdb5.3 libdb5.3-dev libdb5.3-java libdb5.3-java-jni libdbus-1-3 libdbus-1-dev libdevmapper-event1.02.1 libdevmapper1.02.1 
  libdns-export100 libdns100 libdpkg-perl libebackend-1.2-7 libebook-1.2-14 libebook-contacts-1.2-0 libecal-1.2-16 libedata-book-1.2-20 
  libedata-cal-1.2-23 libedataserver-1.2-18 libelf1 libevdocument3-4 libevview3-3 libfontembed1 libfreerdp-cache1.1 
  libfreerdp-client1.1 libfreerdp-codec1.1 libfreerdp-common1.1.0 libfreerdp-core1.1 libfreerdp-crypto1.1 libfreerdp-gdi1.1 
  libfreerdp-locale1.1 libfreerdp-plugins-standard libfreerdp-primitives1.1 libfreerdp-rail1.1 libfreerdp-utils1.1 libfreetype6 
  libfreetype6-dev libgail-common libgail-dev libgail18 libgcc-4.8-dev libgcc-4.9-dev libgcc1 libgcrypt20 libgdm1 libgfortran3 
  libgit2-21 libglib2.0-cil libgnome-menu-3-0 libgnutls-deb0-28 libgnutls-openssl27 libgnutls28-dev libgnutlsxx28 libgomp1 
  libgssapi-krb5-2 libgssrpc4 libgstreamer-plugins-bad1.0-0 libgtk2-perl libgtk2.0-0 libgtk2.0-bin libgtk2.0-cil libgtk2.0-common 
  libgtk2.0-dev libgudev-1.0-0 libicu-dev libicu52 libirs-export91 libisc-export95 libisc95 libisccc90 libisccfg-export90 libisccfg90 
  libitm1 libjavascriptcoregtk-1.0-0 libjavascriptcoregtk-3.0-0 libjpeg62-turbo libk5crypto3 libkadm5clnt-mit9 libkadm5srv-mit9 
  libkdb5-7 libkrb5-3 libkrb5-dev libkrb5support0 libldap-2.4-2 libldap2-dev libldb1 libllvm3.5 liblvm2app2.2 liblwres90 libmagic-dev 
  libmagic1 libmono-cairo4.0-cil libmono-corlib4.0-cil libmono-corlib4.5-cil libmono-i18n-west4.0-cil libmono-i18n4.0-cil 
  libmono-posix4.0-cil libmono-security4.0-cil libmono-sharpzip4.84-cil libmono-system-configuration4.0-cil libmono-system-core4.0-cil 
  libmono-system-drawing4.0-cil libmono-system-security4.0-cil libmono-system-xml4.0-cil libmono-system4.0-cil libmount1 libmp3lame0 
  libmpeg2-4 libmysqlclient-dev libmysqlclient18 libmysqld-dev libnm-glib-vpn1 libnm-glib4 libnm-util2 libobjc4 libpam-cap 
  libpam-systemd libparted2 libperl5.20 libpotrace0 libprocps3 libpython-dev libpython-stdlib libpython2.7 libpython2.7-dev 
  libpython2.7-minimal libpython2.7-stdlib libqt4-core libqt4-dbus libqt4-declarative libqt4-designer libqt4-dev libqt4-dev-bin 
  libqt4-help libqt4-network libqt4-opengl libqt4-opengl-dev libqt4-qt3support libqt4-script libqt4-scripttools libqt4-sql 
  libqt4-sql-mysql libqt4-svg libqt4-test libqt4-xml libqt4-xmlpatterns libqt5webkit5 libqtcore4 libqtdbus4 libqtgui4 libquadmath0 
  librest-0.7-0 librtmp1 libruby2.1 librygel-core-2.4-2 librygel-renderer-2.4-2 librygel-renderer-gst-2.4-2 librygel-server-2.4-2 
  libsasl2-2 libsasl2-dev libsasl2-modules libsasl2-modules-db libsmartcols1 libsmbclient libsnmp-base libsnmp-dev libsnmp30 libss2 
  libssh2-1 libssl-dev libssl-doc libssl1.0.0 libstdc++-4.8-dev libstdc++-4.9-dev libstdc++6 libsvn-perl libsvn1 libswscale3 
  libsystemd-daemon-dev libsystemd-dev libsystemd0 libtasn1-6 libtasn1-6-dev libtasn1-doc libtbb2 libtcl8.6 libteamdctl0 libtiff5 
  libubsan0 libudev1 libupower-glib3 libuuid1 libv8-3.14-dev libv8-3.14.5 libwbclient0 libwebkitgtk-1.0-0 libwebkitgtk-1.0-common 
  libwebkitgtk-3.0-0 libwebkitgtk-3.0-common libwinpr-crt0.1 libwinpr-crypto0.1 libwinpr-dsparse0.1 libwinpr-environment0.1 
  libwinpr-file0.1 libwinpr-handle0.1 libwinpr-heap0.1 libwinpr-input0.1 libwinpr-interlocked0.1 libwinpr-library0.1 libwinpr-path0.1 
  libwinpr-pool0.1 libwinpr-registry0.1 libwinpr-rpc0.1 libwinpr-sspi0.1 libwinpr-synch0.1 libwinpr-sysinfo0.1 libwinpr-thread0.1 
  libwinpr-utils0.1 libxfont1 libxfreerdp-client1.1 libxml2 libxml2-dev libxml2-utils lintian linux-compiler-gcc-4.8-x86 
  linux-headers-3.16.0-4-686-pae linux-headers-3.16.0-4-common linux-image-3.16.0-4-686-pae locales locales-all mongodb mongodb-clients 
  mongodb-dev mongodb-server mono-4.0-gac mono-gac mono-runtime mono-runtime-common mono-runtime-sgen mount multiarch-support 
  mysql-client mysql-client-5.5 mysql-common mysql-server mysql-server-5.5 mysql-server-core-5.5 network-manager nodejs nodejs-dev 
  openjdk-7-jdk openjdk-7-jre openjdk-7-jre-headless openprinting-ppds openssh-client openssl parted patch perl perl-base perl-modules 
  php-pear php5 php5-cli php5-common php5-dev php5-intl php5-mcrypt php5-mysql php5-readline postgresql-9.4 ppp procmail procps python 
  python-brlapi python-debian python-dev python-imaging python-ldb python-libxml2 python-minimal python-pil python-pygments 
  python-samba python-xapian python2.7 python2.7-dev python2.7-minimal python3-brlapi python3-debian qdbus qt4-linguist-tools qt4-qmake 
  qtcore4-l10n rsync rtmpdump ruby ruby-dev ruby2.1 ruby2.1-dev rygel rygel-playbin rygel-preferences rygel-tracker samba-common 
  samba-common-bin samba-libs smbclient sudo systemd systemd-sysv sysv-rc sysvinit sysvinit-utils t1utils task-catalan 
  task-catalan-desktop task-desktop task-gnome-desktop task-print-server tasksel tasksel-data tcl8.6 tzdata tzdata-java udev upower 
  usb-modeswitch-data util-linux util-linux-locales uuid-dev virtualbox virtualbox-dkms virtualbox-guest-additions-iso 
  virtualbox-guest-dkms virtualbox-guest-utils virtualbox-guest-x11 virtualbox-qt whois xbrlapi xdg-utils xserver-common xserver-xephyr 
  xserver-xorg-core xserver-xorg-video-geode xserver-xorg-video-vmware xterm xwayland youtube-dl 
The following partially installed packages will be configured:
The following packages are RECOMMENDED but will NOT be installed:
  gnupg-curl uuid-runtime 
514 packages upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 1 not upgraded.
Need to get 0 B/705 MB of archives. After unpacking 19.9 MB will be freed.
Do you want to continue? [Y/n/?] 
Reading changelogs... Done               
Extracting templates from packages: 100%
Preconfiguring packages ...
(Reading database ... 291930 files and directories currently installed.)
Preparing to unpack .../debconf_1.5.56_all.deb ...
  File "/usr/bin/py3clean", line 4
SyntaxError: Non-ASCII character '\xc2' in file /usr/bin/py3clean on line 4, but no encoding declared; see http://python.org/dev/peps/pep-0263/ for details
dpkg: warning: subprocess old pre-removal script returned error exit status 1
dpkg: trying script from the new package instead ...
  File "/usr/bin/py3clean", line 4
SyntaxError: Non-ASCII character '\xc2' in file /usr/bin/py3clean on line 4, but no encoding declared; see http://python.org/dev/peps/pep-0263/ for details
dpkg: error processing archive /var/cache/apt/archives/debconf_1.5.56_all.deb (--unpack):
 subprocess new pre-removal script returned error exit status 1
  File "/usr/bin/py3compile", line 4
SyntaxError: Non-ASCII character '\xc2' in file /usr/bin/py3compile on line 4, but no encoding declared; see http://python.org/dev/peps/pep-0263/ for details
dpkg: error while cleaning up:
 subprocess installed post-installation script returned error exit status 1
Errors were encountered while processing:
E: Sub-process /usr/bin/dpkg returned an error code (1)
Failed to perform requested operation on package.  Trying to recover:
dpkg: error processing package debconf (--configure):
 package is in a very bad inconsistent state; you should
 reinstall it before attempting configuration
Setting up gnome-menus (3.13.3-6) ...
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "/usr/sbin/gnome-menus-blacklist", line 12, in <module>
    with open(blacklist_file, 'r', encoding='utf_8') as fp:
TypeError: 'encoding' is an invalid keyword argument for this function
dpkg: error processing package gnome-menus (--configure):
 subprocess installed post-installation script returned error exit status 1
dpkg: dependency problems prevent configuration of locales:
 locales depends on debconf (>= 0.5) | debconf-2.0; however:
  Package debconf is not configured yet.
  Package debconf-2.0 is not installed.
  Package debconf which provides debconf-2.0 is not configured yet.

dpkg: error processing package locales (--configure):
 dependency problems - leaving unconfigured
dpkg: error processing package gnome-orca (--configure):
 package is in a very bad inconsistent state; you should
 reinstall it before attempting configuration
Errors were encountered while processing:
  • Please post the complete transcript of a failed installation/upgrade/update attempt, please. In the question, not in comments. Apr 24, 2015 at 8:41
  • And perhaps apt works only with python2, so I'd try installing that if you don't have it yet. Apr 24, 2015 at 9:26
  • Thanks @FaheemMitha Output of aptitude dist-upgrade added in the question
    – cram1010
    Apr 24, 2015 at 9:35
  • @lynxlynxlynx sudo python --version returns Python 2.7.8
    – cram1010
    Apr 24, 2015 at 9:36
  • Ok, based on the info provided, python isn't your problem, so forget about it. For reference, see unix.stackexchange.com/q/121180/4671. This might be easier to handle in the chat room. Can you hop into chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/26/unix-and-linux please? We can talk there. And ping me if/when you go there. Apr 24, 2015 at 9:50

1 Answer 1


After some time spent talking to the poster in the U&L chat room, it because obvious this was a Python problem, specifically an encoding problem. The issue was that the poster's Python 3 was refusing to handle utf8 characters in scripts correctly. The specific errors in the question above were for a utf8 character, I think the copyright symbol.

I then found https://stackoverflow.com/q/25814675/350713

and used the test script mentioned there, namely

filename = 'utf-8·filename.txt'

On my machine this errored out with Python 2 and worked with Python 3, as follows.

python test.py 
  File "test.py", line 1
SyntaxError: Non-ASCII character '\xc2' in file test.py on line 1, but no encoding declared; see http://www.python.org/peps/pep-0263.html for details

python3 test.py 

However, the poster got the same error for both.

Additionally, the poster got ascii for both Python 2 and 3 when running

/usr/bin/python -c 'import sys; print(sys.getdefaultencoding())'

I got ascii for Python 2 and utf8 for Python 3.

Not knowing what was going on here, I then asked the experts in the Python room on Stack Overflow. Antti Haapala then asked some questions, and finally the following exchange occurred (http://chat.stackoverflow.com/transcript/message/22902726#22902726)

Antti Haapala   : @WaitingforDev... what is your python3 version?

WaitingforDev...: ooooops
                  I run python3 --version
                  and I get
                  Python 2.7.8

So the poster's Python 3 was actually Python 2, which explained the behavior. I then asked

FaheemMitha: what does `ls -la /usr/bin/python3` show?
Waiting for Dev...: @FaheemMitha it pointed to /usr/bin/python

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