ron rothman.ron rothman
selectively conformist

Fixing minidom.toprettyxml’s Silly Whitespace

Python’s xml.dom.minidom.toprettyxml has a feature/flaw that renders it useless for many common applications.

Someone was kind enough to post a hack which works around the problem. That hack had a small bug, which I’ve fixed; you’ll find the revised code below.

UPDATED Forget the hack; I’ve found another, better solution. See below. And please leave a comment if you find these workarounds helpful, or if you come across a better solution.

METAUPDATE Since writing this post, I’ve started using lxml for all my xml processing Python. Incidentally, it fixes the pretty printing problem with toprettyxml, but the actual reason I switched was for performance: lxml parses xml significantly faster (an order of magnitude faster) than minidom. So my new recommendation is: consider using lxml instead of minidom.

The Problem

First, a short summary of the problem. (Other descriptions can be found here and here.) Feel free to jump ahead to all the workarounds, or straight to my solution of choice.

toprettyxml adds extra white space when printing the contents of text nodes. This may not sound like a serious drawback, but it is. Consider a simple xml snippet:

<Author>Ron Rothman</Author>

This Python script:

# python 2.4
import xml.dom.minidom as dom
myText = '''<Author>Ron Rothman</Author>'''
print xml.dom.minidom.parseString(myText).toprettyxml()

generates this output:

<?xml version="1.0" ?>
        Ron Rothman

Note the extra line breaks: the text “Ron Rothman” is printed on its own line, and indented. That may not matter much to a human reading the output, but it sure as hell matters to an XML parser. (Recall: whitespace is significant in XML)

To put it another way: the DOM object that represents the output (with line breaks) is NOT identical to the DOM object that represented the input.

Semantically, the author in the original XML is "Ron Rothman", but the author in the “pretty” XML is [approximately] "    Ron Rothman    ".

This is devastating news to anyone who hopes to re-parse the “pretty” XML in some other context. It means that you can’t use minidom.toprettyxml() to produce XML that will be parsed downstream.


UPDATED If you’re in a rush, skip ahead to the best solution, #4.

Sidebar: Things that don’t solve the problem:

  • normalize()
  • calling toprettyxml with “creative” (non-default) parameters

1. Don’t use minidom

There are plenty of other XML packages to choose from.
But: minidom is appealing because it’s lightweight, and is included with the Python distribution. Seems a shame to toss it for just one flaw.
UPDATEI’ve started using lxml and I highly recommend it as a replacement for minidom or PyXML.

2. Use minidom, but don’t use toprettyxml()

Use minidom.toxml(), which doesn’t suffer from the same problem (because it doesn’t insert any whitespace).
But: Your machine-readable XML will make heads spin, should someone be foolish enough to try to read it.

3. Hack toprettyxml to do The Right Thing

Replace toprettyxml by using the code below.
But: It smells. Like a hack. Fragile; likely to break with future releases of minidom.
On the other hand: It’s not that bad. And hey, it does the trick. (But YMMV.)

def fixed_writexml(self, writer, indent="", addindent="", newl=""):
    # indent = current indentation
    # addindent = indentation to add to higher levels
    # newl = newline string
    writer.write(indent+"<" + self.tagName)

    attrs = self._get_attributes()
    a_names = attrs.keys()

    for a_name in a_names:
        writer.write(" %s=\"" % a_name)
        xml.dom.minidom._write_data(writer, attrs[a_name].value)
    if self.childNodes:
        if len(self.childNodes) == 1 \
          and self.childNodes[0].nodeType == xml.dom.minidom.Node.TEXT_NODE:
            self.childNodes[0].writexml(writer, "", "", "")
            writer.write("</%s>%s" % (self.tagName, newl))
        for node in self.childNodes:
        writer.write("%s</%s>%s" % (indent,self.tagName,newl))
# replace minidom's function with ours
xml.dom.minidom.Element.writexml = fixed_writexml

I just copied the original toprettyxml code from /usr/lib/python2.4/xml/dom/ and made the modifications that are highlighted in yellow. It ain’t pretty, but it seems to work. (Suggestions for improvements (I’m a Python n00b) are welcome.)

[Credit to Oluseyi at for the original hack; I just fixed it so that it worked with character entities.]

UPDATE! 4. Use xml.dom.ext.PrettyPrint

Who knew? All along, an alternative to toprettyxml was available to me. Works like a charm. Robust. 100% Kosher Python. Definitely the method I’ll be using.
But: Need to have PyXML installed. In my case, it was already installed, so this is my method of choice. (It’s worth pointing out that if you already have PyXML installed, you might want to consider using it exclusively, in lieu of minidom.)

We just write a simple wrapper, and we’re done:

from xml.dom.ext import PrettyPrint
from StringIO import StringIO

def toprettyxml_fixed (node, encoding='utf-8'):
    tmpStream = StringIO()
    PrettyPrint(node, stream=tmpStream, encoding=encoding)
    return tmpStream.getvalue()


One lesson from all this: TMTOWTDI applies to more than just Perl. :)

Please–let me know what you think.

26 Responses to “Fixing minidom.toprettyxml’s Silly Whitespace” [Leave yours »]

  1. Ron [author of post] said:

    Yikes, I just came across a better solution on comp.lang.python: use xml.dom.ext.PrettyPrint.

    I’ve updated the main post to reflect this option. (See #4.)

  2. gmolleda said:

    I have found errors in fixed_writexml function:
    1.- Errors in number %s into strings
    2.- Errors in ending labels, the functions write label and not

    The correct is:

    def fixed_writexml(self, writer, indent=””, addindent=””, newl=””):
    # indent = current indentation
    # addindent = indentation to add to higher levels
    # newl = newline string
    self.childNodes[0].writexml(writer, “”, “”, “” )
    writer.write(“%s” % (self.tagName, newl))
    writer.write(“>%s” % (newl))
    for node in self.childNodes:
    writer.write(“%s%s” % (indent,self.tagName,newl))

    # replace minidom’s function with ours
    xml.dom.minidom.Element.writexml = fixed_writexml

  3. Ron [author of post] said:

    gmodella, thanks for your feedback. You’re right, the code as published wasn’t working, because WordPress converted my “” to html tag delimiters, instead of converting them to “&lt;” and “&gt;”. (Notice that it did the same thing in your comment; your ‘write.write(“%s%s”…’ should have a , but WordPress stripped them in your comment as well.)

    I’ve fixed it manually, and now WordPress is rendering it correctly. Thank you for alerting me!

  4. gmolleda said:

    Hi, if you add a conditional in loop for, the extra newline character is not added in next calls to function:

    writer.write(">%s" % (newl))
    for node in self.childNodes:
    + if node.nodeType is not xml.dom.minidom.Node.TEXT_NODE: # 3:

  5. gmolleda said:

    Hi, I have fixed other problem [in minidom]:
    When you use the writexml function for write a beautiful and readable file, and read the file, and other time use writexml function, then you could view a lot of ugly newline characters.

    Adding a new conditional in the loop “for”, we could remove the blank lines with only indent and newline characters

    for node in self.childNodes:
    + if node.nodeType is not xml.dom.minidom.Node.TEXT_NODE: # 3:
    + node.writexml(writer,indent+addindent,addindent,newl)
    - #node.writexml(writer,indent+addindent,addindent,newl)

  6. Thomas Pluempe said:

    Thanks for the fixed_writexml fix, made my day. I’m using this successfully with Python 2.6.

    However, there’s a tiny bug there: In line 20, that’s the “writer.write(“<%s”%(newl))” line, the less than sign should be a greater than sign.

    Only with this fix does it generate valid XML.

    Response from Ron: Thomas, thanks for pointing out the typo! I’ve fixed it in the post. Much appreciated,

  7. It seams that on Python 2.6.1 (Windows x64) xml.dom.ext does not exist !

  8. Thomas Pluempe said:

    As Ron states further up “Need to have PyXML installed.”

    Also of note: Apparently pyxml doesn’t have a maintainer anymore (see, although that may have changed since.

  9. Ron [author of post] said:

    Thanks Thomas, you’re right. Indeed, I no longer use PyXML; I’ve been using lxml exclusively.

  10. Interesting reading. Just one stupid question. If you do:

    import xml.dom.minidom as dom

    then why do you use:


    instead of:


  11. Tyler Mitchell said:

    Thanks for posting this. I was playing with “indent”, “addindent”, “newl”, changing the file mode during the open(…) etc – thinking the whole time I was just doing something wrong.

    It’s unfortunate that a patch has been available for so long (and there are several patches floating around, some in the bugs database) but nothing fixed yet.

    I find it irritating that I should have to use some external library, but maybe in future projects that’s the way to go. PyXML appears to be unmaintained(?) so maybe lxml is best. Honestly, having just completed another project with MSXML – which works wonderfully – I was very tempted to just use pythoncom and MSXML.

  12. […] This is the source that pointed me to lxml. […]

  13. I recently was working on a project where I ran into this problem and I was stuck with an older version of python so lxml and PyXML were not available. I believe I have come up with another solution. With due respect to Jamie Zawinski, you can fix it regular expressions.

    fix = re.compile(r'((?)(n[t]*)(?=[^<t]))|(?t])(n[t]*)(?=<)')
    fixed_output = re.sub(fix, '', input_string)

    Yes, it’s ugly as sin, but the regular expression above will match a newline character followed by tab characters if they come between “>” and other text, or between text and “<". In other words, it lets you strip out the unwanted whitespace that toprettxml() adds.

    In case this comment form mangles the code with emoticons, I posted the regex here:

  14. plok said:

    BrendanM’s solution is particularly amazing. Thanks.

  15. Install new libs to do something this simple? No way.

    1. The writer hack only solves part of the problem. Text nodes are better, but we still get double newlines after every element, and the indents are 8 spaces wide. Am I doing it wrong?
    2. BrendanM’s regex fix works perfectly for me – great stuff.


  16. Khiken Saken said:

    Pardon the newbie question, but how does one apply BrendanM’s regex?? I have created a program to pull the data from Excel into XML, and I save into a file. I have been trying to figure out how to use the regex fix, but I’m lost…

  17. firebush said:

    BrendanM’s response worked for me, but use the link he included. My conf file used spaces instead of tabs, so I had to replace the \t characters with a space character in the regex.

  18. […] textNodes. And they are obviously read afterwards. A couple of different solutions are discussed on Ron Rothman’s blog, the easiest one using xml.dom.ext.PrettyPrint. :maxscript, python, reference, tips, […]

  19. Mark said:

    I threw this together, not sure if it’s particularly stable, but it seems to pass most of my quick tests.

  20. ex4 said:

    Thank you very much! I really needed your hack.

  21. badas said:

    Works great for me, thanks

  22. krazywar said:

    I am a noob as well to python programming, and i was wondering where i should put BrendanM’s piece of code?

  23. Don said:

    Hey Ron, Thanks for creating this dialog. I used your fixed_writexml code a little over a year ago, and it’s worked great for us ever since. – Don

  24. Jogi said:

    I think it is worth to present a simple post production ;) solution for stripping out whitespace of toprettyxml text node:

    xml_string = xml_document.toprettyxml()
    start = xml_string.find('>')
    while start >= 0:
    . end = xml_string.find('<', start + 1)
    . if end - start > 2:
    . . space_between_elements = xml_string[start + 1:end]
    . . possible_text_node = space_between_elements.strip()
    . . if len(possible_text_node) > 0 and len(possible_text_node) != len(space_between_elements):
    . . # possible_text_node is a text node with whitespace!!!
    . . xml_string = xml_string.replace(space_between_elements, possible_text_node)
    . start = xml_string.find('>', start + 1)

  25. Bill H said:

    I found a simple fix. It does require that all the XML text is in-memory, although that’s usually not a big issue.

    For my problem, I had to print the text to the display using python 2.7. The fix might have to be different for unicode. Also, note that the check for chr(9) probably really should be to check whether that string from the list only contains chr(9) character – but I have found no cases where it doesn’t work the way it is now:

    pretty_text = dom.toprettyxml()
    pretty_text_list = pretty_text.split(chr(10))
    pretty_text = ”
    for text in pretty_text_list:
    if chr(9) in text:
    pretty_text = ‘{0}{1}’.format(pretty_text, text)
    pretty_text = ‘{0}{1}\n’.format(pretty_text, text)
    print pretty_text

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