Fixing Thrift incompatible encoding exception on Ruby 1.9.2

Friday, July 1st 2011 at 4:11pm

If you’ve ever done cross-language communication with Apache Thrift on Ruby and then upgraded to Ruby 1.9.2, you were probably greeted with a nasty exception:

incompatible character encodings: ASCII-8BIT and UTF-8

At first you get scared and downgrade back to Ruby 1.8, but in the end you want your site to run on the newest Heroku stack which in turn only support Ruby 1.9.

So then you google around and all you get is this lousy opened issue that no one seems to look at and try to fix.

Then you realize you’re screwed, cause you’ll have to go inside the Thrift code and fix this yourself and if you’re like me, you’re scared outright because encoding problems are sort of the nastiest from my experience.

Anyways, I rolled up my sleeves and dived in.


So the core of the problem lies at least in my case in the http_client_protocol.rb file, specifically the line:

def write(buf); @outbuf << buf; end

After briefing myself on the new encoding paradigm that Ruby 1.9 offer in the excellent Yehuda Katz article, I could conclude that Ruby 1.9 does not approve you concatenating strings in different encodings when it knows they contain characters that not both of the encodings can handle.

So the problem is that @outbuf is encoded in UTF-8 and buf comes in many variations. Concatenation works well until you get some exotic, err… international stuff coming.

Don’t try to east sushi and burgers in a single string

Convoluted? A little, let’s try this example:

Concatenating a string "ascii yo" and "is da shit" would always just work, even if one of them is in ASCII and the other in Unicode. That’s because they contain english characters, which are mapped to the same bytes in almost all encodings.

But when you got a string "simple ascii" and try concatenating with say some Japanese "生きて来たに" you’d get the aformentioned exception.


So the solution that worked for me was to just force the encoding of every incoming string to UTF-8.

def write(buf)
  @outbuf << buf.force_encoding("UTF-8")

That wasn’t the end of problems. Because Thrift uses a binary protocol to communicate over the interwebs and binary protocols are tight, Thrift uses the String#length method to predict the string’s length. This was all good in Ruby 1.8 that didn’t handle UTF-8 strings really well.

If we look into the binary_protocol.rb, here’s how the method write_string looks:

def write_string(str)

Ruby 1.9 will tell you the character length of a string, but as we all know, UTF-8 characters contain more than one byte. There’s another method that’s more suited for what we need to do here, which is get the byte length of a string and it’s called String#bytesize.

def write_string(str)

That done makes Thrift and us live happily ever after high up in the Heroku castle in the clouds.


You can check out my fork with the changes on GitHub. I think there are some other areas that need fixing like this so please comment/fork/commit at will.

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