unicode - universal character set
The international standard ISO 10646 defines the Universal Character Set (UCS).
UCS contains all characters of all other character set standards. It also
guarantees "round-trip compatibility"; in other words, conversion
tables can be built such that no information is lost when a string is
converted from any other encoding to UCS and back.
UCS contains the characters required to represent practically all known
languages. This includes not only the Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic,
Armenian, and Georgian scripts, but also Chinese, Japanese and Korean Han
ideographs as well as scripts such as Hiragana, Katakana, Hangul, Devanagari,
Bengali, Gurmukhi, Gujarati, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Thai,
Lao, Khmer, Bopomofo, Tibetan, Runic, Ethiopic, Canadian Syllabics, Cherokee,
Mongolian, Ogham, Myanmar, Sinhala, Thaana, Yi, and others. For scripts not
yet covered, research on how to best encode them for computer usage is still
going on and they will be added eventually. This might eventually include not
only Hieroglyphs and various historic Indo-European languages, but even some
selected artistic scripts such as Tengwar, Cirth, and Klingon. UCS also covers
a large number of graphical, typographical, mathematical, and scientific
symbols, including those provided by TeX, Postscript, APL, MS-DOS, MS-Windows,
Macintosh, OCR fonts, as well as many word processing and publishing systems,
and more are being added.
The UCS standard (ISO 10646) describes a 31-bit character set architecture
consisting of 128 24-bit groups
, each divided into 256 16-bit
made up of 256 8-bit rows
with 256 column
positions, one for each character. Part 1 of the standard (ISO 10646-1)
defines the first 65534 code positions (0x0000 to 0xfffd), which form the
Basic Multilingual Plane
(BMP), that is plane 0 in group 0. Part 2 of
the standard (ISO 10646-2) adds characters to group 0 outside the BMP in
several supplementary planes
in the range 0x10000 to 0x10ffff. There
are no plans to add characters beyond 0x10ffff to the standard, therefore of
the entire code space, only a small fraction of group 0 will ever be actually
used in the foreseeable future. The BMP contains all characters found in the
commonly used other character sets. The supplemental planes added by ISO
10646-2 cover only more exotic characters for special scientific, dictionary
printing, publishing industry, higher-level protocol and enthusiast needs.
The representation of each UCS character as a 2-byte word is referred to as the
UCS-2 form (only for BMP characters), whereas UCS-4 is the representation of
each character by a 4-byte word. In addition, there exist two encoding forms
UTF-8 for backward compatibility with ASCII processing software and UTF-16 for
the backward-compatible handling of non-BMP characters up to 0x10ffff by UCS-2
The UCS characters 0x0000 to 0x007f are identical to those of the classic
US-ASCII character set and the characters in the range 0x0000 to 0x00ff are
identical to those in ISO 8859-1 (Latin-1).
Some code points in UCS have been assigned to combining characters
are similar to the nonspacing accent keys on a typewriter. A combining
character just adds an accent to the previous character. The most important
accented characters have codes of their own in UCS, however, the combining
character mechanism allows us to add accents and other diacritical marks to
any character. The combining characters always follow the character which they
modify. For example, the German character Umlaut-A ("Latin capital letter
A with diaeresis") can either be represented by the precomposed UCS code
0x00c4, or alternatively as the combination of a normal "Latin capital
letter A" followed by a "combining diaeresis": 0x0041 0x0308.
Combining characters are essential for instance for encoding the Thai script or
for mathematical typesetting and users of the International Phonetic Alphabet.
As not all systems are expected to support advanced mechanisms like combining
characters, ISO 10646-1 specifies the following three implementation
- Level 1
- Combining characters and Hangul Jamo (a variant encoding of the Korean
script, where a Hangul syllable glyph is coded as a triplet or pair of
vowel/consonant codes) are not supported.
- Level 2
- In addition to level 1, combining characters are now allowed for some
languages where they are essential (e.g., Thai, Lao, Hebrew, Arabic,
- Level 3
- All UCS characters are supported.
The Unicode 3.0 Standard published by the Unicode Consortium contains exactly
the UCS Basic Multilingual Plane at implementation level 3, as described in
ISO 10646-1:2000. Unicode 3.1 added the supplemental planes of ISO 10646-2.
The Unicode standard and technical reports published by the Unicode Consortium
provide much additional information on the semantics and recommended usages of
various characters. They provide guidelines and algorithms for editing,
sorting, comparing, normalizing, converting, and displaying Unicode strings.
Unicode under Linux¶
Under GNU/Linux, the C type wchar_t
is a signed 32-bit integer type. Its
values are always interpreted by the C library as UCS code values (in all
locales), a convention that is signaled by the GNU C library to applications
by defining the constant __STDC_ISO_10646__
as specified in the ISO C99
UCS/Unicode can be used just like ASCII in input/output streams, terminal
communication, plaintext files, filenames, and environment variables in the
ASCII compatible UTF-8 multibyte encoding. To signal the use of UTF-8 as the
character encoding to all applications, a suitable locale
has to be
selected via environment variables (e.g., "LANG=en_GB.UTF-8").
function returns the name of the selected
encoding. Library functions such as wctomb(3)
can be used to transform the internal wchar_t
characters and strings
into the system character encoding and back and wcwidth(3)
many positions (0–2) the cursor is advanced by the output of a
Private Use Areas (PUA)¶
In the Basic Multilingual Plane, the range 0xe000 to 0xf8ff will never be
assigned to any characters by the standard and is reserved for private usage.
For the Linux community, this private area has been subdivided further into
the range 0xe000 to 0xefff which can be used individually by any end-user and
the Linux zone in the range 0xf000 to 0xf8ff where extensions are coordinated
among all Linux users. The registry of the characters assigned to the Linux
zone is maintained by LANANA and the registry itself is
in the Linux kernel sources.
Two other planes are reserved for private usage, plane 15 (Supplementary Private
Use Area-A, range 0xf0000 to 0xffffd) and plane 16 (Supplementary Private Use
Area-B, range 0x100000 to 0x10fffd).
- Information technology — Universal Multiple-Octet Coded Character
Set (UCS) — Part 1: Architecture and Basic Multilingual Plane.
International Standard ISO/IEC 10646-1, International Organization for
Standardization, Geneva, 2000.
This is the official specification of UCS . Available from
- The Unicode Standard, Version 3.0. The Unicode Consortium, Addison-Wesley,
Reading, MA, 2000, ISBN 0-201-61633-5.
- S. Harbison, G. Steele. C: A Reference Manual. Fourth edition, Prentice
Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1995, ISBN 0-13-326224-3.
A good reference book about the C programming language. The fourth edition
covers the 1994 Amendment 1 to the ISO C90 standard, which adds a large
number of new C library functions for handling wide and multibyte
character encodings, but it does not yet cover ISO C99, which improved
wide and multibyte character support even further.
- Unicode Technical Reports.
- Markus Kuhn: UTF-8 and Unicode FAQ for UNIX/Linux.
- Bruno Haible: Unicode HOWTO.
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