May 20, 2023
Unicode is a character encoding standard that assigns unique numerical values, called code points, to every character in virtually every language in the world. It is designed to be a universal system for representing and handling text in any writing system, be it Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese or any other.
Unicode was first developed in the early 1990s by a group of computer scientists and linguists who wanted to address the problem of incompatible character sets between different computer systems and software. In the past, different countries and regions developed their own encoding systems for their writing systems, leading to a proliferation of incompatible standards that made it difficult for computers to communicate and display text correctly. Unicode aims to solve this problem by providing a single, unified standard that can be used by all computers and software applications to represent text correctly and consistently, regardless of the language or writing system.
How Unicode Works
At its core, Unicode is a mapping of characters to numbers. Each character in a writing system is assigned a unique code point, which is a number that represents that character. For example, the letter “A” in the Latin alphabet is assigned the code point 65, while the Arabic letter “ا” is assigned the code point 1575.
Unicode supports a wide range of characters, including not only letters and numerals but also punctuation marks, symbols, and other special characters used in various writing systems. In total, it defines over 143,000 characters, each of which has a unique code point.
To display text using Unicode, a computer must have a font that includes the necessary glyphs, or visual representations, of each character. When a user types a character on a keyboard or a software application generates a character, the computer looks up the corresponding code point in the Unicode standard and then looks up the corresponding glyph in the font. It then displays the character on the screen or prints it on paper.
In addition to the basic mapping of characters to code points, Unicode also includes rules for combining characters, which are used to create complex characters such as accented letters and ligatures. For example, the French word “élève” is composed of the letters “e”, “l”, “é”, “v”, and “e”. The accent mark on the letter “é” is a separate character, and the two characters are combined into a single glyph using a special rule defined by Unicode.
Benefits of Unicode
Unicode has several key advantages over older character encoding systems:
Because Unicode is a universal standard, it ensures that text can be exchanged and displayed correctly between different computer systems, software applications, and languages. This makes it easier for people to communicate and share information across borders and cultures.
Unicode is designed to be extensible, which means that new characters can be added as needed to support new writing systems or languages. This ensures that Unicode will remain relevant and useful for years to come, even as new technologies and languages emerge.
Unicode is a key enabler of internationalization, which is the process of designing software and applications to work seamlessly across different languages and cultures. By providing a universal standard for text representation, Unicode helps software developers create applications that can be easily localized for different regions and languages.
Unicode also plays an important role in making technology more accessible to people with disabilities. By providing a standard way of representing characters, it ensures that assistive technologies such as screen readers and braille displays can accurately render text for users who are blind or visually impaired.
Unicode is implemented in a wide range of computer systems and software applications, including operating systems, programming languages, databases, and web browsers. Most modern operating systems, such as Windows, macOS, and Linux, include native support for Unicode, which means that they can display text in any language or writing system that is supported by Unicode.
Web browsers such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge also support Unicode, which allows them to display web content in any language or writing system that is supported by Unicode. This is especially important for websites that cater to a global audience, as it ensures that users can view content correctly regardless of their language or location.