|CHARSETS(7)||Linux Programmer's Manual||CHARSETS(7)|
Standards discussed include such as ASCII, GB 2312, ISO 8859, JIS, KOI8-R, KS, and Unicode.
The primary emphasis is on character sets that were actually used by locale character sets, not the myriad others that could be found in data from other systems.
Various ASCII variants replacing the dollar sign with other currency symbols and replacing punctuation with non-English alphabetic characters to cover German, French, Spanish, and others in 7 bits emerged. All are deprecated; glibc does not support locales whose character sets are not true supersets of ASCII.
As Unicode, when using UTF-8, is ASCII-compatible, plain ASCII text still renders properly on modern UTF-8 using systems.
Of these, the most important is ISO 8859-1 ("Latin Alphabet No .1" / Latin-1). It was widely adopted and supported by different systems, and is gradually being replaced with Unicode. The ISO 8859-1 characters are also the first 256 characters of Unicode.
Console support for the other 8859 character sets is available under Linux through user-mode utilities (such as setfont(8)) that modify keyboard bindings and the EGA graphics table and employ the "user mapping" font table in the console driver.
Here are brief descriptions of each set:
Console support for KOI8-R is available under Linux through user-mode utilities that modify keyboard bindings and the EGA graphics table, and employ the "user mapping" font table in the console driver.
There are 4 graphic character sets, called G0, G1, G2, and G3, and one of them is the current character set for codes with high bit zero (initially G0), and one of them is the current character set for codes with high bit one (initially G1). Each graphic character set has 94 or 96 characters, and is essentially a 7-bit character set. It uses codes either 040–0177 (041–0176) or 0240–0377 (0241–0376). G0 always has size 94 and uses codes 041–0176.
Switching between character sets is done using the shift functions ^N (SO or LS1), ^O (SI or LS0), ESC n (LS2), ESC o (LS3), ESC N (SS2), ESC O (SS3), ESC ~ (LS1R), ESC } (LS2R), ESC | (LS3R). The function LSn makes character set Gn the current one for codes with high bit zero. The function LSnR makes character set Gn the current one for codes with high bit one. The function SSn makes character set Gn (n=2 or 3) the current one for the next character only (regardless of the value of its high order bit).
A 94-character set is designated as Gn character set by an escape sequence ESC ( xx (for G0), ESC ) xx (for G1), ESC * xx (for G2), ESC + xx (for G3), where xx is a symbol or a pair of symbols found in the ISO 2375 International Register of Coded Character Sets. For example, ESC ( @ selects the ISO 646 character set as G0, ESC ( A selects the UK standard character set (with pound instead of number sign), ESC ( B selects ASCII (with dollar instead of currency sign), ESC ( M selects a character set for African languages, ESC ( ! A selects the Cuban character set, and so on.
A 96-character set is designated as Gn character set by an escape sequence ESC - xx (for G1), ESC . xx (for G2) or ESC / xx (for G3). For example, ESC - G selects the Hebrew alphabet as G1.
A multibyte character set is designated as Gn character set by an escape sequence ESC $ xx or ESC $ ( xx (for G0), ESC $ ) xx (for G1), ESC $ * xx (for G2), ESC $ + xx (for G3). For example, ESC $ ( C selects the Korean character set for G0. The Japanese character set selected by ESC $ B has a more recent version selected by ESC & @ ESC $ B.
ISO 4873 stipulates a narrower use of character sets, where G0 is fixed (always ASCII), so that G1, G2 and G3 can be invoked only for codes with the high order bit set. In particular, ^N and ^O are not used anymore, ESC ( xx can be used only with xx=B, and ESC ) xx, ESC * xx, ESC + xx are equivalent to ESC - xx, ESC . xx, ESC / xx, respectively.
Linux represents Unicode using the 8-bit Unicode Transformation Format (UTF-8). UTF-8 is a variable length encoding of Unicode. It uses 1 byte to code 7 bits, 2 bytes for 11 bits, 3 bytes for 16 bits, 4 bytes for 21 bits, 5 bytes for 26 bits, 6 bytes for 31 bits.
Let 0,1,x stand for a zero, one, or arbitrary bit. A byte 0xxxxxxx stands for the Unicode 00000000 0xxxxxxx which codes the same symbol as the ASCII 0xxxxxxx. Thus, ASCII goes unchanged into UTF-8, and people using only ASCII do not notice any change: not in code, and not in file size.
A byte 110xxxxx is the start of a 2-byte code, and 110xxxxx 10yyyyyy is assembled into 00000xxx xxyyyyyy. A byte 1110xxxx is the start of a 3-byte code, and 1110xxxx 10yyyyyy 10zzzzzz is assembled into xxxxyyyy yyzzzzzz. (When UTF-8 is used to code the 31-bit ISO 10646 then this progression continues up to 6-byte codes.)
For most texts in ISO 8859 character sets, this means that the characters outside of ASCII are now coded with two bytes. This tends to expand ordinary text files by only one or two percent. For Russian or Greek texts, this expands ordinary text files by 100%, since text in those languages is mostly outside of ASCII. For Japanese users this means that the 16-bit codes now in common use will take three bytes. While there are algorithmic conversions from some character sets (especially ISO 8859-1) to Unicode, general conversion requires carrying around conversion tables, which can be quite large for 16-bit codes.
Note that UTF-8 is self-synchronizing: 10xxxxxx is a tail, any other byte is the head of a code. Note that the only way ASCII bytes occur in a UTF-8 stream, is as themselves. In particular, there are no embedded NULs ('\0') or '/'s that form part of some larger code.
Since ASCII, and, in particular, NUL and '/', are unchanged, the kernel does not notice that UTF-8 is being used. It does not care at all what the bytes it is handling stand for.
Rendering of Unicode data streams is typically handled through "subfont" tables which map a subset of Unicode to glyphs. Internally the kernel uses Unicode to describe the subfont loaded in video RAM. This means that in the Linux console in UTF-8 mode, one can use a character set with 512 different symbols. This is not enough for Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, but it is enough for most other purposes.