Section: Perl Programmers Reference Guide (1)
Updated: 2009-05-14
Index Return to Main Contents


perlunicode - Unicode support in Perl  



Important Caveats

Unicode support is an extensive requirement. While Perl does not implement the Unicode standard or the accompanying technical reports from cover to cover, Perl does support many Unicode features.

People who want to learn to use Unicode in Perl, should probably read the Perl Unicode tutorial, perlunitut, before reading this reference document.

Input and Output Layers
Perl knows when a filehandle uses Perl's internal Unicode encodings (UTF-8, or UTF-EBCDIC if in EBCDIC) if the filehandle is opened with the ``:utf8'' layer. Other encodings can be converted to Perl's encoding on input or from Perl's encoding on output by use of the ``:encoding(...)'' layer. See open.

To indicate that Perl source itself is in UTF-8, use "use utf8;".

Regular Expressions
The regular expression compiler produces polymorphic opcodes. That is, the pattern adapts to the data and automatically switches to the Unicode character scheme when presented with data that is internally encoded in UTF-8 --- or instead uses a traditional byte scheme when presented with byte data.
use utf8 still needed to enable UTF-8/UTF-EBCDIC in scripts
As a compatibility measure, the "use utf8" pragma must be explicitly included to enable recognition of UTF-8 in the Perl scripts themselves (in string or regular expression literals, or in identifier names) on ASCII-based machines or to recognize UTF-EBCDIC on EBCDIC-based machines. These are the only times when an explicit "use utf8" is needed. See utf8.
BOM-marked scripts and UTF-16 scripts autodetected
If a Perl script begins marked with the Unicode BOM (UTF-16LE, UTF16-BE, or UTF-8), or if the script looks like non-BOM-marked UTF-16 of either endianness, Perl will correctly read in the script as Unicode. (BOMless UTF-8 cannot be effectively recognized or differentiated from ISO 8859-1 or other eight-bit encodings.)
use encoding needed to upgrade non-Latin-1 byte strings
By default, there is a fundamental asymmetry in Perl's Unicode model: implicit upgrading from byte strings to Unicode strings assumes that they were encoded in ISO 8859-1 (Latin-1), but Unicode strings are downgraded with UTF-8 encoding. This happens because the first 256 codepoints in Unicode happens to agree with Latin-1.

See ``Byte and Character Semantics'' for more details.


Byte and Character Semantics

Beginning with version 5.6, Perl uses logically-wide characters to represent strings internally.

In future, Perl-level operations will be expected to work with characters rather than bytes.

However, as an interim compatibility measure, Perl aims to provide a safe migration path from byte semantics to character semantics for programs. For operations where Perl can unambiguously decide that the input data are characters, Perl switches to character semantics. For operations where this determination cannot be made without additional information from the user, Perl decides in favor of compatibility and chooses to use byte semantics.

Under byte semantics, when "use locale" is in effect, Perl uses the semantics associated with the current locale. Absent a "use locale", Perl currently uses US-ASCII (or Basic Latin in Unicode terminology) byte semantics, meaning that characters whose ordinal numbers are in the range 128 - 255 are undefined except for their ordinal numbers. This means that none have case (upper and lower), nor are any a member of character classes, like "[:alpha:]" or "\w". (But all do belong to the "\W" class or the Perl regular expression extension "[:^alpha:]".)

This behavior preserves compatibility with earlier versions of Perl, which allowed byte semantics in Perl operations only if none of the program's inputs were marked as being as source of Unicode character data. Such data may come from filehandles, from calls to external programs, from information provided by the system (such as %ENV), or from literals and constants in the source text.

The "bytes" pragma will always, regardless of platform, force byte semantics in a particular lexical scope. See bytes.

The "utf8" pragma is primarily a compatibility device that enables recognition of UTF-(8|EBCDIC) in literals encountered by the parser. Note that this pragma is only required while Perl defaults to byte semantics; when character semantics become the default, this pragma may become a no-op. See utf8.

Unless explicitly stated, Perl operators use character semantics for Unicode data and byte semantics for non-Unicode data. The decision to use character semantics is made transparently. If input data comes from a Unicode source---for example, if a character encoding layer is added to a filehandle or a literal Unicode string constant appears in a program---character semantics apply. Otherwise, byte semantics are in effect. The "bytes" pragma should be used to force byte semantics on Unicode data.

If strings operating under byte semantics and strings with Unicode character data are concatenated, the new string will have character semantics. This can cause surprises: See ``BUGS'', below

Under character semantics, many operations that formerly operated on bytes now operate on characters. A character in Perl is logically just a number ranging from 0 to 2**31 or so. Larger characters may encode into longer sequences of bytes internally, but this internal detail is mostly hidden for Perl code. See perluniintro for more.  

Effects of Character Semantics

Character semantics have the following effects:
Strings---including hash keys---and regular expression patterns may contain characters that have an ordinal value larger than 255.

If you use a Unicode editor to edit your program, Unicode characters may occur directly within the literal strings in UTF-8 encoding, or UTF-16. (The former requires a BOM or "use utf8", the latter requires a BOM.)

Unicode characters can also be added to a string by using the "\x{...}" notation. The Unicode code for the desired character, in hexadecimal, should be placed in the braces. For instance, a smiley face is "\x{263A}". This encoding scheme works for all characters, but for characters under 0x100, note that Perl may use an 8 bit encoding internally, for optimization and/or backward compatibility.

Additionally, if you

   use charnames ':full';

you can use the "\N{...}" notation and put the official Unicode character name within the braces, such as "\N{WHITE SMILING FACE}".

If an appropriate encoding is specified, identifiers within the Perl script may contain Unicode alphanumeric characters, including ideographs. Perl does not currently attempt to canonicalize variable names.
Regular expressions match characters instead of bytes. ``.'' matches a character instead of a byte.
Character classes in regular expressions match characters instead of bytes and match against the character properties specified in the Unicode properties database. "\w" can be used to match a Japanese ideograph, for instance.
Named Unicode properties, scripts, and block ranges may be used like character classes via the "\p{}" ``matches property'' construct and the "\P{}" negation, ``doesn't match property''.

See ``Unicode Character Properties'' for more details.

You can define your own character properties and use them in the regular expression with the "\p{}" or "\P{}" construct.

See ``User-Defined Character Properties'' for more details.

The special pattern "\X" matches any extended Unicode sequence--``a combining character sequence'' in Standardese---where the first character is a base character and subsequent characters are mark characters that apply to the base character. "\X" is equivalent to "(?>\PM\pM*)".
The "tr///" operator translates characters instead of bytes. Note that the "tr///CU" functionality has been removed. For similar functionality see pack('U0', ...) and pack('C0', ...).
Case translation operators use the Unicode case translation tables when character input is provided. Note that "uc()", or "\U" in interpolated strings, translates to uppercase, while "ucfirst", or "\u" in interpolated strings, translates to titlecase in languages that make the distinction.
Most operators that deal with positions or lengths in a string will automatically switch to using character positions, including "chop()", "chomp()", "substr()", "pos()", "index()", "rindex()", "sprintf()", "write()", and "length()". An operator that specifically does not switch is "vec()". Operators that really don't care include operators that treat strings as a bucket of bits such as "sort()", and operators dealing with filenames.
The "pack()"/"unpack()" letter "C" does not change, since it is often used for byte-oriented formats. Again, think "char" in the C language.

There is a new "U" specifier that converts between Unicode characters and code points. There is also a "W" specifier that is the equivalent of "chr"/"ord" and properly handles character values even if they are above 255.

The "chr()" and "ord()" functions work on characters, similar to "pack("W")" and "unpack("W")", not "pack("C")" and "unpack("C")". "pack("C")" and "unpack("C")" are methods for emulating byte-oriented "chr()" and "ord()" on Unicode strings. While these methods reveal the internal encoding of Unicode strings, that is not something one normally needs to care about at all.
The bit string operators, "& | ^ ~", can operate on character data. However, for backward compatibility, such as when using bit string operations when characters are all less than 256 in ordinal value, one should not use "~" (the bit complement) with characters of both values less than 256 and values greater than 256. Most importantly, DeMorgan's laws ("~($x|$y) eq ~$x&~$y" and "~($x&$y) eq ~$x|~$y") will not hold. The reason for this mathematical faux pas is that the complement cannot return both the 8-bit (byte-wide) bit complement and the full character-wide bit complement.
lc(), uc(), lcfirst(), and ucfirst() work for the following cases:
the case mapping is from a single Unicode character to another single Unicode character, or
the case mapping is from a single Unicode character to more than one Unicode character.

Things to do with locales (Lithuanian, Turkish, Azeri) do not work since Perl does not understand the concept of Unicode locales.

See the Unicode Technical Report #21, Case Mappings, for more details.

But you can also define your own mappings to be used in the lc(), lcfirst(), uc(), and ucfirst() (or their string-inlined versions).

See ``User-Defined Case Mappings'' for more details.

And finally, "scalar reverse()" reverses by character rather than by byte.

Unicode Character Properties

Named Unicode properties, scripts, and block ranges may be used like character classes via the "\p{}" ``matches property'' construct and the "\P{}" negation, ``doesn't match property''.

For instance, "\p{Lu}" matches any character with the Unicode ``Lu'' (Letter, uppercase) property, while "\p{M}" matches any character with an ``M'' (mark---accents and such) property. Brackets are not required for single letter properties, so "\p{M}" is equivalent to "\pM". Many predefined properties are available, such as "\p{Mirrored}" and "\p{Tibetan}".

The official Unicode script and block names have spaces and dashes as separators, but for convenience you can use dashes, spaces, or underbars, and case is unimportant. It is recommended, however, that for consistency you use the following naming: the official Unicode script, property, or block name (see below for the additional rules that apply to block names) with whitespace and dashes removed, and the words ``uppercase-first-lowercase-rest''. "Latin-1 Supplement" thus becomes "Latin1Supplement".

You can also use negation in both "\p{}" and "\P{}" by introducing a caret (^) between the first brace and the property name: "\p{^Tamil}" is equal to "\P{Tamil}".

NOTE: the properties, scripts, and blocks listed here are as of Unicode 5.0.0 in July 2006.

General Category
Here are the basic Unicode General Category properties, followed by their long form. You can use either; "\p{Lu}" and "\p{UppercaseLetter}", for instance, are identical.

    Short       Long

    L           Letter
    LC          CasedLetter
    Lu          UppercaseLetter
    Ll          LowercaseLetter
    Lt          TitlecaseLetter
    Lm          ModifierLetter
    Lo          OtherLetter

    M           Mark
    Mn          NonspacingMark
    Mc          SpacingMark
    Me          EnclosingMark

    N           Number
    Nd          DecimalNumber
    Nl          LetterNumber
    No          OtherNumber

    P           Punctuation
    Pc          ConnectorPunctuation
    Pd          DashPunctuation
    Ps          OpenPunctuation
    Pe          ClosePunctuation
    Pi          InitialPunctuation
                (may behave like Ps or Pe depending on usage)
    Pf          FinalPunctuation
                (may behave like Ps or Pe depending on usage)
    Po          OtherPunctuation

    S           Symbol
    Sm          MathSymbol
    Sc          CurrencySymbol
    Sk          ModifierSymbol
    So          OtherSymbol

    Z           Separator
    Zs          SpaceSeparator
    Zl          LineSeparator
    Zp          ParagraphSeparator

    C           Other
    Cc          Control
    Cf          Format
    Cs          Surrogate   (not usable)
    Co          PrivateUse
    Cn          Unassigned

Single-letter properties match all characters in any of the two-letter sub-properties starting with the same letter. "LC" and "L&" are special cases, which are aliases for the set of "Ll", "Lu", and "Lt".

Because Perl hides the need for the user to understand the internal representation of Unicode characters, there is no need to implement the somewhat messy concept of surrogates. "Cs" is therefore not supported.

Bidirectional Character Types
Because scripts differ in their directionality---Hebrew is written right to left, for example---Unicode supplies these properties in the BidiClass class:

    Property    Meaning

    L           Left-to-Right
    LRE         Left-to-Right Embedding
    LRO         Left-to-Right Override
    R           Right-to-Left
    AL          Right-to-Left Arabic
    RLE         Right-to-Left Embedding
    RLO         Right-to-Left Override
    PDF         Pop Directional Format
    EN          European Number
    ES          European Number Separator
    ET          European Number Terminator
    AN          Arabic Number
    CS          Common Number Separator
    NSM         Non-Spacing Mark
    BN          Boundary Neutral
    B           Paragraph Separator
    S           Segment Separator
    WS          Whitespace
    ON          Other Neutrals

For example, "\p{BidiClass:R}" matches characters that are normally written right to left.

The script names which can be used by "\p{...}" and "\P{...}", such as in "\p{Latin}" or "\p{Cyrillic}", are as follows:


Extended property classes
Extended property classes can supplement the basic properties, defined by the PropList Unicode database:


and there are further derived properties:

    Alphabetic  =  Lu + Ll + Lt + Lm + Lo + Nl + OtherAlphabetic
    Lowercase   =  Ll + OtherLowercase
    Uppercase   =  Lu + OtherUppercase
    Math        =  Sm + OtherMath

    IDStart     =  Lu + Ll + Lt + Lm + Lo + Nl + OtherIDStart
    IDContinue  =  IDStart + Mn + Mc + Nd + Pc + OtherIDContinue

                =  OtherDefaultIgnorableCodePoint
                   + Cf + Cc + Cs + Noncharacters + VariationSelector
                   - WhiteSpace - FFF9..FFFB (Annotation Characters)

    Any         =  Any code points (i.e. U+0000 to U+10FFFF)
    Assigned    =  Any non-Cn code points (i.e. synonym for \P{Cn})
    Unassigned  =  Synonym for \p{Cn}
    ASCII       =  ASCII (i.e. U+0000 to U+007F)

    Common      =  Any character (or unassigned code point)
                   not explicitly assigned to a script

Use of Is Prefix
For backward compatibility (with Perl 5.6), all properties mentioned so far may have "Is" prepended to their name, so "\P{IsLu}", for example, is equal to "\P{Lu}".
In addition to scripts, Unicode also defines blocks of characters. The difference between scripts and blocks is that the concept of scripts is closer to natural languages, while the concept of blocks is more of an artificial grouping based on groups of 256 Unicode characters. For example, the "Latin" script contains letters from many blocks but does not contain all the characters from those blocks. It does not, for example, contain digits, because digits are shared across many scripts. Digits and similar groups, like punctuation, are in a category called "Common".

For more about scripts, see the UAX#24 ``Script Names'':

For more about blocks, see:

Block names are given with the "In" prefix. For example, the Katakana block is referenced via "\p{InKatakana}". The "In" prefix may be omitted if there is no naming conflict with a script or any other property, but it is recommended that "In" always be used for block tests to avoid confusion.

These block names are supported:



User-Defined Character Properties

You can define your own character properties by defining subroutines whose names begin with ``In'' or ``Is''. The subroutines can be defined in any package. The user-defined properties can be used in the regular expression "\p" and "\P" constructs; if you are using a user-defined property from a package other than the one you are in, you must specify its package in the "\p" or "\P" construct.

    # assuming property IsForeign defined in Lang::
    package main;  # property package name required
    if ($txt =~ /\p{Lang::IsForeign}+/) { ... }

    package Lang;  # property package name not required
    if ($txt =~ /\p{IsForeign}+/) { ... }

Note that the effect is compile-time and immutable once defined.

The subroutines must return a specially-formatted string, with one or more newline-separated lines. Each line must be one of the following:

A single hexadecimal number denoting a Unicode code point to include.
Two hexadecimal numbers separated by horizontal whitespace (space or tabular characters) denoting a range of Unicode code points to include.
Something to include, prefixed by ``+'': a built-in character property (prefixed by ``utf8::'') or a user-defined character property, to represent all the characters in that property; two hexadecimal code points for a range; or a single hexadecimal code point.
Something to exclude, prefixed by ``-'': an existing character property (prefixed by ``utf8::'') or a user-defined character property, to represent all the characters in that property; two hexadecimal code points for a range; or a single hexadecimal code point.
Something to negate, prefixed ``!'': an existing character property (prefixed by ``utf8::'') or a user-defined character property, to represent all the characters in that property; two hexadecimal code points for a range; or a single hexadecimal code point.
Something to intersect with, prefixed by ``&'': an existing character property (prefixed by ``utf8::'') or a user-defined character property, for all the characters except the characters in the property; two hexadecimal code points for a range; or a single hexadecimal code point.

For example, to define a property that covers both the Japanese syllabaries (hiragana and katakana), you can define

    sub InKana {
        return <<END;

Imagine that the here-doc end marker is at the beginning of the line. Now you can use "\p{InKana}" and "\P{InKana}".

You could also have used the existing block property names:

    sub InKana {
        return <<'END';

Suppose you wanted to match only the allocated characters, not the raw block ranges: in other words, you want to remove the non-characters:

    sub InKana {
        return <<'END';

The negation is useful for defining (surprise!) negated classes.

    sub InNotKana {
        return <<'END';

Intersection is useful for getting the common characters matched by two (or more) classes.

    sub InFooAndBar {
        return <<'END';

It's important to remember not to use ``&'' for the first set --- that would be intersecting with nothing (resulting in an empty set).  

User-Defined Case Mappings

You can also define your own mappings to be used in the lc(), lcfirst(), uc(), and ucfirst() (or their string-inlined versions). The principle is similar to that of user-defined character properties: to define subroutines in the "main" package with names like "ToLower" (for lc() and lcfirst()), "ToTitle" (for the first character in ucfirst()), and "ToUpper" (for uc(), and the rest of the characters in ucfirst()).

The string returned by the subroutines needs now to be three hexadecimal numbers separated by tabulators: start of the source range, end of the source range, and start of the destination range. For example:

    sub ToUpper {
        return <<END;

defines an uc() mapping that causes only the characters ``a'', ``b'', and ``c'' to be mapped to ``A'', ``B'', ``C'', all other characters will remain unchanged.

If there is no source range to speak of, that is, the mapping is from a single character to another single character, leave the end of the source range empty, but the two tabulator characters are still needed. For example:

    sub ToLower {
        return <<END;

defines a lc() mapping that causes only ``A'' to be mapped to ``a'', all other characters will remain unchanged.

(For serious hackers only) If you want to introspect the default mappings, you can find the data in the directory $Config{privlib}/unicore/To/. The mapping data is returned as the here-document, and the "utf8::ToSpecFoo" are special exception mappings derived from <$Config{privlib}>/unicore/SpecialCasing.txt. The "Digit" and "Fold" mappings that one can see in the directory are not directly user-accessible, one can use either the "Unicode::UCD" module, or just match case-insensitively (that's when the "Fold" mapping is used).

A final note on the user-defined case mappings: they will be used only if the scalar has been marked as having Unicode characters. Old byte-style strings will not be affected.  

Character Encodings for Input and Output

See Encode.  

Unicode Regular Expression Support Level

The following list of Unicode support for regular expressions describes all the features currently supported. The references to ``Level N'' and the section numbers refer to the Unicode Technical Standard #18, ``Unicode Regular Expressions'', version 11, in May 2005.
Level 1 - Basic Unicode Support

        RL1.1   Hex Notation                        - done          [1]
        RL1.2   Properties                          - done          [2][3]
        RL1.2a  Compatibility Properties            - done          [4]
        RL1.3   Subtraction and Intersection        - MISSING       [5]
        RL1.4   Simple Word Boundaries              - done          [6]
        RL1.5   Simple Loose Matches                - done          [7]
        RL1.6   Line Boundaries                     - MISSING       [8]
        RL1.7   Supplementary Code Points           - done          [9]

        [1]  \x{...}
        [2]  \p{...} \P{...}
        [3]  supports not only minimal list (general category, scripts,
             Alphabetic, Lowercase, Uppercase, WhiteSpace,
             NoncharacterCodePoint, DefaultIgnorableCodePoint, Any,
             ASCII, Assigned), but also bidirectional types, blocks, etc.
             (see "Unicode Character Properties")
        [4]  \d \D \s \S \w \W \X [:prop:] [:^prop:]
        [5]  can use regular expression look-ahead [a] or
             user-defined character properties [b] to emulate set operations
        [6]  \b \B
        [7]  note that Perl does Full case-folding in matching, not Simple:
             for example U+1F88 is equivalent to U+1F00 U+03B9,
             not with 1F80.  This difference matters mainly for certain Greek
             capital letters with certain modifiers: the Full case-folding
             decomposes the letter, while the Simple case-folding would map
             it to a single character.
        [8]  should do ^ and $ also on U+000B (\v in C), FF (\f), CR (\r),
             CRLF (\r\n), NEL (U+0085), LS (U+2028), and PS (U+2029);
             should also affect <>, $., and script line numbers;
             should not split lines within CRLF [c] (i.e. there is no empty
             line between \r and \n)
        [9]  UTF-8/UTF-EBDDIC used in perl allows not only U+10000 to U+10FFFF
             but also beyond U+10FFFF [d]

[a] You can mimic class subtraction using lookahead. For example, what UTS#18 might write as


in Perl can be written as:


But in this particular example, you probably really want


which will match assigned characters known to be part of the Greek script.

Also see the Unicode::Regex::Set module, it does implement the full UTS#18 grouping, intersection, union, and removal (subtraction) syntax.

[b] '+' for union, '-' for removal (set-difference), '&' for intersection (see ``User-Defined Character Properties'')

[c] Try the ":crlf" layer (see PerlIO).

[d] Avoid "use warning 'utf8';" (or say "no warning 'utf8';") to allow U+FFFF ("\x{FFFF}").

Level 2 - Extended Unicode Support

        RL2.1   Canonical Equivalents           - MISSING       [10][11]
        RL2.2   Default Grapheme Clusters       - MISSING       [12][13]
        RL2.3   Default Word Boundaries         - MISSING       [14]
        RL2.4   Default Loose Matches           - MISSING       [15]
        RL2.5   Name Properties                 - MISSING       [16]
        RL2.6   Wildcard Properties             - MISSING

        [10] see UAX#15 "Unicode Normalization Forms"
        [11] have Unicode::Normalize but not integrated to regexes
        [12] have \X but at this level . should equal that
        [13] UAX#29 "Text Boundaries" considers CRLF and Hangul syllable
             clusters as a single grapheme cluster.
        [14] see UAX#29, Word Boundaries
        [15] see UAX#21 "Case Mappings"
        [16] have \N{...} but neither compute names of CJK Ideographs
             and Hangul Syllables nor use a loose match [e]

[e] "\N{...}" allows namespaces (see charnames).

Level 3 - Tailored Support

        RL3.1   Tailored Punctuation            - MISSING
        RL3.2   Tailored Grapheme Clusters      - MISSING       [17][18]
        RL3.3   Tailored Word Boundaries        - MISSING
        RL3.4   Tailored Loose Matches          - MISSING
        RL3.5   Tailored Ranges                 - MISSING
        RL3.6   Context Matching                - MISSING       [19]
        RL3.7   Incremental Matches             - MISSING
      ( RL3.8   Unicode Set Sharing )
        RL3.9   Possible Match Sets             - MISSING
        RL3.10  Folded Matching                 - MISSING       [20]
        RL3.11  Submatchers                     - MISSING

        [17] see UAX#10 "Unicode Collation Algorithms"
        [18] have Unicode::Collate but not integrated to regexes
        [19] have (?<=x) and (?=x), but look-aheads or look-behinds should see
             outside of the target substring
        [20] need insensitive matching for linguistic features other than case;
             for example, hiragana to katakana, wide and narrow, simplified Han
             to traditional Han (see UTR#30 "Character Foldings")


Unicode Encodings

Unicode characters are assigned to code points, which are abstract numbers. To use these numbers, various encodings are needed.

UTF-8 is a variable-length (1 to 6 bytes, current character allocations require 4 bytes), byte-order independent encoding. For ASCII (and we really do mean 7-bit ASCII, not another 8-bit encoding), UTF-8 is transparent.

The following table is from Unicode 3.2.

 Code Points            1st Byte  2nd Byte  3rd Byte  4th Byte

   U+0000..U+007F       00..7F
   U+0080..U+07FF       C2..DF    80..BF
   U+0800..U+0FFF       E0        A0..BF    80..BF
   U+1000..U+CFFF       E1..EC    80..BF    80..BF
   U+D000..U+D7FF       ED        80..9F    80..BF
   U+D800..U+DFFF       ******* ill-formed *******
   U+E000..U+FFFF       EE..EF    80..BF    80..BF
  U+10000..U+3FFFF      F0        90..BF    80..BF    80..BF
  U+40000..U+FFFFF      F1..F3    80..BF    80..BF    80..BF
 U+100000..U+10FFFF     F4        80..8F    80..BF    80..BF

Note the "A0..BF" in "U+0800..U+0FFF", the "80..9F" in "U+D000...U+D7FF", the "90..B"F in "U+10000..U+3FFFF", and the "80...8F" in "U+100000..U+10FFFF". The ``gaps'' are caused by legal UTF-8 avoiding non-shortest encodings: it is technically possible to UTF-8-encode a single code point in different ways, but that is explicitly forbidden, and the shortest possible encoding should always be used. So that's what Perl does.

Another way to look at it is via bits:

 Code Points                    1st Byte   2nd Byte  3rd Byte  4th Byte

                    0aaaaaaa     0aaaaaaa
            00000bbbbbaaaaaa     110bbbbb  10aaaaaa
            ccccbbbbbbaaaaaa     1110cccc  10bbbbbb  10aaaaaa
  00000dddccccccbbbbbbaaaaaa     11110ddd  10cccccc  10bbbbbb  10aaaaaa

As you can see, the continuation bytes all begin with 10, and the leading bits of the start byte tell how many bytes the are in the encoded character.


Like UTF-8 but EBCDIC-safe, in the way that UTF-8 is ASCII-safe.

UTF-16, UTF-16BE, UTF-16LE, Surrogates, and BOMs (Byte Order Marks)

The followings items are mostly for reference and general Unicode knowledge, Perl doesn't use these constructs internally.

UTF-16 is a 2 or 4 byte encoding. The Unicode code points "U+0000..U+FFFF" are stored in a single 16-bit unit, and the code points "U+10000..U+10FFFF" in two 16-bit units. The latter case is using surrogates, the first 16-bit unit being the high surrogate, and the second being the low surrogate.

Surrogates are code points set aside to encode the "U+10000..U+10FFFF" range of Unicode code points in pairs of 16-bit units. The high surrogates are the range "U+D800..U+DBFF", and the low surrogates are the range "U+DC00..U+DFFF". The surrogate encoding is

        $hi = ($uni - 0x10000) / 0x400 + 0xD800;
        $lo = ($uni - 0x10000) % 0x400 + 0xDC00;

and the decoding is

        $uni = 0x10000 + ($hi - 0xD800) * 0x400 + ($lo - 0xDC00);

If you try to generate surrogates (for example by using chr()), you will get a warning if warnings are turned on, because those code points are not valid for a Unicode character.

Because of the 16-bitness, UTF-16 is byte-order dependent. UTF-16 itself can be used for in-memory computations, but if storage or transfer is required either UTF-16BE (big-endian) or UTF-16LE (little-endian) encodings must be chosen.

This introduces another problem: what if you just know that your data is UTF-16, but you don't know which endianness? Byte Order Marks, or BOMs, are a solution to this. A special character has been reserved in Unicode to function as a byte order marker: the character with the code point "U+FEFF" is the BOM.

The trick is that if you read a BOM, you will know the byte order, since if it was written on a big-endian platform, you will read the bytes "0xFE 0xFF", but if it was written on a little-endian platform, you will read the bytes "0xFF 0xFE". (And if the originating platform was writing in UTF-8, you will read the bytes "0xEF 0xBB 0xBF".)

The way this trick works is that the character with the code point "U+FFFE" is guaranteed not to be a valid Unicode character, so the sequence of bytes "0xFF 0xFE" is unambiguously ``BOM, represented in little-endian format'' and cannot be "U+FFFE", represented in big-endian format".

UTF-32, UTF-32BE, UTF-32LE

The UTF-32 family is pretty much like the UTF-16 family, expect that the units are 32-bit, and therefore the surrogate scheme is not needed. The BOM signatures will be "0x00 0x00 0xFE 0xFF" for BE and "0xFF 0xFE 0x00 0x00" for LE.

UCS-2, UCS-4

Encodings defined by the ISO 10646 standard. UCS-2 is a 16-bit encoding. Unlike UTF-16, UCS-2 is not extensible beyond "U+FFFF", because it does not use surrogates. UCS-4 is a 32-bit encoding, functionally identical to UTF-32.


A seven-bit safe (non-eight-bit) encoding, which is useful if the transport or storage is not eight-bit safe. Defined by RFC 2152.


Security Implications of Unicode

Malformed UTF-8

Unfortunately, the specification of UTF-8 leaves some room for interpretation of how many bytes of encoded output one should generate from one input Unicode character. Strictly speaking, the shortest possible sequence of UTF-8 bytes should be generated, because otherwise there is potential for an input buffer overflow at the receiving end of a UTF-8 connection. Perl always generates the shortest length UTF-8, and with warnings on Perl will warn about non-shortest length UTF-8 along with other malformations, such as the surrogates, which are not real Unicode code points.

Regular expressions behave slightly differently between byte data and character (Unicode) data. For example, the ``word character'' character class "\w" will work differently depending on if data is eight-bit bytes or Unicode.

In the first case, the set of "\w" characters is either small---the default set of alphabetic characters, digits, and the ``_''--or, if you are using a locale (see perllocale), the "\w" might contain a few more letters according to your language and country.

In the second case, the "\w" set of characters is much, much larger. Most importantly, even in the set of the first 256 characters, it will probably match different characters: unlike most locales, which are specific to a language and country pair, Unicode classifies all the characters that are letters somewhere as "\w". For example, your locale might not think that LATIN SMALL LETTER ETH is a letter (unless you happen to speak Icelandic), but Unicode does.

As discussed elsewhere, Perl has one foot (two hooves?) planted in each of two worlds: the old world of bytes and the new world of characters, upgrading from bytes to characters when necessary. If your legacy code does not explicitly use Unicode, no automatic switch-over to characters should happen. Characters shouldn't get downgraded to bytes, either. It is possible to accidentally mix bytes and characters, however (see perluniintro), in which case "\w" in regular expressions might start behaving differently. Review your code. Use warnings and the "strict" pragma.


Unicode in Perl on EBCDIC

The way Unicode is handled on EBCDIC platforms is still experimental. On such platforms, references to UTF-8 encoding in this document and elsewhere should be read as meaning the UTF-EBCDIC specified in Unicode Technical Report 16, unless ASCII vs. EBCDIC issues are specifically discussed. There is no "utfebcdic" pragma or ``:utfebcdic'' layer; rather, ``utf8'' and ``:utf8'' are reused to mean the platform's ``natural'' 8-bit encoding of Unicode. See perlebcdic for more discussion of the issues.  


Usually locale settings and Unicode do not affect each other, but there are a couple of exceptions:
You can enable automatic UTF-8-ification of your standard file handles, default "open()" layer, and @ARGV by using either the "-C" command line switch or the "PERL_UNICODE" environment variable, see perlrun for the documentation of the "-C" switch.
Perl tries really hard to work both with Unicode and the old byte-oriented world. Most often this is nice, but sometimes Perl's straddling of the proverbial fence causes problems.

When Unicode Does Not Happen

While Perl does have extensive ways to input and output in Unicode, and few other 'entry points' like the @ARGV which can be interpreted as Unicode (UTF-8), there still are many places where Unicode (in some encoding or another) could be given as arguments or received as results, or both, but it is not.

The following are such interfaces. For all of these interfaces Perl currently (as of 5.8.3) simply assumes byte strings both as arguments and results, or UTF-8 strings if the "encoding" pragma has been used.

One reason why Perl does not attempt to resolve the role of Unicode in this cases is that the answers are highly dependent on the operating system and the file system(s). For example, whether filenames can be in Unicode, and in exactly what kind of encoding, is not exactly a portable concept. Similarly for the qx and system: how well will the 'command line interface' (and which of them?) handle Unicode?

chdir, chmod, chown, chroot, exec, link, lstat, mkdir, rename, rmdir, stat, symlink, truncate, unlink, utime, -X
glob (aka the <*>)
open, opendir, sysopen
qx (aka the backtick operator), system
readdir, readlink

Forcing Unicode in Perl (Or Unforcing Unicode in Perl)

Sometimes (see ``When Unicode Does Not Happen'') there are situations where you simply need to force a byte string into UTF-8, or vice versa. The low-level calls utf8::upgrade($bytestring) and utf8::downgrade($utf8string[, FAIL_OK]) are the answers.

Note that utf8::downgrade() can fail if the string contains characters that don't fit into a byte.  

Using Unicode in XS

If you want to handle Perl Unicode in XS extensions, you may find the following C APIs useful. See also ``Unicode Support'' in perlguts for an explanation about Unicode at the XS level, and perlapi for the API details.
"DO_UTF8(sv)" returns true if the "UTF8" flag is on and the bytes pragma is not in effect. "SvUTF8(sv)" returns true if the "UTF8" flag is on; the bytes pragma is ignored. The "UTF8" flag being on does not mean that there are any characters of code points greater than 255 (or 127) in the scalar or that there are even any characters in the scalar. What the "UTF8" flag means is that the sequence of octets in the representation of the scalar is the sequence of UTF-8 encoded code points of the characters of a string. The "UTF8" flag being off means that each octet in this representation encodes a single character with code point 0..255 within the string. Perl's Unicode model is not to use UTF-8 until it is absolutely necessary.
"uvchr_to_utf8(buf, chr)" writes a Unicode character code point into a buffer encoding the code point as UTF-8, and returns a pointer pointing after the UTF-8 bytes. It works appropriately on EBCDIC machines.
"utf8_to_uvchr(buf, lenp)" reads UTF-8 encoded bytes from a buffer and returns the Unicode character code point and, optionally, the length of the UTF-8 byte sequence. It works appropriately on EBCDIC machines.
"utf8_length(start, end)" returns the length of the UTF-8 encoded buffer in characters. "sv_len_utf8(sv)" returns the length of the UTF-8 encoded scalar.
"sv_utf8_upgrade(sv)" converts the string of the scalar to its UTF-8 encoded form. "sv_utf8_downgrade(sv)" does the opposite, if possible. "sv_utf8_encode(sv)" is like sv_utf8_upgrade except that it does not set the "UTF8" flag. "sv_utf8_decode()" does the opposite of "sv_utf8_encode()". Note that none of these are to be used as general-purpose encoding or decoding interfaces: "use Encode" for that. "sv_utf8_upgrade()" is affected by the encoding pragma but "sv_utf8_downgrade()" is not (since the encoding pragma is designed to be a one-way street).
is_utf8_char(s) returns true if the pointer points to a valid UTF-8 character.
"is_utf8_string(buf, len)" returns true if "len" bytes of the buffer are valid UTF-8.
"UTF8SKIP(buf)" will return the number of bytes in the UTF-8 encoded character in the buffer. "UNISKIP(chr)" will return the number of bytes required to UTF-8-encode the Unicode character code point. "UTF8SKIP()" is useful for example for iterating over the characters of a UTF-8 encoded buffer; "UNISKIP()" is useful, for example, in computing the size required for a UTF-8 encoded buffer.
"utf8_distance(a, b)" will tell the distance in characters between the two pointers pointing to the same UTF-8 encoded buffer.
"utf8_hop(s, off)" will return a pointer to a UTF-8 encoded buffer that is "off" (positive or negative) Unicode characters displaced from the UTF-8 buffer "s". Be careful not to overstep the buffer: "utf8_hop()" will merrily run off the end or the beginning of the buffer if told to do so.
"pv_uni_display(dsv, spv, len, pvlim, flags)" and "sv_uni_display(dsv, ssv, pvlim, flags)" are useful for debugging the output of Unicode strings and scalars. By default they are useful only for debugging---they display all characters as hexadecimal code points---but with the flags "UNI_DISPLAY_ISPRINT", "UNI_DISPLAY_BACKSLASH", and "UNI_DISPLAY_QQ" you can make the output more readable.
"ibcmp_utf8(s1, pe1, l1, u1, s2, pe2, l2, u2)" can be used to compare two strings case-insensitively in Unicode. For case-sensitive comparisons you can just use "memEQ()" and "memNE()" as usual.

For more information, see perlapi, and utf8.c and utf8.h in the Perl source code distribution.  



Interaction with Locales

Use of locales with Unicode data may lead to odd results. Currently, Perl attempts to attach 8-bit locale info to characters in the range 0..255, but this technique is demonstrably incorrect for locales that use characters above that range when mapped into Unicode. Perl's Unicode support will also tend to run slower. Use of locales with Unicode is discouraged.  

Problems with characters whose ordinal numbers are in the range 128 - 255 with no Locale specified

Without a locale specified, unlike all other characters or code points, these characters have very different semantics in byte semantics versus character semantics. In character semantics they are interpreted as Unicode code points, which means they are viewed as Latin-1 (ISO-8859-1). In byte semantics, they are considered to be unassigned characters, meaning that the only semantics they have is their ordinal numbers, and that they are not members of various character classes. None are considered to match "\w" for example, but all match "\W". Besides these class matches, the known operations that this affects are those that change the case, regular expression matching while ignoring case, and quotemeta(). This can lead to unexpected results in which a string's semantics suddenly change if a code point above 255 is appended to or removed from it, which changes the string's semantics from byte to character or vice versa. This behavior is scheduled to change in version 5.12, but in the meantime, a workaround is to always call utf8::upgrade($string), or to use the standard modules Encode or charnames.  

Interaction with Extensions

When Perl exchanges data with an extension, the extension should be able to understand the UTF8 flag and act accordingly. If the extension doesn't know about the flag, it's likely that the extension will return incorrectly-flagged data.

So if you're working with Unicode data, consult the documentation of every module you're using if there are any issues with Unicode data exchange. If the documentation does not talk about Unicode at all, suspect the worst and probably look at the source to learn how the module is implemented. Modules written completely in Perl shouldn't cause problems. Modules that directly or indirectly access code written in other programming languages are at risk.

For affected functions, the simple strategy to avoid data corruption is to always make the encoding of the exchanged data explicit. Choose an encoding that you know the extension can handle. Convert arguments passed to the extensions to that encoding and convert results back from that encoding. Write wrapper functions that do the conversions for you, so you can later change the functions when the extension catches up.

To provide an example, let's say the popular Foo::Bar::escape_html function doesn't deal with Unicode data yet. The wrapper function would convert the argument to raw UTF-8 and convert the result back to Perl's internal representation like so:

    sub my_escape_html ($) {
      my($what) = shift;
      return unless defined $what;

Sometimes, when the extension does not convert data but just stores and retrieves them, you will be in a position to use the otherwise dangerous Encode::_utf8_on() function. Let's say the popular "Foo::Bar" extension, written in C, provides a "param" method that lets you store and retrieve data according to these prototypes:

    $self->param($name, $value);            # set a scalar
    $value = $self->param($name);           # retrieve a scalar

If it does not yet provide support for any encoding, one could write a derived class with such a "param" method:

    sub param {
      my($self,$name,$value) = @_;
      utf8::upgrade($name);     # make sure it is UTF-8 encoded
      if (defined $value) {
        utf8::upgrade($value);  # make sure it is UTF-8 encoded
        return $self->SUPER::param($name,$value);
      } else {
        my $ret = $self->SUPER::param($name);
        Encode::_utf8_on($ret); # we know, it is UTF-8 encoded
        return $ret;

Some extensions provide filters on data entry/exit points, such as DB_File::filter_store_key and family. Look out for such filters in the documentation of your extensions, they can make the transition to Unicode data much easier.  


Some functions are slower when working on UTF-8 encoded strings than on byte encoded strings. All functions that need to hop over characters such as length(), substr() or index(), or matching regular expressions can work much faster when the underlying data are byte-encoded.

In Perl 5.8.0 the slowness was often quite spectacular; in Perl 5.8.1 a caching scheme was introduced which will hopefully make the slowness somewhat less spectacular, at least for some operations. In general, operations with UTF-8 encoded strings are still slower. As an example, the Unicode properties (character classes) like "\p{Nd}" are known to be quite a bit slower (5-20 times) than their simpler counterparts like "\d" (then again, there 268 Unicode characters matching "Nd" compared with the 10 ASCII characters matching "d").  

Possible problems on EBCDIC platforms

In earlier versions, when byte and character data were concatenated, the new string was sometimes created by decoding the byte strings as ISO 8859-1 (Latin-1), even if the old Unicode string used EBCDIC.

If you find any of these, please report them as bugs.  

Porting code from perl-5.6.X

Perl 5.8 has a different Unicode model from 5.6. In 5.6 the programmer was required to use the "utf8" pragma to declare that a given scope expected to deal with Unicode data and had to make sure that only Unicode data were reaching that scope. If you have code that is working with 5.6, you will need some of the following adjustments to your code. The examples are written such that the code will continue to work under 5.6, so you should be safe to try them out.
A filehandle that should read or write UTF-8

  if ($] > 5.007) {
    binmode $fh, ":encoding(utf8)";

A scalar that is going to be passed to some extension

Be it Compress::Zlib, Apache::Request or any extension that has no mention of Unicode in the manpage, you need to make sure that the UTF8 flag is stripped off. Note that at the time of this writing (October 2002) the mentioned modules are not UTF-8-aware. Please check the documentation to verify if this is still true.

  if ($] > 5.007) {
    require Encode;
    $val = Encode::encode_utf8($val); # make octets

A scalar we got back from an extension

If you believe the scalar comes back as UTF-8, you will most likely want the UTF8 flag restored:

  if ($] > 5.007) {
    require Encode;
    $val = Encode::decode_utf8($val);

Same thing, if you are really sure it is UTF-8

  if ($] > 5.007) {
    require Encode;

A wrapper for fetchrow_array and fetchrow_hashref

When the database contains only UTF-8, a wrapper function or method is a convenient way to replace all your fetchrow_array and fetchrow_hashref calls. A wrapper function will also make it easier to adapt to future enhancements in your database driver. Note that at the time of this writing (October 2002), the DBI has no standardized way to deal with UTF-8 data. Please check the documentation to verify if that is still true.

  sub fetchrow {
    my($self, $sth, $what) = @_; # $what is one of fetchrow_{array,hashref}
    if ($] < 5.007) {
      return $sth->$what;
    } else {
      require Encode;
      if (wantarray) {
        my @arr = $sth->$what;
        for (@arr) {
          defined && /[^\000-\177]/ && Encode::_utf8_on($_);
        return @arr;
      } else {
        my $ret = $sth->$what;
        if (ref $ret) {
          for my $k (keys %$ret) {
            defined && /[^\000-\177]/ && Encode::_utf8_on($_) for $ret->{$k};
          return $ret;
        } else {
          defined && /[^\000-\177]/ && Encode::_utf8_on($_) for $ret;
          return $ret;

A large scalar that you know can only contain ASCII

Scalars that contain only ASCII and are marked as UTF-8 are sometimes a drag to your program. If you recognize such a situation, just remove the UTF8 flag:

  utf8::downgrade($val) if $] > 5.007;



perlunitut, perluniintro, Encode, open, utf8, bytes, perlretut, ``${^UNICODE}'' in perlvar



Important Caveats
Byte and Character Semantics
Effects of Character Semantics
Unicode Character Properties
User-Defined Character Properties
User-Defined Case Mappings
Character Encodings for Input and Output
Unicode Regular Expression Support Level
Unicode Encodings
Security Implications of Unicode
Unicode in Perl on EBCDIC
When Unicode Does Not Happen
Forcing Unicode in Perl (Or Unforcing Unicode in Perl)
Using Unicode in XS
Interaction with Locales
Problems with characters whose ordinal numbers are in the range 128 - 255 with no Locale specified
Interaction with Extensions
Possible problems on EBCDIC platforms
Porting code from perl-5.6.X

This document was created by man2html, using the manual pages.
Time: 05:29:09 GMT, December 24, 2015