|Title||UTF-8, a transformation format of Unicode and ISO 10646
Network Working Group F. Yergeau
Request for Comments: 2044 Alis Technologies
Category: Informational October 1996
UTF-8, a transformation format of Unicode and ISO 10646
Status of this Memo
This memo provides information for the Internet community. This memo
does not specify an Internet standard of any kind. Distribution of
this memo is unlimited.
The Unicode Standard, version 1.1, and ISO/IEC 10646-1:1993 jointly
define a 16 bit character set which encompasses most of the world's
writing systems. 16-bit characters, however, are not compatible with
many current applications and protocols, and this has led to the
development of a few so-called UCS transformation formats (UTF), each
with different characteristics. UTF-8, the object of this memo, has
the characteristic of preserving the full US-ASCII range: US-ASCII
characters are encoded in one octet having the usual US-ASCII value,
and any octet with such a value can only be an US-ASCII character.
This provides compatibility with file systems, parsers and other
software that rely on US-ASCII values but are transparent to other
The Unicode Standard, version 1.1 [UNICODE], and ISO/IEC 10646-1:1993
[ISO-10646] jointly define a 16 bit character set, UCS-2, which
encompasses most of the world's writing systems. ISO 10646 further
defines a 31-bit character set, UCS-4, with currently no assignments
outside of the region corresponding to UCS-2 (the Basic Multilingual
Plane, BMP). The UCS-2 and UCS-4 encodings, however, are hard to use
in many current applications and protocols that assume 8 or even 7
bit characters. Even newer systems able to deal with 16 bit
characters cannot process UCS-4 data. This situation has led to the
development of so-called UCS transformation formats (UTF), each with
UTF-1 has only historical interest, having been removed from ISO
10646. UTF-7 has the quality of encoding the full Unicode repertoire
using only octets with the high-order bit clear (7 bit US-ASCII
values, [US-ASCII]), and is thus deemed a mail-safe encoding
([RFC1642]). UTF-8, the object of this memo, uses all bits of an
octet, but has the quality of preserving the full US-ASCII range:
US-ASCII characters are encoded in one octet having the normal US-
ASCII value, and any octet with such a value can only stand for an
US-ASCII character, and nothing else.
UTF-16 is a scheme for transforming a subset of the UCS-4 repertoire
into a pair of UCS-2 values from a reserved range. UTF-16 impacts
UTF-8 in that UCS-2 values from the reserved range must be treated
specially in the UTF-8 transformation.
UTF-8 encodes UCS-2 or UCS-4 characters as a varying number of
octets, where the number of octets, and the value of each, depend on
the integer value assigned to the character in ISO 10646. This
transformation format has the following characteristics (all values
are in hexadecimal):
- Character values from 0000 0000 to 0000 007F (US-ASCII repertoire)
correspond to octets 00 to 7F (7 bit US-ASCII values).
- US-ASCII values do not appear otherwise in a UTF-8 encoded charac-
ter stream. This provides compatibility with file systems or
other software (e.g. the printf() function in C libraries) that
parse based on US-ASCII values but are transparent to other val-
- Round-trip conversion is easy between UTF-8 and either of UCS-4,
UCS-2 or Unicode.
- The first octet of a multi-octet sequence indicates the number of
octets in the sequence.
- Character boundaries are easily found from anywhere in an octet
- The lexicographic sorting order of UCS-4 strings is preserved. Of
course this is of limited interest since the sort order is not
culturally valid in either case.
- The octet values FE and FF never appear.
UTF-8 was originally a project of the X/Open Joint
Internationalization Group XOJIG with the objective to specify a File
System Safe UCS Transformation Format [FSS-UTF] that is compatible
with UNIX systems, supporting multilingual text in a single encoding.
The original authors were Gary Miller, Greger Leijonhufvud and John
Entenmann. Later, Ken Thompson and Rob Pike did significant work for
the formal UTF-8.
A description can also be found in Unicode Technical Report #4 [UNI-
CODE]. The definitive reference, including provisions for UTF-16
data within UTF-8, is Annex R of ISO/IEC 10646-1 [ISO-10646].
2. UTF-8 definition
In UTF-8, characters are encoded using sequences of 1 to 6 octets.
The only octet of a "sequence" of one has the higher-order bit set to
0, the remaining 7 bits being used to encode the character value. In
a sequence of n octets, n>1, the initial octet has the n higher-order
bits set to 1, followed by a bit set to 0. The remaining bit(s) of
that octet contain bits from the value of the character to be
encoded. The following octet(s) all have the higher-order bit set to
1 and the following bit set to 0, leaving 6 bits in each to contain
bits from the character to be encoded.
The table below summarizes the format of these different octet types.
The letter x indicates bits available for encoding bits of the UCS-4
UCS-4 range (hex.) UTF-8 octet sequence (binary)
0000 0000-0000 007F 0xxxxxxx
0000 0080-0000 07FF 110xxxxx 10xxxxxx
0000 0800-0000 FFFF 1110xxxx 10xxxxxx 10xxxxxx
0001 0000-001F FFFF 11110xxx 10xxxxxx 10xxxxxx 10xxxxxx
0020 0000-03FF FFFF 111110xx 10xxxxxx 10xxxxxx 10xxxxxx 10xxxxxx
0400 0000-7FFF FFFF 1111110x 10xxxxxx ... 10xxxxxx
Encoding from UCS-4 to UTF-8 proceeds as follows:
1) Determine the number of octets required from the character value
and the first column of the table above.
2) Prepare the high-order bits of the octets as per the second column
of the table.
3) Fill in the bits marked x from the bits of the character value,
starting from the lower-order bits of the character value and
putting them first in the last octet of the sequence, then the
next to last, etc. until all x bits are filled in.
The algorithm for encoding UCS-2 (or Unicode) to UTF-8 can be
obtained from the above, in principle, by simply extending each
UCS-2 character with two zero-valued octets. However, UCS-2 val-
ues between D800 and DFFF, being actually UCS-4 characters trans-
formed through UTF-16, need special treatment: the UTF-16 trans-
formation must be undone, yielding a UCS-4 character that is then
transformed as above.
Decoding from UTF-8 to UCS-4 proceeds as follows:
1) Initialize the 4 octets of the UCS-4 character with all bits set
2) Determine which bits encode the character value from the number of
octets in the sequence and the second column of the table above
(the bits marked x).
3) Distribute the bits from the sequence to the UCS-4 character,
first the lower-order bits from the last octet of the sequence and
proceeding to the left until no x bits are left.
If the UTF-8 sequence is no more than three octets long, decoding
can proceed directly to UCS-2 (or equivalently Unicode).
A more detailed algorithm and formulae can be found in [FSS_UTF],
[UNICODE] or Annex R to [ISO-10646].
The Unicode sequence "A<NOT IDENTICAL TO><ALPHA>." (0041, 2262, 0391,
002E) may be encoded as follows:
41 E2 89 A2 CE 91 2E
The Unicode sequence "Hi Mom <WHITE SMILING FACE>!" (0048, 0069,
0020, 004D, 006F, 006D, 0020, 263A, 0021) may be encoded as follows:
48 69 20 4D 6F 6D 20 E2 98 BA 21
The Unicode sequence representing the Han characters for the Japanese
word "nihongo" (65E5, 672C, 8A9E) may be encoded as follows:
E6 97 A5 E6 9C AC E8 AA 9E
This memo is meant to serve as the basis for registration of a MIME
character encoding (charset) as per [RFC1521]. The proposed charset
parameter value is "UTF-8". This string would label media types
containing text consisting of characters from the repertoire of ISO
10646-1 encoded to a sequence of octets using the encoding scheme
Security issues are not discussed in this memo.
The following have participated in the drafting and discussion of
James E. Agenbroad Andries Brouwer
Martin J. D|rst David Goldsmith
Edwin F. Hart Kent Karlsson
Markus Kuhn Michael Kung
Alain LaBonte Murray Sargent
Keld Simonsen Arnold Winkler
[FSS_UTF] X/Open CAE Specification C501 ISBN 1-85912-082-2 28cm.
22p. pbk. 172g. 4/95, X/Open Company Ltd., "File Sys-
tem Safe UCS Transformation Format (FSS_UTF)", X/Open
Preleminary Specification, Document Number P316. Also
published in Unicode Technical Report #4.
[ISO-10646] ISO/IEC 10646-1:1993. International Standard -- Infor-
mation technology -- Universal Multiple-Octet Coded
Character Set (UCS) -- Part 1: Architecture and Basic
Multilingual Plane. UTF-8 is described in Annex R,
adopted but not yet published. UTF-16 is described in
Annex Q, adopted but not yet published.
[RFC1521] Borenstein, N., and N. Freed, "MIME (Multipurpose
Internet Mail Extensions) Part One: Mechanisms for
Specifying and Describing the Format of Internet Mes-
sage Bodies", RFC 1521, Bellcore, Innosoft, September
[RFC1641] Goldsmith, D., and M. Davis, "Using Unicode with
MIME", RFC 1641, Taligent inc., July 1994.
[RFC1642] Goldsmith, D., and M. Davis, "UTF-7: A Mail-safe
Transformation Format of Unicode", RFC 1642,
Taligent, Inc., July 1994.
[UNICODE] The Unicode Consortium, "The Unicode Standard --
Worldwide Character Encoding -- Version 1.0", Addison-
Wesley, Volume 1, 1991, Volume 2, 1992. UTF-8 is
described in Unicode Technical Report #4.
[US-ASCII] Coded Character Set--7-bit American Standard Code for
Information Interchange, ANSI X3.4-1986.
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