Source File Character Sets

Internally, TADS 3 uses Unicode to represent all text strings. Unicode was created to provide a single character set that can represent virtually all of the characters used by all of the world's written languages.

Unfortunately, most computers today don't use Unicode as their native format, so your source files will probably use some other character set (but if you do use Unicode for your source files, see below). For example, if you're a Windows user in the United States or Western Europe, your source files probably use "code page 1252," which includes the ASCII characters plus the accented letters and special symbols commonly used in Western European languages such as French, Spanish, and German. Macintosh users in these parts of the world use a different, Mac-specific character set, which includes almost exactly the same set of glyphs but assigns different character codes to most of the accented letters and special symbols.

The TADS 3 compiler is designed to work with these diverse system character sets. When the compiler reads your source file, it automatically translates the characters from the local format used by your operating system into Unicode characters. Only Unicode characters are stored in the compiled version of your program (the image file).

The TADS 3 compiler uses an external file called a "character mapping file" to translate from your source format into Unicode. The character map is a file that comes with the compiler; its name ends with ".tcm" (TADS Character Map). In most cases, you won't need to worry about this file, because the compiler will automatically load the appropriate mapping for your operating system. However, in some cases you might want to specify a mapping explicitly, rather than allowing the compiler to choose; for example, if the source file you're compiling was originally created on a different type of computer, and you didn't translate the file into your local character set, you might need to use the mapping for that other computer. In addition, you might be intentionally using a non-standard character set; if you have a machine localized for Western Europe, but you're writing a game in Russian, you'll probably prepare your source file in a Cyrillic character set rather than your computer's default Western Europe setting.

Specifying the Source Character Set to the Compiler

You must tell the compiler which character set your source code uses. The compiler gives you two ways to do this: the -cs option, which specifies the default character set for all source files; and the #charset directive, which specifies the character set for an individual file within the file itself.

Specifying the Default Character Set

To specify a default character set for all source files, use the compiler's -cs option. Specify the name of the mapping after the option - this is simply the filename minus the ".tcm" suffix. For example, to compile source code created using code page 1250 (Windows Central/Eastern Europe), you'd use this command:

t3make -cs cp1250 mygame.t

If the TADS 3 distribution doesn't include a mapping file for the character set you're using, you can build your own mapping file.

The compiler provides several built-in character set names that you can use, in addition to those supplied by mapping files:

These built-in character set translations don't require any external mapping files.

Specifying an Individual File's Character Set

The -cs option specifies the default character set; the mapping you specify with this option applies to each source file involved in the compilation (including header files), except for files that specify their own character set with the #charset directive. If present, this directive must be the very first thing in the file - comments can't precede it, and even spaces are not allowed before it. The directive takes the name of the character set in double quotes - the name used here is the same name you'd use in a -cs option:

#charset "cp1250"

If the #charset directive is present at the start of a file, it overrides any -cs option that was specified for the compilation. This makes it easy to mix source files that use different character sets in a single compilation.

Note that a #charset directive applies only to the file containing the directive:

An individual file can only use a single character set. It is not possible to switch character sets mid-stream with a new #charset directive.

Note that you cannot use #charset in files encoded in UTF-16 (16-bit Unicode) - the compiler recognizes this directive only in single-byte or multi-byte files.

Using Unicode Source Files

Since you can't use #charset in Unicode UTF-16 files, the compiler requires a different method of recognizing such files. Fortunately, this is usually completely automatic, because there is a standard way of flagging UTF-16 files; most text editors include this special flagging, and the TADS 3 compiler recognizes it. If you're using a cooperating text editor, you will not need to do anything more.

UTF-16 encodes each Unicode character in two bytes. There are two different UTF-16 formats: one that stores the more significant byte of each character first, and one that stores the less significant byte first. It might seem strange that this supposedly standardized format allows for this potentially confusing variation, but different types of computer hardware have different native byte ordering, and the creators of the Unicode standard felt it was important to allow programmers to use native byte ordering for whatever platform they were working on, to avoid the need to switch the bytes around when loading a file into memory. The creators of the Unicode standard also recognized the potential for confusion this variation would create when moving a file from one type of computer to another, so they resolved it by defining a special Unicode character that would allow unambiguous byte order sensing. The Unicode character code 0xFEFF serves this purpose; importantly, the character 0xFFFE is explicitly not valid. So, if a program reading a UTF-16 file sees the byte sequence FE FF, the program knows that it is reading a big-endian UTF-16 file. Likewise, if a program sees the sequence FF FE, it knows that it can't be a big-endian UTF-16 file, because 0xFFFE is illegal; so, the program knows the file must be a little-endian UTF-16 file.

The TADS 3 compiler looks at the first two bytes of each file it reads. If these two bytes are FE FF, the compiler assumes the file is encoded in big-endian UTF-16; if the bytes are FF FE, the compiler assumes the file is encoded in little-endian UTF-16.

Most Unicode-enabled text editors include the byte-order marker automatically, since this is part of the Unicode standard. However, if your text editor does not automatically insert the marker, you must either insert it manually (as the first character of the file), or use the -cs compiler option to specify the appropriate encoding - UTF-16BE or UTF-16LE - as described earlier.

Note that you shouldn't normally see the 0xFEFF marker character when you display or print your file, since the Unicode standard specifies that this character is to be rendered as a non-breaking, zero-width space - in other words, invisible.

Finally, note that the character codes 0xFE and 0xFF are valid characters in some single-byte character sets. If you're using a single-byte character set, and the first two characters of your file happen to have byte codes 0xFE and 0xFF (in either order), the compiler will incorrectly sense that the file is encoded in UTF-16. It seems rather improbable that this would happen by chance, but if it does, you can avoid confusing the compiler simply by inserting a space character or a #charset directive at the very start of the file, or by using the -cs compiler option.