T3 Character Mapping

T3 uses 16-bit Unicode for its internal character set. The Unicode character set is essentially a superset of all other computer character sets; it's capable of encoding nearly every character used in every writing system around the world. Furthermore, Unicode is portable: it uses the same character codes on every computer. Because of its scope and its portability, Unicode provides a common character representation that can be used for any electronic data, in any language, for any type of computer.

Unicode essentially eliminates the character-set translation problems that have traditionally plagued portable, multi-lingual software. Since T3 encodes characters in Unicode, text in a T3 program uses the same character representation, independently of the computer that was used to create the program or the computer used to run the program. A T3 program never needs to be translated or converted to use on a different type of computer; the same compiled binary file will work everywhere unchanged.

Unfortunately, not all current computers use Unicode as the native character set; in fact, most do not. Although Unicode may eventually supplant other character sets, it is far from universal today. This may seem to contradict the earlier claim that Unicode provides a single encoding that works everywhere, but it doesn't really -- the point is that Unicode provides a single reference character set that we can use as a common encoding for all text, and that Unicode characters will always be interpreted the same way on every machine. However, it's still necessary to perform this interpretation on machines that don't use Unicode directly; this interpretation process is called "mapping," because it involves substituting a character in the local character set for the equivalent ("mapped") character in the Unicode character set, and vice versa.

T3 performs character-set mapping automatically when required. T3 encodes all text internally in Unicode; whenever it must obtain text from the operating system (for example, when reading a command from the keyboard, or reading a text file), or send text to the operating system (such as when displaying text to the user), T3 converts the text between Unicode and the local representation. T3 programs never need to be concerned with this process, since it happens automatically in the system interfaces; T3 programs see all text, whatever the source, as Unicode.

In order to perform character-set mapping, T3 needs to know two things: first, what local character set the computer is using; second, the correspondence between the local character set and Unicode.

T3 normally obtains the correct local character set directly from the operating system; in most cases, users will never even be aware that character-set mapping is taking place. However, there may be times when the operating system cannot correctly determine the character set. For example, when you prepare a source file with a text editor, you may be able to select the character set that the source file uses without actually changing the default that the operating system uses; when compiling this source file, the operating system may have no way of knowing that the file does not use the system's normal character set. So, most of the T3 tools will provide a mechanism that lets the user specify explicitly what character set to use; any such specification provided by the user will override the default character set indicated by the operating system.

To determine the correspondence between Unicode and the local character set, T3 uses "mapping files." A mapping file is not specific to a computer, but rather is specific to a particular character set; some character sets are used by different types of computers, and others are proprietary to particular machines. In any case, T3 includes a set of pre-defined mapping files for the common character sets: the standard MS Windows and DOS code pages; the standard Macintosh character sets; and the ISO 8859 series of character sets. For most types of computers, these included standard character sets will be sufficient, which will allow T3 to handle character set issues automatically and transparently, without any user intervention at all. When porting T3 to other types of computers, however, it may be necessary to provide new character set mappings. The rest of this document explains the details.

Obtaining and Creating Mapping Source Files

A character mapping source file can follow almost the same format used by the Unicode mapping files. You can therefore prepare a mapping by downloading a Unicode mapping file from the Unicode web site (www.unicode.org), making one small change (to define a default character for displaying otherwise unmapped characters), and compiling the file with the MKCHRTAB tool. None of these mapping source files are included with T3, because the Unicode consortium prohibits redistribution of these files among third parties. However, the Unicode consortium makes the mapping file freely available for download from its web site, and allows use of the information contained in these files in applications that support Unicode, such as T3.

The Unicode web site has mapping files for most character sets in common use. However, if you're using an obscure terminal or computer with a proprietary character set, no pre-built mapping file may be available. In these cases, you'll need to create your own mapping file, following the source file format described below. Before you can begin, you'll need to figure out what characters are in your terminal's or computer's character set, and the correspondence between those characters and Unicode characters. For each character in your terminal's character set, you must determine the corresponding Unicode character code; the mapping file is simply a list of these correlations. Note that, even if a mapping file isn't available for your terminal or computer, the Unicode web site will still be helpful, since it has charts showing the Unicode characters and their assigned character codes.

Character Mapping Source File

To define a mapping, create a mapping source file and compile it with MKCHRTAB (this tool is part of T3). If you're using a mapping file that you downloaded from the Unicode web site, the only change you'll need to make is to add a default display character.

General File Format

MKCHRTAB treats any line that starts with '#' as a comment, and blank lines are ignored. Other lines contain mappings or special directives. Each mapping or directive appears on a separate line.

Local-to-Unicode Mappings

A standard local-to-Unicode mapping, which is the format used by the mapping files available on the Unicode web site and is therefore the default format that MKCHRTAB uses, consists of a line containing two numbers, separated by one or more spaces. The first number is the character code in the local character set, and the second number is the Unicode character code. For example, to map between ISO Latin-2 character code 0xBC (which in Latin-2 represents a small letter 'z' with an acute accent) and the equivalent Unicode character, which is at code point 0x17A, the mapping file would specify this line:

    0xBC    0x17A

Numbers can be specified in decimal, octal, or hex. A number starting with "0x" is a hex number; a number starting with "0" is an octal number. Other numbers are taken as decimal values. The mapping files on the Unicode web site use mostly hex numbers.

Note two variations on the mapping format that are allowed. These variations occur in some of the mapping files available from the Unicode web site, so the mapping compiler accepts the variations to facilitate use of these files.

Specifying the Default Display Character

Each mapping file must provide a default display character mapping. This is the character that will be used to display each Unicode character that has no other mapping in the local character set. To specify this, add a line like this to your mapping file:

    default_display 0x3F

This specifies that the default display character should be character 0x3F in the local character set (character 0x3F in ASCII is a question mark). Any time a Unicode character is displayed that has no other mapping in the local character set, the system will display the default display character as a placeholder, so that the user can see that a character should be displayed there but cannot be rendered in the local character set.

Unicode-to-Local Mappings

An extended syntax is also supported in mapping files. The extended syntax allows you to map a Unicode character to a sequence of characters in the local character set. This syntax will probably only be needed for the default ASCII translation file, which provides a fall-back display approximation for Unicode characters with no equivalent in the local character set. The extended syntax is enabled with a special directive, which appears on a line by itself, and applies to the rest of the file following the directive:


Following this directive, mappings use a reversed format, with the Unicode character code appearing first, followed by one or more characters in the local character set. The Unicode character may be specified as a number (decimal, octal, or hex) as usual, but may also be specified as an SGML entity name by starting the name with an ampersand ("&") character.

Local characters can be specified as a sequence of numbers (decimal, octal, or hex), and can also be specified character strings enclosed in single quotes.

The purpose of allowing multiple local characters per Unicode character is to enable display approximations of characters for which there is no direct equivalent in the local character set. For example, the copyright symbol can be approximated in ASCII as "(c)".

Here's an example of mappings that translate the copyright symbol and the trademark symbol to multi-character ASCII sequences:

    &copy    '(c)'
    &trade   '(tm)'

Mappings specified after the from_unicode_to_local directive are not used for mappings from the local character set to Unicode. Only the mappings specified in the normal manner (before any from_unicode_to_local directive in the file) are bidirectional (i.e., they specify the mapping from local to Unicode as well as from Unicode to the local character set). Whenever a mapping that appears in the normal bidirectional section is specified for a character, that mapping is used instead of any mapping in the from_unicode_to_local section.

Default ASCII Mapping

In most cases, you will never need to make any use of the from_unicode_to_local directive, because the system automatically applies a default mapping to ASCII sequences when converting Unicode characters to the local character set and no local equivalent is defined for a character.

For example, suppose you are using a computer that uses the ISO Latin-1 character set. This character set contains a subset of Unicode with characters for several Western European languages, but does not include characters from Eastern or Central European languages. If the program attempts to display a character that is not part of the ISO Latin-1 character set, the system will find that there is no suitable mapping in the current local character set, so it will try the default ASCII mapping. If a mapping is found there, the system will show the default mapping.

The default ASCII mapping contains approximations for most accented characters; they're not very good approximations, in that they lose the accents, but at least they show the correct alphabetic character.

Because the system always falls back on the default ASCII mapping when a local mapping isn't available, local character set mappings should almost never need to specify their own from_unicode_to_local approximations. The only time that you might want to do this is when your local character set contains characters that are better approximations than those in the default ASCII translation, but are still not correct translations (because if they were correct translations, there would be no need to include them as approximations -- they'd be in the standard mapping to begin with).

The default ASCII mapping is a separate mapping file called us-ascii. You do not need to include this default mapping in other character set mapping files; it's automatically loaded by the system as a separate mapping.

Compiled Character Mapping File Format

This section describes the binary file format that the MKCHRTAB tool generates from a mapping source file. This section will only be of interest to you if you're making changes to the T3 system itself, or have some other interest in the technical details of the system.

The compiled character mapping file contains two sections. The first section contains the mapping from the local character set to Unicode, and the second second contains the mapping from Unicode to the local character set.

Note that the mapping file is not concerned with the actual Unicode representation to be used (UTF-8, wide characters, and so on). The mapping file merely specifies the Unicode character as 16-bit code points. The mapping software will use the 16-bit character codes to generate the correct encoding.

All multi-byte datatypes in the file use the standard T3 portable binary encoding.


The first item in the file (at offset zero) is a UINT4 giving the byte offset (relative to the start of the header) of the start of the Unicode-to-local table.

Local-to-Unicode Mapping Section

Immediately following the header is the local-to-Unicode mapping section.

This section starts with a UINT2 giving the number of mappings in the section. The mappings immediately follow this count.

Each mapping consists of a UINT2 with the Unicode character code, followed by a UINT2 with the local character code.

Because each local character code is stored as a UINT2 value, the mapping file format is compatible with single-byte, double-byte, and mixed single- and double-byte character sets. The mapping format is not compatible with local character sets that use more than 16 bits per character, such as CNS 11643.

For compatibility and consistency with the cross-mapping tables compiled by the Unicode consortium (www.unicode.org), double-byte character values are represented in the UINT2 format in big-Endian format. Hence, a local character code point of 0x812F indicates a two-byte sequence, 0x81 followed by 0x2F, in a text stream in the local character set.

Although it is not implicit in the file format, the character-mapping mechanism does not support first-byte ambiguity in mixed single- and double-byte character sets. In other words, a leading (high-order) byte value used in two-byte characters must never be used as a single-byte character, and vice versa. For example, if the local character set contains code points 0x8121, 0x8127, and 0x8129, the value 0x81 must not be defined as a single-byte character. Similarly, if the value 0x25 is defined as a single-byte character, then there can be no double-byte characters with 0x25 in the leading (high) byte, such as 0x2521 or 0x257F. The mixed-length character sets in most common use (Shift-JIS; Windows code pages 932, 936, 949, and 950; the Macintosh Chinese, Korean, and Japanese code pages) conform to this requirement.

Unicode-to-Local Mapping Section

The Unicode-to-local mapping section is located based on the offset in the header. This section starts with a UINT2 specifying the number of character mapping entries in the section, followed by a UINT4 specifying the total number of bytes of mappings (including all of the length bytes and the mapping bytes, but not the Unicode code point UINT2's). For example, a file with a single mapping entry, which maps from Unicode code point 0x00A9 to the three-byte string "(c)", would have the following header:

    UINT2 = 1
    UINT4 = 4

The first entry, 1, specifies the total number of mapping entries; since there's a single mapping entry, this value is 1. The second entry specifies the total number of bytes of mappings. Since the single mapping requires four bytes (one byte for the length prefix and three bytes for the string "(c)"), this value is 4. Note that the length prefix bytes are counted in the total byte size of the mappings.

This header is followed immediately by the mapping entries.

The first mapping entry is always the default character mapping. This should specify a Unicode value of 0x0000. This is the mapping that is used to convert any Unicode character that has no other mapping specified.

Each mapping consists of a UINT2 specifying the Unicode code point being mapped, followed by a UBYTE giving the number of characters that follow in the mapping, followed by the characters of the mapping. For example, a mapping from Unicode character 0xA9 (the copyright symbol) to the three-byte sequence "(c)" would be stored like this:

    UINT2 = 0x00A9
    UBYTE = 0x03
    UBYTE = '('
    UBYTE = 'c'
    UBYTE = ')'

Finally, at the end of the file, the end-of-file sequence: the four characters "$EOF". This marker is intended to allow for future evoluation of the file format; if additional data are to be added to the format after the end of the existing data, a new marker will replace "$EOF" at this point in the file. Future file readers will be able to tell if they're looking at an old file by the presence of the "$EOF" marker, and will thus know they shouldn't read the new data section; a new file will have the new marker, hence readers will know they can safely continue reading.

Note: to allow files created in any possible future expanded formats to be read by existing readers, existing readers should ignore the absence of the "$EOF" marker. This marker is intended only for future readers so that they can tell whether they're looking at an old file or a new file.

Copyright © 2001, 2006 by Michael J. Roberts.
Revision: September, 2006