perlunifaq - Perl Unicode FAQ
This is a list of questions and answers about Unicode in Perl, intended to be read after perlunitut.
No, and this isn't really a Unicode FAQ.
Perl has an abstracted interface for all supported character encodings, so they
is actually a generic
FAQ. But many people
think that Unicode is special and magical, and I didn't want to disappoint
them, so I decided to call the document a Unicode tutorial.
To find out which character encodings your Perl supports, run:
- perl -MEncode -le "print for Encode->encodings(':all')"
Well, if you can, upgrade to the most recent, but certainly
The tutorial and FAQ are based on the status quo as of
You should also check your modules, and upgrade them if necessary. For example, HTML::Entities requires version >= 1.32 to function correctly, even though the changelog is silent about this.
Well, apart from a bare
, you shouldn't treat them specially.
(The binmode is needed because otherwise Perl may convert line endings on Win32
Be careful, though, to never combine text strings with binary strings. If you need text in a binary stream, encode your text strings first using the appropriate encoding, then join them with binary strings. See also: "What if I don't encode?".
Whenever you're communicating text with anything that is external to your perl process, like a database, a text file, a socket, or another program. Even if the thing you're communicating with is also written in Perl.
Whenever your encoded, binary string is used together with a text string, Perl
will assume that your binary string was encoded with ISO-8859-1, also known as
latin-1. If it wasn't latin-1, then your data is unpleasantly converted. For
example, if it was UTF-8, the individual bytes of multibyte characters are seen
as separate characters, and then again converted to UTF-8. Such double encoding
can be compared to double HTML encoding (
), or double URI encoding
This silent implicit decoding is known as "upgrading". That may sound positive, but it's best to avoid it.
Your text string will be sent using the bytes in Perl's internal format. In some cases, Perl will warn you that you're doing something wrong, with a friendly warning:
- Wide character in print at example.pl line 2.
Because the internal format is often UTF-8, these bugs are hard to spot, because UTF-8 is usually the encoding you wanted! But don't be lazy, and don't use the fact that Perl's internal format is UTF-8 to your advantage. Encode explicitly to avoid weird bugs, and to show to maintenance programmers that you thought this through.
If all data that comes from a certain handle is encoded in exactly the same
way, you can tell the PerlIO system to automatically decode everything, with
layer. If you do this, you can't accidentally forget to decode
or encode anymore, on things that use the layered handle.
You can provide this layer when
opening the file:
Or if you already have an open filehandle:
- binmode $fh, ':encoding(UTF-8)';
Some database drivers for DBI can also automatically encode and decode, but that is sometimes limited to the UTF-8 encoding.
Do whatever you can to find out, and if you have to: guess. (Don't forget to document your guess with a comment.)
You could open the document in a web browser, and change the character set or character encoding until you can visually confirm that all characters look the way they should.
There is no way to reliably detect the encoding automatically, so if people keep sending you data without charset indication, you may have to educate them.
Yes, you can! If your sources are UTF-8 encoded, you can indicate that with the
- use utf8;
This doesn't do anything to your input, or to your output. It only influences
the way your sources are read. You can use Unicode in string literals, in
identifiers (but they still have to be "word characters" according to
and even in custom delimiters.
No, Data::Dumper's Unicode abilities are as they should be. There have been
some complaints that it should restore the UTF8 flag when the data is read
eval. However, you should really not look at the flag, and
nothing indicates that Data::Dumper should break this rule.
Here's what happens: when Perl reads in a string literal, it sticks to 8 bit encoding as long as it can. (But perhaps originally it was internally encoded as UTF-8, when you dumped it.) When it has to give that up because other characters are added to the text string, it silently upgrades the string to UTF-8.
If you properly encode your strings for output, none of this is of your
concern, and you can just
eval dumped data as always.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, to keep the semantics the same for standard strings, when Perl got Unicode support. While it might be repaired in the future, we now have to deal with the fact that Perl treats equal strings differently, depending on the internal state.
To force Unicode semantics, you can upgrade the internal representation to
. This does not change strings that were
For a more detailed discussion, see Unicode::Semantics on CPAN.
You can't. Some use the UTF8 flag for this, but that's misuse, and makes well behaved modules like Data::Dumper look bad. The flag is useless for this purpose, because it's off when an 8 bit encoding (by default ISO-8859-1) is used to store the string.
This is something you, the programmer, has to keep track of; sorry. You could consider adopting a kind of "Hungarian notation" to help with this.
By first converting the FOO-encoded byte string to a text string, and then the text string to a BAR-encoded byte string:
or by skipping the text string part, and going directly from one binary encoding to the other:
- use Encode qw(from_to);
- from_to($string, 'FOO', 'BAR'); # changes contents of $string
or by letting automatic decoding and encoding do all the work:
These are alternate syntaxes for
This is a term used both for characters with an ordinal value greater than 127, characters with an ordinal value greater than 255, or any character occupying than one byte, depending on the context.
The Perl warning "Wide character in ..." is caused by a character with an ordinal value greater than 255. With no specified encoding layer, Perl tries to fit things in ISO-8859-1 for backward compatibility reasons. When it can't, it emits this warning (if warnings are enabled), and outputs UTF-8 encoded data instead.
To avoid this warning and to avoid having different output encodings in a single stream, always specify an encoding explicitly, for example with a PerlIO layer:
- binmode STDOUT, ":encoding(UTF-8)";
Please, unless you're hacking the internals, or debugging weirdness, don't
think about the UTF8 flag at all. That means that you very probably shouldn't
The UTF8 flag, also called SvUTF8, is an internal flag that indicates that the current internal representation is UTF-8. Without the flag, it is assumed to be ISO-8859-1. Perl converts between these automatically.
One of Perl's internal formats happens to be UTF-8. Unfortunately, Perl can't keep a secret, so everyone knows about this. That is the source of much confusion. It's better to pretend that the internal format is some unknown encoding, and that you always have to encode and decode explicitly.
Don't use it. It makes no sense to deal with bytes in a text string, and it makes no sense to deal with characters in a byte string. Do the proper conversions (by decoding/encoding), and things will work out well: you get character counts for decoded data, and byte counts for encoded data.
is usually a failed attempt to do something useful. Just forget
Don't use it. Unfortunately, it assumes that the programmer's environment and that of the user will use the same encoding. It will use the same encoding for the source code and for STDIN and STDOUT. When a program is copied to another machine, the source code does not change, but the STDIO environment might.
If you need non-ASCII characters in your source code, make it a UTF-8 encoded
Because UTF-8 is one of Perl's internal formats, you can often just skip the encoding or decoding step, and manipulate the UTF8 flag directly.
, you can simply use
, which skips the
encoding step if the data was already represented as UTF8 internally. This is
widely accepted as good behavior when you're writing, but it can be dangerous
when reading, because it causes internal inconsistency when you have invalid
byte sequences. Using
for input can sometimes result in security
breaches, so please use
, you could use
but this is considered bad style. Especially
can be dangerous, for
the same reason that
There are some shortcuts for oneliners; see
is the official standard.
is Perl's way of being liberal in
what it accepts. If you have to communicate with things that aren't so liberal,
you may want to consider using
. If you have to communicate with things
that are too liberal, you may have to use
. The full explanation is in
is internally known as
. The tutorial uses UTF-8
consistently, even where utf8 is actually used internally, because the
distinction can be hard to make, and is mostly irrelevant.
For example, utf8 can be used for code points that don't exist in Unicode, like 9999999, but if you encode that to UTF-8, you get a substitution character (by default; see Handling Malformed Data in Encode for more ways of dealing with this.)
Okay, if you insist: the "internal format" is utf8, not UTF-8. (When it's not some other encoding.)
It's good that you lost track, because you shouldn't depend on the internal format being any specific encoding. But since you asked: by default, the internal format is either ISO-8859-1 (latin-1), or utf8, depending on the history of the string. On EBCDIC platforms, this may be different even.
Perl knows how it stored the string internally, and will use that knowledge
. In other words: don't try to find out what the internal
encoding for a certain string is, but instead just encode it into the encoding
that you want.
Juerd Waalboer <#####@juerd.nl>