Internet Draft                                          Paul Hoffman
draft-hoffman-i18n-terms-09.txt                           IMC & VPNC
October 17, 2002
Expires in six months

          Terminology Used in Internationalization in the IETF

Status of this memo

This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with all
provisions of Section 10 of RFC 2026.

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This document provides a glossary of terms used in the IETF when
discussing internationalization. The purpose is to help frame
discussions of internationalization in the various areas of the IETF and
to help introduce the main concepts to IETF participants.

1. Introduction

As [RFC2277] summarizes: "Internationalization is for humans. This means
that protocols are not subject to internationalization; text strings
are." Many protocols throughout the IETF use text strings that are
entered by, or are visible to, humans. It should be possible for anyone
to enter or read these text strings, which means that Internet users
must be able to be enter text in typical input methods and displayed in
any human language. Further, text containing any character should be
able to be passed between Internet applications easily. This is the
challenge of internationalization.

1.1 About this document

Internationalization is discussed in many working groups of the IETF.
However, few working groups have internationalization experts. When
designing or updating protocols, the question often comes up "should we
internationalize this" (or, more likely, "do we have to internationalize

This document gives an overview of internationalization as it applies to
IETF standards work by lightly covering the many aspects of
internationalization and the vocabulary associated with those topics. It
is not meant to be a complete description of internationalization. The
definitions in this document are not normative for IETF standards;
however, they are useful and standards may make non-normative reference
to this document after it becomes an RFC. Some of the definitions in
this document come from many earlier IETF documents and books.

As in many fields, there is disagreement in the internationalization
community on definitions for many words. The topic of language brings up
particularly passionate opinions for experts and non-experts alike. This
document attempts to define terms in a way that will be most useful to
the IETF audience.

This document uses definitions from many documents that have been
developed outside the IETF. The primary documents used are:

- ISO/IEC 10646 [ISOIEC10646]

- The Unicode Standard [UNICODE]

- W3C Character Model [CHARMOD]

- IETF RFCs, including [RFC2277]

In the body of this document, the source for the definition is shown in
angle brackets, such as "<ISOIEC10646>". Many definitions are
shown as "<NONE>", which means that the definitions were crafted
originally for this document. The angle bracket notation for the source
of definitions is different than the square bracket notation used
for references to documents, such as in the paragraph above; these
references are given in Section 9.

For some terms, there are commentary and examples after the
definitions. In those cases, the part before the angle brackets is the
definition that comes from the original source, and the part after the
angle brackets is commentary that is not a definition (such as
examples or further exposition).

Examples in this document use the notation for code points and names
from the Unicode Standard [UNICODE] and ISO/IEC 10646 [ISOIEC10646]. For
example, the letter "a" may be represented as either "U+0061" or "LATIN

2. Fundamental Terms

This section covers basic topics that are needed for almost anyone who
is involved with internationalization of IETF protocols.


        A language is a way that humans interact. The use of language occurs
        in many forms, the most common of which are speech, writing, and
        signing. <NONE>

        Some languages have a close relationship between the written and
        spoken forms, while others have a looser relationship. [RFC3066]
        discusses languages in more detail and provides identifiers for
        languages for use in Internet protocols. Note that computer
        languages are explicitly excluded from this definition.


        A set of graphic characters used for the written form of one or more
        languages. <ISOIEC10646>

        Examples of scripts are Latin, Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic, and Han (the
        ideographs used in writing Chinese, Japanese, and Korean). [RFC2277]
        discusses scripts in detail.

        It is common for internationalization novices to mix up the terms
        "language" and "script".  This can be a problem in protocols that
        differentiate the two. Almost all internationalized protocols deal
        with scripts (the written systems) or characters, while fewer
        actually deal with languages.

        A single name can mean either a language or a script; for example,
        "Arabic" is both the name of a language and the name of a script. In
        fact, many scripts borrow their names from the names of languages.
        Further, many scripts are used for many languages; for example, the
        Russian and Bulgarian languages are written in the Cyrillic script.
        Some languages can be expressed using different scripts; the
        Mongolian language can be written in either the Mongolian and
        Cyrillic scripts, and the Serbo-Croatian language is written using
        both the Latin and Cyrillic scripts. Further, some languages are
        normally expressed with more than one script at the same time; for
        example, the Japanese language is normally expressed in the Kanji
        (Han), Katakana, and Hiragana scripts in a single string of text.


        A member of a set of elements used for the organization, control, or
        representation of data. <ISOIEC10646>

        There are at least three common definitions of the word "character":

        - a general description of a text entity

        - a unit of a writing system, often synonymous with "letter" or similar

        - the encoded entity itself

        When people talk about characters, they are mostly using one of the
        first two definitions. Standards, however, mostly use the third
        definition, which is more strict.

        A particular character is identified by its name, not by its shape.
        A name may suggest a meaning, but the character may be used for
        representing other meanings as well. A name may suggest a shape, but
        that does not imply that only that shape is commonly used in print,
        nor that the particular shape is associated only with that name.

coded character

        A character together with its coded representation. <ISOIEC10646>

coded character set

        A coded character set (CCS) is a set of unambiguous rules that
        establishes a character set and the relationship between the
        characters of the set and their coded representation. <ISOIEC10646>

character encoding form

        A character encoding form is a mapping from a character set
        definition to the actual code units used to represent the data.


        The collection of characters included in a character set. Also
        called a character repertoire. <UNICODE>


        A glyph is an abstract form that represents one or more glyph
        images. The term "glyph" is often a synonym for glyph image, which
        is the actual, concrete image of a glyph representation having been
        rasterized or otherwise imaged onto some display surface. In
        displaying character data, one or more glyphs may be selected to
        depict a particular character. These glyphs are selected by a
        rendering engine during composition and layout processing. <UNICODE>

glyph code

        A glyph code is a numeric code that refers to a glyph. Usually, the
        glyphs contained in a font are referenced by their glyph code. Glyph
        codes are local to a particular font; that is, a different font
        containing the same glyphs may use different codes. <UNICODE>


        Transcoding is the process of converting text data from one
        character encoding form to another. Transcoders work only at the
        level of character encoding and do not parse the text. Note:
        Transcoding may involve one-to-one, many-to-one, one-to-many or
        many-to-many mappings. Because some legacy mappings are glyphic,
        they may not only be many-to-many, but also discontinuous: thus XYZ
        may map to yxz. <CHARMOD>

        In this definition, "many-to-one" means a sequence of characters
        mapped to a single character. The "many" does not mean alternative
        characters that map to the single character.

character encoding scheme

        A character encoding scheme (CES) is a character encoding form plus
        byte serialization. There are many character encoding schemes in
        Unicode, such as UTF-8 and UTF-16. <UNICODE>

        Some CESs are associated with a single CCS; for example, UTF-8
        [RFC2279] applies only to ISO/IEC 10646. Other CESs, such as ISO
        2022, are associated with many CCSs.


        A charset is a method of mapping a sequence of octets to a sequence
        of abstract characters. A charset is, in effect, a combination of
        one or more CCSs with a CES. Charset names are registered by the
        IANA according to procedures documented in [RFC2278]. <NONE>

        Many protocol definitions use the term "character set" in their
        descriptions. The terms "charset" or "character encoding scheme" are
        strongly preferred over the term "character set" because "character
        set" has other definitions in other contexts and this can be


        In the IETF, "internationalization" means to add or improve the
        handling of international information in a protocol. <NONE>

        Many protocols that handle text only handle one script (often, the
        one that contains the letters used in English text), or leave the
        question of what character set is used up to local guesswork (which
        leads, of course, to interoperability problems). Internationalizing
        such a protocol allows the protocol to handle more scripts,
        hopefully all of the ones useful in the world.


        The process of adapting an internationalized application platform or
        application to a specific cultural environment. In localization, the
        same semantics are preserved while the syntax may be changed.

        Localization is the act of tailoring an application for a different
        language or script or culture. Some internationalized applications
        can handle a wide variety of languages. Typical users only
        understand a small number of languages, so the program must be
        tailored to interact with users in just the languages they know.

        The major work of localization is translating the user interface and
        documentation, not dealing with localization of protocols.
        Localization involves not only changing the language interaction,
        but also other relevant changes such as display of numbers, dates,
        currency, and so on. The better internationalized an application is,
        the easier it is to localize it for a particular language and
        character encoding scheme.

        Localization is rarely an IETF matter, and protocols that are merely
        localized, even if they are serially localized for several
        locations, are generally considered unsatisfactory for the global

        Do not confuse "localization" with "locale", which is described in
        Section 7 of this document.

i18n, l10n

        These are abbreviations for "internationalization" and
        "localization". <NONE>

        "18" is the number of characters between the "i" and the "n" in
        "internationalization", and "10" is the number of characters between
        the "l" and the "n" in "localization".


        The term "multilingual" has many widely-varying definitions and thus
        is not recommended for use in standards. Some of the definitions
        relate to the ability to handle international characters; other
        definitions relate to the ability to handle multiple charsets; and
        still others relate to the ability to handle multiple languages.

displaying and rendering text

        To display text, a system puts characters on a visual display device
        such as a screen or a printer. To render text, a system analyzes the
        character input to determine how to display the text. The terms
        "display" and "render" are sometimes used interchangeably. Note,
        however,  that text might be rendered as audio and/or tactile
        output, such as in systems that have been designed for people with
        visual disabilities. <NONE>

        Combining characters modify the display of the character (or, in
        some cases, characters) that precede them. When rendering such text,
        the display engine must either find the glyph in the font that
        represents the base character and all of the combining characters,
        or it must render the combination itself. Such rendering can be
        straight-forward, but it is sometimes complicated when the combining
        marks interact with each other, such as when there are two combining
        marks that would appear above the same character. Formatting
        characters can also change the way that a renderer would display
        text. Rendering can also be difficult for some scripts that have
        complex display rules for base characters, such as Arabic and Indic

3. Standards Bodies and Standards

This section describes some of the standards bodies and standards that
appear in discussions of internationalization in the IETF. This is an
incomplete and possibly over-full list; listing too few bodies or
standards can be just as politically dangerous as listing too many. Note
that there are many other bodies that deal with internationalization;
however, few if any of them appear commonly in IETF standards work.

3.1 Standards bodies


        The International Organization for Standardization has been involved
        with standards for characters since before the IETF was started. ISO
        is a non-governmental group made up of national bodies. ISO has many
        diverse standards in the international characters area; the one that
        is most used in the IETF is commonly referred to as "ISO/IEC 10646",
        although its official name has more qualifications. (The IEC is
        International Electrotechnical Commission). ISO/IEC 10646 describes
        a CCS that covers almost all known written characters in use today.

        ISO/IEC 10646 is controlled by the group known as "ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC
        2 WG2", often called "WG2" for short. ISO standards go through many
        steps before being finished, and years often go by between changes
        to ISO/IEC 10646. Information on WG2, and its work products, can be
        found at <>.

        The standard, which comes in multiple parts, can be purchased in
        both print and CD-ROM versions. One example of how to cite the
        standard is given in [RFC2279]. Any standard that cites ISO/IEC
        10646 needs to evaluate how to handle the versioning problem that is
        relevant to the protocol's needs.

        ISO is responsible for other standards that might be of interest to
        protocol developers. [ISO 639] specifies the names of languages, and
        [ISO 3166] specifies the abbreviations of countries. Character work
        is done in the group known as ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22 and ISO TC46, as
        well as other ISO groups.

        Another relevant ISO group is JTC 1/SC22/WG20, which is responsible
        for internationalization in JTC1, such as for international string
        ordering. Information on WG20, and its work products, can be found
        at <>

Unicode Consortium

        The second important group for international character standards is
        the Unicode Consortium. The Unicode Consortium is a trade
        association of companies, governments, and other groups interested
        in promoting the Unicode Standard [UNICODE]. The Unicode Standard is
        a CCS whose repertoire and code points are identical to ISO/IEC
        10646. The Unicode Consortium has added features to the base CCS
        which make it more useful in protocols, such as defining attributes
        for each character. Examples of these attributes include case
        conversion and numeric properties.

        The Unicode Consortium publishes addenda to the Unicode Standard as
        Unicode Technical Reports. There are many types of technical reports
        at various stages of maturity. The Unicode Standard and affiliated
        technical reports can be found at <>.

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

        This group created and maintains the standard for XML, the markup
        language for text that has become very popular. XML has always been
        fully internationalized so that there is no need for a new version
        to handle international text.

local and regional standards organizations

        Just as there are many native CCSs and charsets, there are many
        local and regional standards organizations to create and support
        them. Common examples of these are ANSI (United States), and
        CEN/ISSS (Europe).

3.2 Encodings and transformation formats of ISO/IEC 10646

Characters in the ISO/IEC 10646 CCS can be expressed in many ways.
Encoding forms are direct addressing methods, while transformation
formats are methods for expressing encoding forms as bits on the wire.

Basic Multilingual Plane (BMP)

        The BMP is composed of the first 2^16 code points in ISO/IEC 10646.
        The BMP is also called "plane 0".

UCS-2 and UCS-4

        UCS-2 and UCS-4 are the two encoding forms defined for ISO/IEC
        10646. UCS-2 addresses only the BMP. Because many useful characters
        (such as many Han characters) have been defined outside of the BMP,
        many people would consider UCS-2 to be dead. Theoretically, UCS-4
        addresses the entire range of 2^31 code points from ISO/IEC 10646 as
        32-bit values. However, for interoperability with UTF-16, ISO 10646
        restricts the range of characters that will actually be allocated to
        the values 0..0x10FFFF.


        UTF-8, a transformation format specified in [RFC2279], is the
        preferred encoding for IETF protocols. Characters in the BMP are
        encoded as one, two, or three octets. Characters outside the BMP are
        encoded as four octets. Characters from the US-ASCII repertoire have
        the same on-the-wire representation in UTF-8 as they do in US-ASCII.

UTF-16, UTF-16BE, and UTF-16LE

        UTF-16, UTF-16BE, and UTF-16LE, three transformation formats defined
        in [RFC2781], are not required by any IETF standards, and are thus
        used much less often than UTF-8. Characters in the BMP are always
        encoded as two octets, and characters outside the BMP are encoded as
        four octets. The three formats differ based on the order of the
        octets and the presence of a special lead-in mark called the "byte
        order mark" or "BOM".


        The Unicode Consortium has defined UTF-32 as a transformation format
        for UCS-4 in [UTR19].


        The Unicode Consortium has defined an encoding, SCSU, which is
        designed to offer good compression for typical text. SCSU is
        described in [UTR6]. A different encoding that is meant to be
        MIME-friendly, BOCU-1, is described in [UTN6]. Although compression
        is attractive, as opposed to UTF-8 , neither of these (at the time
        of this writing) has attracted much interest in the IETF.

3.3 Native CCSs and charsets

Before ISO/IEC 10646 was developed, many countries developed their own
CCSs and charsets. Many dozen of these are in common use on the Internet
today. Examples include ISO 8859-5 for Cyrillic and Shift-JIS for
Japanese scripts.

The official list of the registered charset names for use with IETF
protocols is maintained by IANA and can be found at
<>. The list contains
preferred names and aliases. Note that this list has historically
contained many errors, such as names that are in fact not charsets
or references that do not give enough detail to reliably map names
to charsets.

Probably the most well-known native CCS is ASCII [US-ASCII]. This CCS is
used as the basis for keywords and parameter names in many IETF
protocols, and as the sole CCS in numerous IETF protocols that have not
yet been internationalized.

[UTR22] describes issues involved in mapping character data between
charsets, and an XML format for mapping table data.

4. Character Issues

This section contains terms and topics that are commonly used in
character handling and therefore are of concern to people
internationalizing protocols. These topics are standardized outside the

combining character

        A member of an identified subset of the coded character set of
        ISO/IEC 10646 intended for combination with the preceding
        non-combining graphic character, or with a sequence of combining
        characters preceded by a non-combining character. <ISOIEC10646>

composite sequence

        A sequence of graphic characters consisting of a non-combining
        character followed by one or more combining characters. A graphic
        symbol for a composite sequence generally consists of the
        combination of the graphic symbols of each character in the
        sequence. A composite sequence is not a character and therefore is
        not a member of the repertoire of ISO/IEC 10646. <ISOIEC10646>

        In some CCSs, some characters consist of combinations of other
        characters. For example, the letter "a with acute" might be a
        combination of the two characters "a" and "combining acute", or it
        might be a combination of the three characters "a", a
        non-destructive backspace, and an acute. The rules for combining two
        or more characters are called "composition rules", and the rules for
        taking apart a character into other characters is called
        "decomposition rules". The results of composition is called a
        "precomposed character"; the results of decomposition is called a
        "decomposed character".


        Normalization is the transformation of data to a normal form, for
        example, to unify spelling. <UNICODE>

        Note that the phrase "unify spelling" in the definition above does
        not mean unifying different words with the same meaning (such as
        "color" and "colour"). Instead, it means unifying different
        character sequences that are intended to form the same composite
        characters (such as "<a><n><combining tilde><o>" and "<a><n with

        The purpose of normalization is to allow two strings to be compared
        for equivalence. The strings "<a><n><combining tilde><o>" and "<a><n
        with tilde><o>" would be shown identically on a text display device.
        If a protocol designer wants those two strings to be considered
        equivalent during comparison, the protocol must define where
        normalization occurs.

        The terms "normalization" and "canonicalization" are often used
        interchangeably. Generally, they both mean to convert a string of
        one or more characters into another string based on standardized
        rules. Some CCSs allow multiple equivalent representations for a
        written string; normalization selects one among multiple equivalent
        representations as a base for reference purposes in comparing
        strings. In strings of text, these rules are usually based on
        decomposing combined characters or composing characters with
        combining characters. [UTR15] describes the process and many forms
        of normalization in detail. Normalization is important when
        comparing strings to see if they are the same.


        Case is the feature of certain alphabets where the letters have two
        distinct forms. These variants, which may differ markedly in shape
        and size, are called the uppercase letter (also known as capital or
        majuscule) and the lowercase letter (also known as small or
        minuscule). Case mapping is the association of the uppercase and
        lowercase forms of a letter. <UNICODE>

        There is usually (but not always) a one-to-one mapping between the
        same letter in the two cases. However, there are many examples of
        characters which exist in one case but for which there is no
        corresponding character in the other case or for which there is a
        special mapping rule, such as the Turkish dotless "i" and some Greek
        characters with modifiers. Case mapping can even be dependent on
        locale. Converting text to have only one case is called "case

sorting and collation

        Collating is the process of ordering units of textual information.
        Collation is usually specific to a particular language. It is
        sometimes known as alphabetizing, although alphabetization is just a
        special case of sorting and collation. <UNICODE>

        Collation is concerned with the determination of the relative order
        of any particular pair of strings, and algorithms concerned with
        collation focus on the problem of providing appropriate weighted
        keys for string values, to enable binary comparison of the key
        values to determine the relative ordering of the strings.

        Sorting is the process of actually putting data records into
        specified orders, according to criteria for comparison between the
        records. Sorting can apply to any kind of data (including textual
        data) for which an ordering criterion can be defined. Algorithms
        concerned with sorting focus on the problem of performance (in terms
        of time, memory, or other resources) in actually putting the data
        records into a specified order.

        A sorting algorithm for string data can be internationalized by
        providing it with the appropriate collation-weighted keys
        corresponding to the strings to be ordered.

        Many processes have a need to order strings in a consistent sequence
        (sorted). For only a few CCS/CES combinations, there is an obvious
        sort order that can be done without reference to the linguistic
        meaning of the characters: the codepoint order is sufficient for
        sorting. That is, the codepoint order is also the order that a
        person would use in sorting the characters. For most CCS/CES
        combinations, the codepoint order would make no sense to a person
        and therefore is not useful for sorting if the results will be
        displayed to a person.

        Codepoint order is usually not how any human educated by a local
        school system expects to see strings ordered; if one orders to the
        expectations of a human, one has a language-specific sort. Sorting
        to codepoint order will seem inconsistent if the strings are not
        normalized before sorting because different representations of the
        same character will sort differently. This problem may be smaller
        with a language-specific sort.

code table

        A code table is a table showing the characters allocated to the
        octets in a code. <ISOIEC10646>

        Code tables are also commonly called "code charts".

4.1 Types of characters

The following definitions of types of characters do not clearly
delineate each character into one type, nor do they allow someone to
accurately predict what types would apply to a particular character. The
definitions are intended for application designers to help them think
about the many (sometimes confusing) properties of text.


        An informative Unicode property. Characters that are the primary
        units of alphabets and/or syllabaries, whether combining or
        noncombining. This includes composite characters that are canonical
        equivalents to a combining character sequence of an alphabetic base
        character plus one or more combining characters: letter digraphs;
        contextual variant of alphabetic characters; ligatures of alphabetic
        characters; contextual variants of ligatures; modifier letters;
        letterlike symbols that are compatibility equivalents of single
        alphabetic letters; and miscellaneous letter elements. <UNICODE>


        Any symbol that primarily denotes an idea (or meaning) in contrast
        to a sound (or pronunciation), for example, a symbol showing a
        telephone or the Han characters used in Chinese, Japanese, and
        Korean. <UNICODE>


        Characters that separate units of text, such as sentences and
        phrases, thus clarifying the meaning of the text. The use of
        punctuation marks is not limited to prose; they are also used in
        mathematical and scientific formulae, for example. <UNICODE>


        One of a set of characters other than those used for letters,
        digits, or punctuation, and representing various concepts generally
        not connected to written language use per se. Examples include
        symbols for mathematical operators, symbols for OCR, symbols for
        box-drawing or graphics, and symbols for dingbats. <NONE>

        Examples of symbols include characters for arrows, faces, and
        geometric shapes. [UNICODE] has a property that defines characters
        as symbols.

nonspacing character

        A combining character whose positioning in presentation is dependent
        on its base character. It generally does not consume space along the
        visual baseline in and of itself. <UNICODE>

        A combining acute accent (U+0301) is an example of a nonspacing


        A mark applied or attached to a symbol to create a new symbol that
        represents a modified or new value. They can also be marks applied
        to a symbol irrespective of whether it changes the value of that
        symbol. In the latter case, the diacritic usually represents an
        independent value (for example, an accent, tone, or some other
        linguistic information). Also called diacritical mark or
        diacritical. <UNICODE>

control character

        The 65 characters in the ranges U+0000..U+001F and U+007F..U+009F.
        They are also known as control codes. <UNICODE>

formatting character

        Characters that are inherently invisible but that have an effect on
        the surrounding characters. <UNICODE>

        Examples of formatting characters include characters for specifying
        the direction of text and characters that specify how to join
        multiple characters.

compatibility character

        A graphic character included as a coded character of ISO/IEC 10646
        primarily for compatibility with existing coded character sets.

        For example, U+FF01 (FULLWIDTH EXCLAMATION MARK) was included for
        compatibility with Asian character sets that include full-width and
        half-width ASCII characters.

5. User interface for text

Although the IETF does not standardize user interfaces, many protocols
make assumptions about how a user will enter or see text that is used in
the protocol. Internationalization challenges assumptions about the type
and limitations of the input and output devices that may be used with
applications that use various protocols. It is therefore useful to
consider how users typically interact with text that might contain
one or more non-ASCII characters.

input methods

        An input method is a mechanism for a person to enter text into an
        application. <NONE>

        Text can be entered into a computer in many ways. Keyboards are by
        far the most common device used, but many characters cannot be
        entered on typical computer keyboards in a single stroke. Many
        operating systems come with system software that lets users input
        characters outside the range of what is allowed by keyboards.

        For example, there are dozens of different input methods for Han
        characters in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Some start with
        phonetic input through the keyboard, while others use the number of
        strokes in the character. Input methods are also needed for scripts
        that have many diacritics, such as European characters that have two
        or three diacritics on a single alphabetic character.

rendering rules

        A rendering rule is an algorithm that a system uses to decide how to
        display a string of text. <NONE>

        Some scripts can be directly displayed with fonts, where each
        character from an input stream can simply be copied from a glyph
        system and put on the screen or printed page. Other scripts need
        rules that are based on the context of the characters in order to
        render text for display.

        Some examples of these rendering rules include:

        - Scripts such as Arabic (and many others), where the form of the
          letter changes depending on the adjacent letters, whether the
          letter is standing alone, at the beginning of a word, in the
          middle of a word, or at the end of a word. The rendering rules
          must choose between two or more glyphs.

        - Scripts such as the Indic scripts, where consonants may change
          their form if they are adjacent to certain other consonants or may
          be displayed in an order different from the way they are stored
          and pronounced. The rendering rules must choose between two or
          more glyphs.

        - Arabic and Hebrew scripts, where the order of the characters
          displayed are changed by the bidirectional properties of the
          alphabetic characters and with right-to-left and left-to-right
          ordering marks. The rendering rules must choose the order that
          characters are displayed.

graphic symbol

        A graphic symbol is the visual representation of a graphic character
        or of a composite sequence. <ISOIEC10646>


        A font is a collection of glyphs used for the visual depiction of
        character data. A font is often associated with a set of parameters
        (for example, size, posture, weight, and serifness), which, when set
        to particular values, generate a collection of imagable glyphs.

bidirectional display

        The process or result of mixing left-to-right oriented text and
        right-to-left oriented text in a single line is called bidirectional
        display. <UNICODE>

        Most of the world's written languages are displayed left-to-right.
        However, many widely-used written languages such as ones based on
        the Hebrew or Arabic scripts are displayed right-to-left.
        Right-to-left text often confuses protocol writers because they have
        to keep thinking in terms of the order of characters in a string in
        memory, and that order might be different than what they see on the
        screen. (Note that some languages are written both horizontally and

        Further, bidirectional text can cause confusion because there are
        formatting characters in ISO/IEC 10646 which cause the order of
        display of text to change. These explicit formatting characters
        change the display regardless of the implicit left-to-right or
        right-to-left properties of characters.

        It is common to see strings with text in both directions, such as
        strings that include both text and numbers, or strings that contain
        a mixture of scripts.

        [UNICODE] has a long and incredibly detailed algorithm for
        displaying bidirectional text.

undisplayable character

        A character that has no displayable form. <NONE>

        For instance, the zero-width space (U+200B) cannot be displayed
        because it takes up no horizontal space. Formatting characters such
        as those for setting the direction of text are also undisplayable.
        Note, however, that every character in [UNICODE] has a glyph
        associated with it, and that the glyphs for undisplayable characters
        are enclosed in a dashed square as an indication that the actual
        character is undisplayable.

6. Text in current IETF protocols

Many IETF protocols started off being fully internationalized, while
others have been internationalized as they were revised. In this
process, IETF members have seen patterns in the way that many protocols
use text. This section describes some specific protocol interactions
with text.

protocol elements

        Protocol elements are uniquely-named parts of a protocol. <NONE>

        Almost every protocol has named elements, such as "source port" in
        TCP. In some protocols, the names of the elements (or text tokens
        for the names) are transmitted within the protocol. For example, in
        SMTP and numerous other IETF protocols, the names of the verbs are
        part of the command stream.  The names are thus part of the protocol
        standard. The names of protocol elements are not normally seen by
        end users.

name spaces

        A name space is the set of valid names for a particular item, or the
        syntactic rules for generating these valid names. <NONE>

        Many items in Internet protocols use names to identify specific
        instances or values. The names may be generated (by some prescribed
        rules),  registered centrally (e.g., such as with IANA), or have a
        distributed registration and control mechanism, such as the names in
        the DNS.

on-the-wire encoding

        The encoding and decoding used before and after transmission over
        the network is often called the "on-the-wire" (or sometimes just
        "wire") format. <NONE>

        Characters are identified by codepoints. Before being transmitted in
        a protocol, they must first be encoded as bits and octets.
        Similarly, when characters are received in a transmission, they have
        been encoded, and a protocol that needs to process the individual
        characters needs to decode them before processing.

parsed text

        Text strings that is analyzed for subparts. <NONE>

        In some protocols, free text in text fields might be parsed. For
        example, many mail user agents will parse the words in the text of
        the Subject: field to attempt to thread based on what appears after
        the "Re:" prefix.

charset identification

        Specification of the charset used for a string of text. <NONE>

        Protocols that allow more than one charset to be used in the same
        place should require that the text be identified with the
        appropriate charset. Without this identification, a program looking
        at the text cannot definitively discern the charset of the text.
        Charset identification is also called "charset tagging".

language identification

        Specification of the human language used for a string of text.

        Some protocols (such as MIME and HTTP) allow text that is meant for
        machine processing to be identified with the language used in the
        text. Such identification is important for machine-processing of the
        text, such as by systems that render the text by speaking it.
        Language identification is also called "language tagging".


        MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) is a message format
        that allows for textual message bodies and headers in character sets
        other than US-ASCII in formats that require ASCII (most notably,
        [RFC2822], the standard for Internet mail headers). MIME is
        described in RFCs 2045 through 2049, as well as more recent RFCs.

transfer encoding syntax

        A transfer encoding syntax (TES) (sometimes called a transfer
        encoding scheme) is a reversible transform of already-encoded data
        that is represented in one or more character encoding schemes.

        TESs are useful for encoding types of character data into an another
        format, usually for allowing new types of data to be transmitted
        over legacy protocols. The main examples of TESs used in the IETF
        include Base64 and quoted-printable.


        Base64 is a transfer encoding syntax that allows binary data to be
        represented by the ASCII characters A through Z, a through z, 0
        through 9, +, /, and =. It is defined in [RFC2045]. <NONE>

quoted printable

        Quoted printable is a transfer encoding syntax that allows strings
        that have non-ASCII characters mixed in with mostly ASCII printable
        characters to be somewhat human readable. It is described in
        [RFC2047]. <NONE>

        The quoted printable syntax is generally considered to be a failure
        at being readable. It is jokingly referred to as "quoted


        XML (which is an approximate abbreviation for Extensible Markup
        Language) is a popular method for structuring text. XML text is
        explicitly tagged with charsets. The specification for XML can be
        found at <>. <NONE>

ASN.1 text formats

        The ASN.1 data description language has many formats for text data.
        The formats allow for different repertoires and different encodings.
        Some of the formats that appear in IETF standards based on ASN.1
        include IA5String (all ASCII characters), PrintableString (most
        ASCII characters, but missing many punctuation characters),
        BMPString (characters from ISO/IEC 10646 plane 0 in UTF-16BE
        format), UTF8String (just as the name implies), and TeletexString
        (also called T61String; the repertoire changes over time).

ASCII-compatible encoding (ACE)

        Starting in 1996, many ASCII-compatible encoding schemes (which are
        actually transfer encoding syntaxes) have been proposed as possible
        solutions for internationalizing host names. Their goal is to be
        able to encode any string of ISO/IEC 10646 characters as legal DNS
        host names (as described in STD 13). At the time of this writing, no
        ACE has become an IETF standard.

7. Other Common Terms In Internationalization

This is a hodge-podge of other terms that have appeared in
internationalization discussions in the IETF. It is likely that
additional terms will be added as this document matures.


        Locale is the user-specific location and cultural information
        managed by a computer.  <NONE>

        Because languages differ from country to country (and even region to
        region within a country), the locale of the user can often be an
        important factor. Typically, the locale information for a user
        includes the language(s) used.

        Locale issues go beyond character use, and can include things such
        as the display format for currency, dates, and times. Some locales
        (especially the popular "C" and "POSIX" locales) do not include
        language information.

        It should be noted that there are many thorny, unsolved issues with
        locale. For example, should text be viewed using the locale
        information of the person who wrote the text or the person viewing
        it? What if the person viewing it is travelling to different
        locations? Should only some of the locale information affect
        creation and editing of text?

Latin characters

        "Latin characters" is a not-precise term for characters historically
        related to ancient Greek script and currently used throughout the
        world. <NONE>

        The base Latin characters make up the ASCII repertoire and have been
        augmented by many single and multiple diacritics and quite a few
        other characters. ISO/IEC 10646 encodes the Latin characters in the
        ranges U+0020..U+024F, U+1E00..U+1EFF, and other ranges.


        The transliteration of a non-Latin script into Latin characters.

        Because of the widespread use of Latin characters, people have tried
        to represent many languages that are not based on a Latin repertoire
        in Latin. For example, there are two popular romanizations of
        Chinese: Wade-Giles and Pinyin, the latter of which is by far more
        common today. Most romanization systems are inexact and do not give
        perfect round trip mappings between the native script and the Latin

CJK characters and Han characters

        The ideographic characters used in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and
        traditional Vietnamese writing systems are often called 'CJK
        characters' after the initial letters of the language names in
        English. They are also called "Han characters", after the term in
        Chinese that is often used for these characters. <NONE>

        Note that CJK and Han characters do not include the phonetic
        characters used in the Japanese and Korean languages.

        In ISO/IEC 10646, the Han characters were "unified", meaning that
        each set of Han characters from Japanese, Chinese, and/or Korean
        that had the same origin was assigned a single code point. The
        positive result of this was that many fewer code points were needed
        to represent Han; the negative result of this was that characters
        that people who write the three languages think are different have
        the same code point. There is a great deal of disagreement on the
        nature, the origin, and the severity of the problems caused by Han


        The process of conveying the meaning of some passage of text in one
        language, so that it can be expressed equivalently in another
        language. <NONE>

        Most language translation systems are inexact and cannot be applied
        repeatedly to go from one language to another to another.


        The process of representing the characters of an alphabetical or
        syllabic system of writing by the characters of a conversion
        alphabet. <NONE>

        Most script transliterations are exact, and many have perfect
        round-trip mappings. The notable exception to this is romanization,
        described above. Transliteration involves converting text expressed
        in one script into another script, generally on a letter-by-letter


        The process of systematically writing the sounds of some passage of
        spoken language, generally with the use of a technical phonetic
        alphabet (usually Latin-based) or other systematic transcriptional
        orthography. Transcription also sometimes refers to the conversion
        of written text into a transcribed (usually Latin-based) form, based
        on the sound of the text as if it had been spoken. <NONE>

        Unlike transliterations, which are generally designed to be
        round-trip convertible, transcriptions of written material are
        almost never round-trip convertible to their original form.

regular expressions

        Regular expressions provide a mechanism to select specific strings
        from a set of character strings. Regular expressions are a language
        used to search for text within strings, and possibly modify the text
        found with other text. <NONE>

        Pattern matching for text involves being able to represent one or
        more code points in an abstract notation, such as searching for all
        capital Latin letters or all punctuation. The most common mechanism
        in IETF protocols for naming such patterns is the use of regular
        expressions. There is no single regular expression language, but
        there are numerous very similar dialects.

        The Unicode Consortium has a good discussion about how to adapt
        regular expression engines to use Unicode. [UTR18]

private use

        ISO/IEC 10646 code points from U+E000 to U+F8FF, U+F0000 to U+FFFFD,
        and U+100000 to U+10FFFD are available for private use. This refers
        to code points of the standard whose interpretation is not specified
        by the standard and whose use may be determined by private agreement
        among cooperating users. <UNICODE>

        The use of these "private use" characters is defined by the parties
        who transmit and receive them, and is thus not appropriate for
        standardization. (The IETF has a long history of private use names
        for things such as "x-" names in MIME types, charsets, and
        languages. The experience with these has been quite negative, with
        many implementors assuming that private use names are in fact public
        and long-lived.)

8. Security Considerations

Security is not discussed in this document.

9. References

[CHARMOD] Character Model for the World Wide Web 1.0, W3C,

[FRAMEWORK] ISO/IEC TR 11017:1997(E). Information technology - Framework
for internationalization, prepared by ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 22/WG 20.

[ISO 639]   ISO 639:2000 (E/F) - Code for the representation of names of

[ISO 3166]  ISO 3166:1988 (E/F) - Codes for the representation of names
of countries.

[ISOIEC10646] ISO/IEC 10646-1:2000. International Standard --
Information technology -- Universal Multiple-Octet Coded Character Set
(UCS) -- Part 1: Architecture and Basic Multilingual Plane.

[RFC2045] "MIME Part One: Format of Internet Message Bodies", RFC 2045,
N. Freed and N. Borenstein.

[RFC2047] "MIME Part Three: Message Header Extensions for Non-ASCII
Text", RFC 2047, K. Moore.

[RFC2277] "IETF Policy on Character Sets and Languages", RFC 2277, H.

[RFC2279] "UTF-8, a transformation format of ISO 10646", RFC 2279, F.

[RFC2781] "UTF-16, an encoding of ISO 10646", RFC 2781, P. Hoffman and
F. Yergeau.

[RFC2822] "Internet Message Format", RFC 2822, P. Resnick.

[RFC3066] "Tags for the Identification of Languages", RFC 3066, H.

[UNICODE] The Unicode Consortium, "The Unicode Standard -- Version 3.0",
ISBN 0-201-61633-5. Described at

[US-ASCII]  Coded Character Set -- 7-bit American Standard Code for
Information Interchange, ANSI X3.4-1986.

[UTN6] "BOCU-1: MIME-Compatible Unicode Compression", Unicode Technical
Note #6, M. Scherer & M. Davis.

[UTR6] "A Standard Compression Scheme for Unicode", Unicode Technical
Report #6, M. Wolf, et. al.

[UTR15] "Unicode Normalization Forms", Unicode Technical Report #15, M.
Davis & M. Duerst.

[UTR18] "Unicode Regular Expression Guidelines", Unicode Technical
Report #18, M. Davis.

[UTR19] "UTF-32", Unicode Technical Report #19, M. Davis.

[UTR22] "Character Mapping Markup Language", Unicode Technical Report
#22, M. Davis.

10. Additional Interesting Reading

ALA-LC Romanization Tables, Randall Barry (ed.), U.S. Library
of Congress, 1997, ISBN 0844409405

Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems, Florian Coulmas, Blackwell
Publishers, 1999, ISBN 063121481X

The World's Writing Systems, Peter Daniels and William Bright, Oxford
University Press, 1996, ISBN 0195079930

Writing Systems of the World, Akira Nakanishi, Charles E. Tuttle
Company, 1980, ISBN 0804816549

11. Index

alphabetic -- 4.1
ASCII-compatible encoding (ACE) -- 6
ASN.1 text formats -- 6
Base64 -- 6
Basic Multilingual Plane (BMP) -- 3.2
bidirectional display -- 5
BOCU-1 -- 3.2
case -- 4
character -- 2
character encoding form -- 2
character encoding scheme -- 2
charset -- 2
charset identification -- 6
CJK characters and Han characters -- 7
code chart -- 4
code table -- 4
coded character -- 2
coded character set -- 2
combining character -- 4
compatibility character -- 4.1
composite sequence -- 4
control character -- 4.1
diacritic -- 4.1
displaying and rendering text -- 2
font -- 5
formatting character -- 4.1
glyph -- 2
glyph code -- 2
graphic symbol -- 5
i18n, l10n -- 2
ideographic -- 4.1
input methods -- 5
internationalization -- 2
ISO -- 3.1
language -- 2
language identification -- 6
Latin characters -- 7
local and regional standards organizations -- 3.1
locale -- 7
localization -- 2
MIME -- 6
multilingual -- 2
name spaces -- 6
nonspacing character -- 4.1
normalization -- 4
on-the-wire encoding -- 6
parsed text -- 6
private use -- 7
protocol elements -- 6
punctuation -- 4.1
quoted printable -- 6
regular expressions -- 7
rendering rules -- 5
romanization -- 7
script -- 2
SCSU -- 3.2
sorting and collation -- 4
symbol -- 4.1
transcoding -- 2
transcription -- 7
transfer encoding syntax -- 6
translation -- 7
transliteration -- 7
UCS-2 and UCS-4 -- 3.2
undisplayable character -- 5
Unicode Consortium -- 3.1
UTF-32 -- 3.2
UTF-16, UTF-16BE, and UTF-16LE -- 3.2
UTF-8 -- 3.2
World Wide Web Consortium -- 3.1
XML -- 6

A. Acknowledgements

The definitions in this document come from many sources, including a
wide variety of IETF documents.

James Seng contributed to the initial outline of this document. Harald
Alvestrand and Martin Duerst made extensive useful comments on early
versions. Others who contributed to the development include:

Dan Kohn
Jacob Palme
Johan van Wingen
Peter Constable
Yuri Demchenko
Susan Harris
Zita Wenzel
John Klensin
Henning Schulzrinne
Leslie Daigle
Markus Scherer
Ken Whistler

B. Author Contact Information

Paul Hoffman
Internet Mail Consortium and VPN Consortium
127 Segre Place
Santa Cruz, CA  95060 USA and

C. Changes from -08 to -09

[[ To be removed when published as an RFC ]]

Only formatting changes requested by the RFC Editor.