Character Model for the World Wide Web 1.0: Normalization

W3C Working Draft 25 February 2004

This version:
Latest version:
Previous version:
http://www.w3.org/TR/2003/WD-charmod-20030822 (prior to document split)
Martin J. Dürst, W3C <duerst@w3.org>
François Yergeau (Invited Expert)
Richard Ishida, W3C <ishida@w3.org>
Misha Wolf (until Dec 2002), Reuters Ltd. <misha.wolf@reuters.com>
Tex Texin (Invited Expert), XenCraft <tex@XenCraft.com>
Addison Phillips, WebMethods, <aphillips@webmethods.com>


Based on Character Model for the World Wide Web 1.0: Fundamentals [CharMod], this Architectural Specification provides authors of specifications, software developers, and content developers with a common reference for early uniform normalization and string identity matching to improve interoperable text manipulation on the World Wide Web.

Status of this Document

This section describes the status of this document at the time of its publication. Other documents may supersede this document. A list of current W3C publications and the latest revision of this technical report can be found in the W3C technical reports index at http://www.w3.org/TR/.

This is a W3C Working Draft published between the second Last Call on 30 April 2002 and a planned third Last Call. Since the last publication, the document has been split into two parts, called Fundamentals ([CharMod]) and Normalization (this document, republished as a First Public Working Draft), in order to advance the material in Fundamentals while continuing to work on Normalization. This interim publication is used help people review Fundamentals, which advanced to a third Last Call, and to document the progress made on addressing the comments received during the second Last Call, as well as other modifications resulting from continuing collaboration with other working groups. A list of last call comments with their status can be found in the disposition of comments (public version, Members only version).

Work is still ongoing on addressing the comments received during the second Last Call relevant to this document. We do not encourage comments on this Working Draft; instead we ask reviewers to wait for being informed about our disposition of their comments, or for the next Last Call in case of new comments. Comments may be submitted by email to www-i18n-comments@w3.org (public archive).

This document is published as part of the W3C Internationalization Activity by the W3C Internationalization Working Group (I18N WG) (Members only), with the help of the Internationalization Interest Group. The Working Group expects to advance this Working Draft to Recommendation. The Internationalization Working Group will not allow early implementation to constrain its ability to make changes to this specification prior to final release. Publication as a Working Draft does not imply endorsement by the W3C Membership. This is a draft document and may be updated, replaced or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to use W3C Working Drafts as reference material or to cite them as other than "work in progress".

Patent disclosures relevant to this specification may be found on the Working Group's patent disclosure page. This document has been produced under the 24 January 2002 CPP as amended by the W3C Patent Policy Transition Procedure. An individual who has actual knowledge of a patent which the individual believes contains Essential Claim(s) with respect to this specification should disclose the information in accordance with section 6 of the W3C Patent Policy.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction
    1.1 Goals and Scope
    1.2 Background
    1.3 Terminology and Notation
2 Conformance
3 Early Uniform Normalization
    3.1 Motivation
        3.1.1 Why do we need character normalization?
        3.1.2 The choice of early uniform normalization
        3.1.3 The choice of Normalization Form C
    3.2 Definitions for W3C Text Normalization
        3.2.1 Unicode-normalized text
        3.2.2 Include-normalized text
        3.2.3 Fully-normalized text
    3.3 Examples
        3.3.1 General examples
        3.3.2 Examples of XML in a Unicode encoding form
        3.3.3 Examples of restrictions on the use of combining characters
    3.4 Responsibility for Normalization
4 String Identity Matching


A References
    A.1 Normative References
    A.2 Other References
B Composing Characters (Non-Normative)
C Resources for Normalization (Non-Normative)
D Acknowledgements (Non-Normative)

1 Introduction

1.1 Goals and Scope

The goal of this document is to facilitate use of the Web by all people, regardless of their language, script, writing system, and cultural conventions, in accordance with the W3C goal of universal access. One basic prerequisite to achieve this goal is to be able to transmit and process the characters used around the world in a well-defined and well-understood way.

The main target audience of this document is W3C specification developers. This document and parts of it can be referenced from other W3C specifications.

Other audiences of this document include software developers, content developers, and authors of specifications outside the W3C. Software developers and content developers implement and use W3C specifications. This document defines some conformance requirements for software developers and content developers that implement and use W3C specifications. It also helps software developers and content developers to understand the character-related provisions in other W3C specifications.

The character model described in this document provides authors of specifications, software developers, and content developers with a common reference for consistent, interoperable text manipulation on the World Wide Web. Working together, these three groups can build a more international Web.

Topics addressed include character encoding identification, early uniform normalization, string identity matching, string indexing, and URI conventions. Some introductory material on characters and character encoding is also provided.

Topics not addressed or barely touched include collation (sorting), fuzzy matching and language tagging. Some of these topics may be addressed in a future version of this specification.

At the core of the model is the Universal Character Set (UCS), defined jointly by the Unicode Standard [Unicode] and ISO/IEC 10646 [ISO/IEC 10646]. In this document, Unicode is used as a synonym for the Universal Character Set. The model will allow Web documents authored in the world's scripts (and on different platforms) to be exchanged, read, and searched by Web users around the world.

1.2 Background

This section provides some historical background on the topics addressed in this document.

Starting with Internationalization of the Hypertext Markup Language [RFC 2070], the Web community has recognized the need for a character model for the World Wide Web. The first step towards building this model was the adoption of Unicode as the document character set for HTML.

The choice of Unicode was motivated by the fact that Unicode:

  • is the only universal character repertoire available,

  • provides a way of referencing characters independent of the encoding of the text,

  • is being updated/completed carefully,

  • is widely accepted and implemented by industry.

W3C adopted Unicode as the document character set for HTML in [HTML 4.0]. The same approach was later used for specifications such as XML 1.0 [XML 1.0] and CSS2 [CSS2]. W3C specifications and applications now use Unicode as the common reference character set.

The IETF has adopted some policies on the use of character sets on the Internet (see [RFC 2277]).

When data transfer on the Web remained mostly unidirectional (from server to browser), and where the main purpose was to render documents, the use of Unicode without specifying additional details was sufficient. However, the Web has grown:

  • Data transfers among servers, proxies, and clients, in all directions, have increased.

  • Non-ASCII characters [ISO/IEC 646] are being used in more and more places.

  • Data transfers between different protocol/format elements (such as element/attribute names, URI components, and textual content) have increased.

  • More and more APIs are defined, not just protocols and formats.

In short, the Web may be seen as a single, very large application (see [Nicol]), rather than as a collection of small independent applications.

While these developments strengthen the requirement that Unicode be the basis of a character model for the Web, they also create the need for additional specifications on the application of Unicode to the Web. Some aspects of Unicode that require additional specification for the Web include:

  • Choice of Unicode encoding forms (UTF-8, UTF-16, UTF-32).

  • Counting characters, measuring string length in the presence of variable-length character encodings and combining characters.

  • Duplicate encodings of characters (e.g. precomposed vs decomposed).

  • Use of control codes for various purposes (e.g. bidirectionality control, symmetric swapping, etc.).

It should be noted that such aspects also exist in legacy encodings (where legacy encoding is taken to mean any character encoding not based on Unicode), and in many cases have been inherited by Unicode in one way or another from such legacy encodings.

The remainder of this document presents additional specifications and requirements to ensure an interoperable character model for the Web, taking into account earlier work (from W3C, ISO and IETF).

For information about the requirements that informed the development of important parts of this specification, see Requirements for String Identity Matching and String Indexing [CharReq].

2 Conformance

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY" and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119 [RFC 2119].

NOTE: RFC 2119 makes it clear that requirements that use SHOULD are not optional and must be complied with unless there are specific reasons not to: "This word, or the adjective "RECOMMENDED", mean that there may exist valid reasons in particular circumstances to ignore a particular item, but the full implications must be understood and carefully weighed before choosing a different course."

This specification places conformance criteria on specifications, on software and on Web content. To aid the reader, all conformance criteria are preceded by '[X]' where 'X' is one of 'S' for specifications, 'I' for software implementations, and 'C' for Web content. These markers indicate the relevance of the conformance criteria and allow the reader to quickly locate relevant conformance criteria by searching through this document.

Specifications conform to this document if they:

  1. do not violate any conformance criteria preceded by [S],

  2. document the reason for any deviation from criteria where the imperative is SHOULD, SHOULD NOT, or RECOMMENDED,

  3. make it a conformance requirement for implementations to conform to this document,

  4. make it a conformance requirement for content to conform to this document.

Software conforms to this document if it does not violate any conformance criteria preceded by [I].

Content conforms to this document if it does not violate any conformance criteria preceded by [C].

NOTE: Requirements placed on specifications might indirectly cause requirements to be placed on implementations or content that claim to conform to those specifications.

Where this specification contains a procedural description, it is to be understood as a way to specify the desired external behavior. Implementations can use other means of achieving the same results, as long as observable behavior is not affected.

3 Early Uniform Normalization

This chapter discusses text normalization for the Web. 3.1 Motivation discusses the need for normalization, and in particular early uniform normalization. 3.2 Definitions for W3C Text Normalization defines the various types of normalization and 3.3 Examples gives supporting examples. 3.4 Responsibility for Normalization assigns reponsibilities to various components and situations. The requirements for early uniform normalization are discussed in Requirements for String Identity Matching [CharReq], section 3.

3.1 Motivation

3.1.1 Why do we need character normalization?

Text in computers can be encoded in one of many character encodings. In addition, some character encodings allow multiple representations for the 'same' string, and Web languages have escape mechanisms that introduce even more equivalent representations. For instance, in ISO 8859-1 the letter 'ç' can only be represented as the single character E7 'ç', in a Unicode encoding it can be represented as the single character U+00E7 'ç' or the sequence U+0063 'c' U+0327 '¸', and in HTML it could be additionally represented as &ccedil; or &#xE7; or &#231;.

There are a number of fundamental operations that are sensitive to these multiple representations: string matching, indexing, searching, sorting, regular expression matching, selection, etc. In particular, the proper functioning of the Web (and of much other software) depends to a large extent on string matching. Examples of string matching abound: parsing element and attribute names in Web documents, matching CSS selectors to the nodes in a document, matching font names in a style sheet to the names known to the operating system, matching URI pieces to the resources in a server, matching strings embedded in an ECMAScript program to strings typed in by a Web form user, matching the parts of an XPath expression (element names, attribute names and values, content, etc.) to what is found in an instance, etc.

String matching is usually taken for granted and performed by comparing two strings byte for byte, but the existence on the Web of multiple character representations means that it is actually non-trivial. Binary comparison does not work if the strings are not in the same character encoding (e.g. an EBCDIC style sheet being directly applied to an ASCII document, or a font specification in a Shift_JIS style sheet directly used on a system that maintains font names in UTF-16) or if they are in the same character encoding but show variations allowed for the 'same' string by the use of combining characters or by the constructs of the Web language.

Incorrect string matching can have far reaching consequences, including the creation of security holes. Consider a contract, encoded in XML, for buying goods: each item sold is described in a Stück element; unfortunately, "Stück" is subject to different representations in the character encoding of the contract. Suppose that the contract is viewed and signed by means of a user agent that looks for Stück elements, extracts them (matching on the element name), presents them to the user and adds up their prices. If different instances of the Stück element happen to be represented differently in a particular contract, then the buyer and seller may see (and sign) different contracts if their respective user agents perform string identity matching differently, which is fairly likely in the absence of a well-defined specification for string matching. The absence of a well-defined specification would also mean that there would be no way to resolve the ensuing contractual dispute.

Solving the string matching problem involves normalization, which in a nutshell means bringing the two strings to be compared to a common, canonical encoding prior to performing binary matching. (For additional steps involved in string matching see 4 String Identity Matching.)

3.1.2 The choice of early uniform normalization

There are options in the exact way normalization can be used to achieve correct behavior of normalization-sensitive operations such as string matching. These options lie along two axes:

The first axis is a choice of when normalization occurs: early (when strings are created) or late (when strings are compared). The former amounts to establishing a canonical encoding for all data that is transmitted or stored, so that it doesn't need any normalization later, before being used. The latter is the equivalent of mandating 'smart' compare functions, which will take care of any encoding differences.

This document specifies early normalization. The reasons for that choice are manifold:

  • Almost all legacy data as well as data created by current software is normalized (if using NFC).

  • The number of Web components that generate or transform text is considerably smaller than the number of components that receive text and need to perform matching or other processes requiring normalized text.

  • Current receiving components (browsers, XML parsers, etc.) implicitly assume early normalization by not performing or verifying normalization themselves. This is a vast legacy.

  • Web components that generate and process text are in a much better position to do normalization than other components; in particular, they may be aware that they deal with a restricted repertoire only, which simplifies the process of normalization.

  • Not all components of the Web that implement functions such as string matching can reasonably be expected to do normalization. This, in particular, applies to very small components and components in the lower layers of the architecture.

  • Forward-compatibility issues can be dealt with more easily: less software needs to be updated, namely only the software that generates newly introduced characters.

  • It improves matching in cases where the character encoding is partly undefined, such as URIs [RFC 2396] in which non-ASCII bytes have no defined meaning.

  • It is a prerequisite for comparison of encrypted strings (see [CharReq], section 2.7).

The second axis is a choice of canonical encoding. This choice needs only be made if early normalization is chosen. With late normalization, the canonical encoding would be an internal matter of the smart compare function, which doesn't need any wide agreement or standardization.

By choosing a single canonical encoding, it is ensured that normalization is uniform throughout the web. Hence the two axes lead us to the name 'early uniform normalization'.

3.1.3 The choice of Normalization Form C

The Unicode Consortium provides four standard normalization forms (see Unicode Normalization Forms [UTR #15]). These forms differ in 1) whether they normalize towards decomposed characters (NFD, NFKD) or precomposed characters (NFC, NFKC) and 2) whether they normalize away compatibility distinctions (NFKD, NFKC) or not (NFD, NFC).

For use on the Web, it is important not to lose the so-called compatibility distinctions, which may be important (see [UXML] Chapter 4 for a discussion). The NFKD and NFKC normalization forms are therefore excluded. Among the remaining two forms, NFC has the advantage that almost all legacy data (if transcoded trivially, one-to-one) as well as data created by current software is already in this form; NFC also has a slight compactness advantage and a better match to user expectations with respect to the character vs. grapheme issue. This document therefore chooses NFC as the base for Web-related text normalization.

NOTE: Roughly speaking, NFC is defined such that each combining character sequence (a base character followed by one or more combining characters) is replaced, as far as possible, by a canonically equivalent precomposed character. Text in a Unicode encoding form is said to be in NFC if it doesn't contain any combining sequence that could be replaced and if any remaining combining sequence is in canonical order.

For a list of programming resources related to normalization, see C Resources for Normalization.

3.2 Definitions for W3C Text Normalization

For use on the Web, this document defines Web-related text normalization forms by starting with Unicode Normalization Form C (NFC), and additionally addressing the issues of legacy encodings, character escapes, includes, and character and markup boundaries. Examples illustrating these definitions can be found in 3.3 Examples.

A normalizing transcoder is a transcoder that converts from a legacy encoding to a Unicode encoding form and ensures that the result is in Unicode Normalization Form C (see 3.2.1 Unicode-normalized text). For most legacy encodings, it is possible to construct a normalizing transcoder (by using any transcoder followed by a normalizer); it is not possible to do so if the encoding's repertoire contains characters not represented in Unicode.

3.2.1 Unicode-normalized text

Text is, for the purposes of this specification, Unicode-normalized if it is in a Unicode encoding formand is in Unicode Normalization Form C, according to a version of Unicode Standard Annex #15: Unicode Normalization Forms [UTR #15] at least as recent as the oldest version of the Unicode Standard that contains all the characters actually present in the text, but no earlier than version 3.2 [Unicode 3.2].

3.2.2 Include-normalized text

Markup languages, style languages and programming languages often offer facilities for including a piece of text inside another. An include is an instance of a syntactic device specified in a language to include text at the position of the include, replacing the include itself. Examples of includes are entity references in XML, @import rules in CSS and the #include preprocessor statement in C/C++. Character escapes are a special case of includes where the included entity is predetermined by the language.

Text is include-normalized if:

  1. the text is Unicode-normalized and does not contain any character escapes or includes whose expansion would cause the text to become no longer Unicode-normalized; or

  2. the text is in a legacy encoding and, if it were transcoded to a Unicode encoding form by a normalizing transcoder, the resulting text would satisfy clause 1 above.

NOTE: A consequence of this definition is that legacy text (i.e. text in a legacy encoding) is always include-normalized unless i) a normalizing transcoder cannot exist for that encoding (e.g. because the repertoire contains characters not in Unicode) or ii) the text contains character escapes or includes which, once expanded, result in un-normalized text.

NOTE: The specification of include-normalization relies on the syntax for character escapes and includes defined by the (computer) language in use. For plain text (no character escapes or includes) in a Unicode encoding form, include-normalization and Unicode-normalization are equivalent.

3.2.3 Fully-normalized text

Formal languages define constructs, which are identifiable pieces, occurring in instances of the language, such as comments, identifiers, element tags, processing instructions, runs of character data, etc. During the normal processing of include-normalized text, these various constructs may be moved, removed (e.g. removing comments) or merged (e.g. merging all the character data within an element as done by the string() function of XPath), creating opportunities for text to become denormalized. The software performing those operations then has to re-normalize the result, which is a burden. One way to avoid such denormalization is to make sure that the various important constructs never begin with a character such that appending that character to a normalized string can cause the string to become denormalized. A composing character is a character that is one or both of the following:

  1. the second character in the canonical decomposition mapping of some character that is not listed in the Composition Exclusion Table defined in [UTR #15], or

  2. of non-zero canonical combining class (as defined in [Unicode]).

Please consult Appendix B Composing Characters for a discussion of composing characters, which are not exactly the same as Unicode combining characters.

Text is fully-normalized if:

  1. the text is in a Unicode encoding form, is include-normalized and none of the constructs comprising the text begin with a composing character or a character escape representing a composing character; or

  2. the text is in a legacy encoding and, if it were transcoded to a Unicode encoding form by a normalizing transcoder, the resulting text would satisfy clause 1 above.

NOTE: Full-normalization is specified against the context of a (computer) language (or the absence thereof), which specifies the form of character escapes and includes and the separation into constructs. For plain text (no includes, no constructs, no character escapes) in a Unicode encoding form, full-normalization and Unicode-normalization are equivalent.

Identification of the constructs that should be prohibited from beginning with a composing character (the relevant constructs) is language-dependent. As specified in 3.4 Responsibility for Normalization, it is the responsibility of the specification for a language to specify exactly what constitutes a relevant construct. This may be done by specifying important boundaries, taking into account which operations would benefit the most from being protected against denormalization. The relevant constructs are then defined as the spans of text between the boundaries. At a minimum, for those languages which have these notions, the important boundaries are entity (include) boundaries as well as the boundaries between most markup and character data. Many languages will benefit from defining more boundaries and therefore finer-grained full-normalization constructs.

NOTE: In general, it will be advisable not to include character escapes designed to express arbitrary characters among the relevant constructs; the reason is that including them would prevent the expression of combining sequences using character escapes (e.g. 'q&#x30C;' for q-caron), which is especially important in legacy encodings that lack the desired combining marks.

NOTE: Full-normalization is closed under concatenation: the concatenation of two fully-normalized strings is also fully-normalized. As a result, a side benefit of including entity boundaries in the set of boundaries important for full-normalization is that the state of normalization of a document that includes entities can be assessed without expanding the includes, if the included entities are known to be fully-normalized. If all the entities are known to be include-normalized and not to start with a composing character, then it can be concluded that including the entities would not denormalize the document.

3.3 Examples

In some of the following examples, '¸' is used to depict the character U+0327 COMBINING CEDILLA, for the purposes of illustration. Had a real U+0327 been used instead of this spacing (non-combining) variant, some browsers might combine it with a preceding 'c', resulting in a display indistinguishable from a U+00E7 'ç' and a loss of understandability of the examples. In addition, if the sequence c + combining cedilla were present, this document would not be include-normalized and would therefore not conform to itself.

It is also assumed that the example strings are relevant constructs for the purposes of full-normalization.

3.3.1 General examples

The string suçon (U+0073 U+0075 U+00E7 U+006F U+006E) encoded in a Unicode encoding form, is Unicode-normalized, include-normalized and fully-normalized. The same string encoded in a legacy encoding for which there exists a normalizing transcoder would be both include-normalized and fully-normalized but not Unicode-normalized (since not in a Unicode encoding form).

In an XML or HTML context, the string su&#xE7;on is also include-normalized, fully-normalized and, if encoded in a Unicode encoding form, Unicode-normalized. Expanding &#xE7; yields suçon as above, which contains no replaceable combining sequence.

The string suc¸on (U+0073 U+0075 U+0063 U+0327 U+006F U+006E), where U+0327 is the COMBINING CEDILLA, encoded in a Unicode encoding form, is not Unicode-normalized (since the combining sequence '' (U+0063 U+0327) should appear instead as the precomposed 'ç' (U+00E7)). As a consequence this string is neither include-normalized (since in a Unicode encoding form but not Unicode-normalized) nor fully-normalized (since not include-normalized). Note however that the string sub¸on (U+0073 U+0075 U+0062 U+0327 U+006F U+006E) in a Unicode encoding form is Unicode-normalized since there is no precomposed form of 'b' plus cedilla. It is also include-normalized and fully-normalized.

In plain text the string suc&#x0327;on is Unicode-normalized, since plain text doesn't recognize that &#x0327; represents a character in XML or HTML and considers it just a sequence of non-replaceable characters.

In an XML or HTML context, however, expanding &#x0327; yields the string suc¸on (U+0073 U+0075 U+0063 U+0327 U+006F U+006E) which is not Unicode-normalized ('' is replaceable by 'ç'). As a consequence the string is neither include-normalized nor fully-normalized. As another example, if the entity reference &word-end; refers to an entity containing ¸on (U+0327 U+006F U+006E), then the string suc&word-end; is not include-normalized for the same reasons.

In an XML or HTML context, expanding &#x0327; in the string sub&#x0327;on yields the string sub¸on which is Unicode-normalized since there is no precomposed character for 'b cedilla' in NFC. This string is therefore also include-normalized. Similarly, the string sub&word-end; (with &word-end; as above) is include-normalized, for the same reasons.

In an XML or HTML context, the strings ¸on (U+0327 U+006F U+006E) and &#x0327;on are not fully-normalized, as they begin with a composing character (after expansion of the character escape for the second). However, both are Unicode-normalized (if expressed in a Unicode encoding form) and include-normalized.

The following table consolidates the above examples. Normalized forms are indicated using 'Y', a hyphen means 'not normalized'.

suçonUnicodePlain textYYY
LegacyPlain text-YY
su&#xE7;onUnicodePlain textYYY
LegacyPlain text-YY
suc¸onUnicodePlain text---
suc&#x327;onUnicodePlain textYYY
LegacyPlain text-YY
¸onUnicodePlain textYY-
&#x327;onUnicodePlain textYYY
LegacyPlain text-YY

3.3.2 Examples of XML in a Unicode encoding form

Here is another summary table, with more examples but limited to XML in a Unicode encoding form. The following list describes what the entities contain and special character usage. Normalized forms are indicated using 'Y'. There is no precomposed 'b with cedilla' in NFC.


  • "&cedilla;" CEDILLA (combining)



  • "¸" CEDILLA (combining)

  • "/" (immediately before 'on' in last example) COMBINING LONG SOLIDUS OVERLAY


NOTE: From the last example in the table above, it follows that it is impossible to produce a normalized XML or HTML document containing the character U+0338 COMBINING LONG SOLIDUS OVERLAY immediately following an element tag, comment, CDATA section or processing instruction, since the U+0338 '/' combines with the '>' (yielding U+226F NOT GREATER-THAN). It is noteworthy that U+0338 COMBINING LONG SOLIDUS OVERLAY also combines with '<', yielding U+226E NOT LESS-THAN. Consequently, U+0338 COMBINING LONG SOLIDUS OVERLAY should remain excluded from the initial character of XML identifiers.

3.4 Responsibility for Normalization

This section defines the W3C Text Normalization Model, based on early uniform normalization.

Unless otherwise specified, the word 'normalization' in this section may refer to 'include-normalization' or 'full-normalization', depending on which is most appropriate for the specification or implementation under consideration.

An operation is normalization-sensitive if its output(s) are different depending on the state of normalization of the input(s); if the output(s) are textual, they are deemed different only if they would remain different were they to be normalized. These operations are any that involve comparison of characters or character counting, as well as some other operations such as ‘delete first character’ or ‘delete last character’.

A text-processing component is a component that recognizes data as text. This specification does not specify the boundaries of a text-processing component, which may be as small as one line of code or as large as a complete application. A text-processing component may receive text, produce text, or both.

Certified text is text which satisfies at least one of the following conditions:

  1. it has been confirmed through inspection that the text is in normalized form

  2. the source text-processing component is identified and is known to produce only normalized text.

Suspect text is text which is not certified.

NOTE: To normalize text, it is in general sufficient to store the last seen character, but in certain cases (a sequence of combining marks) a buffer of theoretically unlimited length is necessary. However, for normalization checking no such buffer is necessary, only a few variables. C Resources for Normalization points to some compact code that shows how to check normalization without an expanding buffer.

Given the definitions and considerations above, specifications, implementations and content have some responsibilities which are listed below. @@@Specifications, implementations and content ought to follow as many of the responsibilities as possible and make sure that this is done in a way that is consistent overall.

  • C300  [C]  Text content SHOULD be in fully-normalized form and if not SHOULD at least be in include-normalized form.

  • C301  [S]  Specifications of text-based formats and protocols SHOULD, as part of their syntax definition, require that the text be in normalized form.

  • C302  [S]  [I]  A text-processing component that receives suspect text SHOULD NOT perform any normalization-sensitive operations unless it has first confirmed through inspection that the text is in normalized form, and MUST NOT normalize the suspect text. Private agreements MAY, however, be created within private systems which are not subject to these rules, but any externally observable results SHOULD be the same as if the rules had been obeyed.

  • C303  [I]  A text-processing component which modifies text and performs normalization-sensitive operations SHOULD behave as if normalization took place after each modification, so that any subsequent normalization-sensitive operations always behave as if they were dealing with normalized text.

    EXAMPLE: If the 'z' is deleted from the (normalized) string cz¸ (where '¸' represents a combining cedilla, U+0327), normalization is necessary to turn the denormalized result into the properly normalized ç. If the software that deletes the 'z' later uses the string in a normalization-sensitive operation, it needs to normalize the string before this operation to ensure correctness; otherwise, normalization may be deferred until the data is exposed. Analogous cases exist for insertion and concatenation (e.g. xf:concat(xf:substring('cz¸', 1, 1), xf:substring('cz¸', 3, 1)) in XQuery [XQuery Operators]).

    NOTE: Software that denormalizes a string such as in the deletion example above does not need to perform a potentially expensive re-normalization of the whole string to ensure that the string is normalized. It is sufficient to go back to the last non-composing character and re-normalize forward to the next non-composing character; if the string was normalized before the denormalizing operation, it will now be re-normalized.

  • C304  [S]  Specifications of text-based languages and protocols SHOULD define precisely the construct boundaries necessary to obtain a complete definition of full-normalization. These definitions SHOULD include at least the boundaries between markup and character data as well as entity boundaries (if the language has any include mechanism) and SHOULD include any other boundary that may create denormalization when instances of the language are processed.

  • C305  [C]  Even when authoring in a (formal) language that does not mandate full-normalization, content developers SHOULD avoid composing characters at the beginning of constructs that may be significant, such as at the beginning of an entity that will be included, immediately after a construct that causes inclusion or immediately after markup.

  • C306  [I]  Authoring tool implementations for a (formal) language that does not mandate full-normalization SHOULD prevent users from creating content with composing characters at the beginning of constructs that may be significant, such as at the beginning of an entity that will be included, immediately after a construct that causes inclusion or immediately after markup, or SHOULD warn users when they do so.

  • C307  [I]  Implementations which transcode text from a legacy encoding to a Unicode encoding form SHOULD use a normalizing transcoder.

    NOTE: Except when an encoding's repertoire contains characters not represented in Unicode, it is always possible to construct a normalizing transcoder by using any transcoder followed by a normalizer.

  • C308  [S]  Where operations may produce unnormalized output from normalized text input, specifications of API components (functions/methods) that implement these operations MUST define whether normalization is the responsibility of the caller or the callee. Specifications MAY state that performing normalization is optional for some API components; in this case the default SHOULD be that normalization is performed, and an explicit option SHOULD be used to switch normalization off. Specifications SHOULD NOT make the implementation of normalization optional.

    EXAMPLE: The concatenation operation may either concatenate sequences of codepoints without normalization at the boundary, or may take normalization into account to avoid producing unnormalized output from normalized input. An API specification must define whether the operation normalizes at the boundary or leaves that responsibility to the application using the API.

  • C309  [S]  Specifications that define a mechanism (for example an API or a defining language) for producing textual data object SHOULD require that the final output of this mechanism be normalized.

    EXAMPLE: XSL Transformations [XSLT] and the DOM Load & Save specification [DOM3 LS] are examples of specifications that define text output and that should specify that this output be in normalized form.

    NOTE: As an optimization, it is perfectly acceptable for a system to define the producer to be the actual producer (e.g. a small device) together with a remote component (e.g. a server serving as a kind of proxy) to which normalization is delegated. In such a case, the communications channel between the device and proxy server is considered to be internal to the system, not part of the Web. Only data normalized by the proxy server is to be exposed to the Web at large, as shown in the illustration below:

				  of a text producer defined as including a proxy.
    Illustration of a text producer defined as including a proxy.

    A similar case would be that of a Web repository receiving content from a user and noticing that the content is not properly normalized. If the user so requests, it would certainly be proper for the repository to normalize the content on behalf of the user, the repository becoming effectively part of the producer for the duration of that operation.

C310  [S]  [I]  Specifications and implementations MUST document any deviation from the above requirements. C311  [S]  Specifications MUST document any known security issues related to normalization.

4 String Identity Matching

One important operation that depends on early normalization is string identity matching [CharReq], which is a subset of the more general problem of string matching. There are various degrees of specificity for string matching, from approximate matching such as regular expressions or phonetic matching, to more specific matches such as case-insensitive or accent-insensitive matching and finally to identity matching. In the Web environment, where multiple character encodings are used to represent strings, including some character encodings which allow multiple representations for the same thing, identity is defined to occur if and only if the compared strings contain no user-identifiable distinctions. This definition is such that strings do not match when they differ in case or accentuation, but do match when they differ only in non-semantically significant ways such as character encoding, use of character escapes (of potentially different kinds), or use of precomposed vs. decomposed character sequences.

To avoid unnecessary conversions and, more importantly, to ensure predictability and correctness, it is necessary for all components of the Web to use the same identity testing mechanism. Conformance to the rule that follows meets this requirement and supports the above definition of identity.

C312 [S] [I] String identity matching MUST be performed as if the following steps were followed:

  1. Early uniform normalization to fully-normalized form, as defined in 3.2.3 Fully-normalized text. In accordance with section 3 Early Uniform Normalization, this step MUST be performed by the producers of the strings to be compared.

  2. Conversion to a common Unicode encoding form, if necessary.

  3. Expansion of all recognized character escapes and includes.

  4. Testing for bit-by-bit identity.

Step 1 ensures 1) that the identity matching process can produce correct results using the next three steps and 2) that a minimum of effort is spent on solving the problem.

NOTE: The expansion of character escapes and includes (step 3 above) is dependent on context, i.e. on which markup or programming language is considered to apply when the string matching operation is performed. Consider a search for the string 'suçon' in an XML document containing su&#xE7;on but not suçon. If the search is performed in a plain text editor, the context is plain text (no markup or programming language applies), the &#xE7; character escape is not recognized, hence not expanded and the search fails. If the search is performed in an XML browser, the context is XML, the character escape (defined by XML) is expanded and the search succeeds.

An intermediate case would be an XML editor that purposefully provides a view of an XML document with entity references left unexpanded. In that case, a search over that pseudo-XML view will deliberately not expand entities: in that particular context, entity references are not considered includes and need not be expanded.

C313 [S] [I] Forms of string matching other than identity matching SHOULD be performed as if the following steps were followed:

  1. Steps 1 to 3 for string identity matching.

  2. Matching the strings in a way that is appropriate to the application.

Appropriate methods of matching text outside of string identity matching can include such things as case-insensitive matching, accent-insensitive matching, matching characters against Unicode compatibility forms, expansion of abbreviations, matching of stemmed words, phonetic matching, etc.

EXAMPLE: A user who specifies a search for the string suçon against a Unicode encoded XML document would expect to find string identity matches against the strings su&#xE7;on, su&#231;on and su&ccedill;on (where the entity &ccedil; represents the precomposed character 'ç'). Identity matches should also be found whether the string was encoded as 73 75 C3 A7 6F 6E (in UTF-8) or 0073 0075 00E7 006F 006E (in UTF-16), or any other character encoding that can be transcoded into normalized Unicode characters.

It should never be the case that a match would be attempted against strings such as suc&#x327;on or suc¸on since these are not fully-normalized and should cause the text to be rejected. If, however, matching is done against such strings they should also match since they are canonically equivalent.

Forms of matching other than identity, if supported by the application, would have to be used to produce a match against the following strings: SUÇON (case-insensitive matching), sucon (accent-insensitive matching), suçons (matched stems), suçant (phonetic matching), etc.

A References

A.1 Normative References

Martin J. Dürst, François Yergeau, Richard Ishida, Misha Wolf, Tex Texin, Character Model for the World Wide Web 1.0: Fundamentals, W3C Last Call Working Draft. (See http://www.w3.org/TR/charmod.)
ISO/IEC 10646
ISO/IEC 10646-1:2000, Information technology -- Universal Multiple-Octet Coded Character Set (UCS) -- Part 1: Architecture and Basic Multilingual Plane and ISO/IEC 10646-2:2001, Information technology -- Universal Multiple-Octet Coded Character Set (UCS) -- Part 2: Supplementary Planes, as, from time to time, amended, replaced by a new edition or expanded by the addition of new parts. (See http://www.iso.ch for the latest version.)
ISO/IEC 646:1991, Information technology -- ISO 7-bit coded character set for information interchange. This standard defines an International Reference Version (IRV) which corresponds exactly to what is widely known as ASCII or US-ASCII. ISO/IEC 646 was based on the earlier standard ECMA-6. ECMA has maintained its standard up to date with respect to ISO/IEC 646 and makes an electronic copy available at http://www.ecma-international.org/publications/standards/Ecma-006.htm
RFC 2119
S. Bradner, Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels, IETF RFC 2119. (See http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2119.txt.)
RFC 2396
T. Berners-Lee, R. Fielding, L. Masinter, Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI): Generic Syntax, IETF RFC 2396, August 1998. (See http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2396.txt.)
The Unicode Consortium, The Unicode Standard, Version 4, ISBN 0-321-18578-1, as updated from time to time by the publication of new versions. (See http://www.unicode.org/unicode/standard/versions for the latest version and additional information on versions of the standard and of the Unicode Character Database).
Unicode 3.2
The Unicode Consortium, The Unicode Standard, Version 3.2.0 is defined by The Unicode Standard, Version 3.0 (Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley, 2000. ISBN 0-201-61633-5), as amended by the Unicode Standard Annex #27: Unicode 3.1 (see http://www.unicode.org/reports/tr27) and by the Unicode Standard Annex #28: Unicode 3.2 (see http://www.unicode.org/reports/tr28).
UTR #15
Mark Davis, Martin Dürst, Unicode Normalization Forms, Unicode Standard Annex #15. (See http://www.unicode.org/unicode/reports/tr15 for the latest version).

A.2 Other References

Martin J. Dürst, Requirements for String Identity Matching and String Indexing, W3C Working Draft. (See http://www.w3.org/TR/WD-charreq.)
Bert Bos, Håkon Wium Lie, Chris Lilley, Ian Jacobs, Eds., Cascading Style Sheets, level 2 (CSS2 Specification), W3C Recommendation. (See http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-CSS2.)
Ben Chang, Jeroen van Rotterdam, Johnny Stenback, Andy Heninger, Joe Kesselman, Rezaur Rahman Eds., Document Object Model (DOM) Level 3 Abstract Schemas and Load and Save Specification, W3C Working Draft. (See http://www.w3.org/TR/DOM-Level-3-ASLS.)
HTML 4.0
Dave Raggett, Arnaud Le Hors, Ian Jacobs, Eds., HTML 4.0 Specification, W3C Recommendation, 18-Dec-1997 (See http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40-971218.)
ISO/IEC 14651
ISO/IEC 14651:2000, Information technology -- International string ordering and comparison -- Method for comparing character strings and description of the common template tailorable ordering as, from time to time, amended, replaced by a new edition or expanded by the addition of new parts. (See http://www.iso.ch for the latest version.)
Gavin Nicol, The Multilingual World Wide Web, Chapter 2: The WWW As A Multilingual Application. (See http://www.mind-to-mind.com/library/papers/multilingual/multilingual-www.html.)
RFC 2070
F. Yergeau, G. Nicol, G. Adams, M. Dürst, Internationalization of the Hypertext Markup Language, IETF RFC 2070, January 1997. (See http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2070.txt.)
RFC 2277
H. Alvestrand, IETF Policy on Character Sets and Languages, IETF RFC 2277, BCP 18, January 1998. (See http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2277.txt.)
Martin Dürst and Asmus Freytag, Unicode in XML and other Markup Languages, Unicode Technical Report #20 and W3C Note. (See http://www.w3.org/TR/unicode-xml.)
XML 1.0
Tim Bray, Jean Paoli, C. M. Sperberg-McQueen, Eve Maler, Eds., Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0, W3C Recommendation. (See http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-xml.)
XQuery Operators
Ashok Malhotra, Jim Melton, Jonathan Robie, Norman Walsh, Eds, XQuery 1.0 and XPath 2.0 Functions and Operators, W3C Working Draft. (See http://www.w3.org/TR/xquery-operators.)
James Clark Ed., XSL Transformations (XSLT), W3C Recommendation. (See http://www.w3.org/TR/xslt.)

B Composing Characters (Non-Normative)

As specified in 3.2.3 Fully-normalized text, a composing character is any character that is

  1. the second character in the canonical decomposition mapping of some character that is not listed in the Composition Exclusion Table defined in [UTR #15], or

  2. of non-zero canonical combining class (as defined in [Unicode]).

These two categories are highly but not exactly overlapping. The first category includes a few class-zero characters that do compose with a previous character in NFC; this is the case for some vowel and length marks in Brahmi-derived scripts, as well as for the modern non-initial conjoining jamos of the Korean Hangul script. The second category includes some combining characters that do not compose in NFC, for the simple reason that there is no precomposed character involving them. They must nevertheless be taken into account as composing characters because their presence may make reordering of combining marks necessary, to maintain normalization under concatenation or deletion. Therefore, composing characters as defined in 3.2.3 Fully-normalized text include all characters of non-zero canonical combining class plus the following (as of Unicode 3.2):

Unicode numberCharacterName
Brahmi-derived scripts
Hangul vowels
Hangul trailing consonants

NOTE: The characters in the second column of the above table may or may not appear, or may appear as blank rectangles, depending on the capabilities of your browser and on the fonts installed in your system.

C Resources for Normalization (Non-Normative)

The following are freely available programming resources related to normalization:

D Acknowledgements (Non-Normative)

Asmus Freytag and in early stages Ian Jacobs provided significant help in the authoring and editing process. The W3C I18N WG and IG, as well as others, provided many comments and suggestions.