International text layout and typography index

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Richard Ishida (W3C)


This document points browser implementers and specification developers to information about how to support typographic features of scripts or writing systems from around the world, and also points to relevant information in specifications, to tests, and to useful articles and papers. It is not exhaustive, and will be added to from time to time.

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

The information in this document helps to link users and developers so that browsers can better support typographic needs around the world. It is expected that this document will be constantly updated, as new material becomes available or comes to our attention.


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This document was published by the Internationalization Working Group as a Working Draft.

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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 cite this document as other than work in progress.

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This document is governed by the 1 February 2018 W3C Process Document.

1. Introduction

The W3C and browser implementers need to make sure that the text layout and typographic needs of scripts and languages around the world are built in to technologies such as HTML, CSS, SVG, etc. so that Web pages and eBooks can look and behave as users expect.

To that end experts in various parts of the world are documenting layout and typographic requirements, as well as gaps between what is needed and what is currently supported in browsers and ebook readers. (See a list of relevant work in this area that is supported by the W3C Internationalization groups.)

This page points browser implementers and specification developers to information about how to support features of scripts or writing systems from around the world, and also points to relevant information in specifications, to tests, and to useful articles and papers. It is not exhaustive, and will be added to from time to time.

The Github resources links point to ongoing discussions of three types:

  1. Requests for information point to requests for more information about how one or more scripts work.
  2. Spec issues point to requests to implement a particular script feature in a spec.
  3. Browser bugs point to requests to implement or fix a particular script feature in a browser.

Additional information and references are hereby solicited; please suggest additions, clarifications, corrections, and other improvements using the github issues list. 

2. Characters & phrases

2.1 Fonts

Some scripts require special handling with regard to how font properties are specified and how font resources are loaded dynamically. In some scripts it is common to use different fonts for headings or emphasis, rather than bolding or italicisation. Fallback font families used by browsers (eg. serif, sans-serif, cursive, etc.) may need to be mapped differently to fonts for different scripts. Special OpenType features may need to be supported.

2.2 Font styles

In CSS, italic and oblique are described as font styles. Non-Latin script can add requirements for such styling. For example, oblique styles in Arabic or Hebrew scripts text may lean to the left. Proper italic glyphs in Cyrillic text can look very different from normal variants, and so synthesising italics can produce poor results. Chinese, Japanese and Korean fonts almost always lack italic or oblique faces, because those are not native typographic traditions.

2.3 Glyphs and diacritics

In some scripts, such as Arabic, it may be desirable to allow the content author to control the placement of glyphs such as diacritics, or to control ligation, etc. Languages written with Arabic and Hebrew scripts have particular rules, of course, about when it is appropriate to show or hide diacritics for short vowel sounds. Many complex scripts have rules about how characters combine in syllabic structures, and scripts like Arabic may need controls to indicate where ligatures are wanted or not wanted.

2.4 Cursive text

In scripts such as Arabic, Mongolian and N'Ko adjacent characters are joined together in normal printed text. It is important to ensure that those connections can be maintained correctly when characters are forced apart, or when transparency is applied to the text, etc. There are also situations where cursive joining behaviour exists when there is no adjacent character, or where joining needs to be disabled between glyphs.

2.5 Transforming characters

Conversion between lower, upper and title case only applies to a few scripts, most scripts are unicameral. Where it does apply, the rules can vary by language.

In other cases, a particular script may require a different type of transform. For example, in Japanese it is important to be able to convert between half-width and full-width presentation forms.

2.6 Numbers & digits

Some scripts have one or sometimes more sets of their own numeric characters. In some cases, numeric characters represent numbers like 100, or 10,000. Numeric formats can also vary significantly, in terms not only of the separators and negative signs used, but also the groupings used for digits.

See also 3.4 Lists, counters, etc.

2.7 Identifying boundaries of graphemes, words and larger groupings

A browser or application needs to correctly apply functions to the basic units of text, be they characters, character sequences, syllables, or words. Some scripts, such as those used in South and South-East Asia, require clusters of characters to be treated as a single unit for most editing operations. Many other scripts use combining characters such as accents, vowel signs, length markers, etc. that must be kept with the base character they are associated with.

When a user double-clicks on some text, the appropriate units should be selected. In scripts such as Chinese and Thai, 'words' should be selected even though they are not separated by spaces. In scripts such as Tibetan and Ethiopic, the word separator may be a visible character, rather than a space. It is important to understand how they should be treated when a 'word' is highlighted, or when text wraps, etc.

2.8 Punctuation

Many scripts use native punctuation marks in addition to or instead of those used in Latin script text. In other cases, such as Greek, common Latin punctuation marks may mean something different from what they mean in English. It may be important to understand what needs to be supported, how these punctuation marks function, and how they interact with other operations applied to the text.

See also 2.9 Quotations and 3.1 Line breaking.

2.9 Quotations

Quotation marks vary from language to language, not just from script to script. Also, you should expect variations in behavior when quotation marks are nested. Furthermore, the quotation marks used for vertical Japanese text are not the same as those typically used for the same text when horizontally laid out.

See also 2.8 Punctuation.

2.10 Inline spacing

Many scripts create emphasis or other effects by spacing out the letters or syllables in a word. There are questions about how this should work in Indic and SE Asian scripts, and in Arabic-based scripts which join up adjacent letters. Another aspect of inline-spacing relates to separation of characters or items in text. For example, French uses spaces before certain punctuation marks, and the traditional Mongolian script requires special spacing between word stems and certain suffixes.

2.11 Ruby annotation

Ruby is used for phonetic and semantic annotations of East Asian text, including furigana, pinyin and zhuyin fuhao systems. In addition to positioning annotations along the correct side of the base text, there are many fine adjustments of the annotation and base text to support.

2.12 Text decoration

Some aspects related to the drawing of lines alongside or through text involve local typographic considerations. For example, underlines need to be broken in special ways for some scripts, and the height of underlines, strike-through and overlines may vary depending on the script. For vertical text the placement needs to be to the right or left of the line of text, rather than under or over.

2.13 Emphasis & highlights

Bold and italic are not always appropriate for expressing emphasis, and some scripts have their own unique ways of doing it, that are not in the Western tradition at all. Note that italicisation is not only a way to express emphasis: see also the section on font style. See also the section on text decoration.

2.14 Bidirectional text direction

Scripts whose characters are typically written right-to-left, like Arabic, Hebrew, Thaana, and so on, become bidirectional when they include numbers or text from other scripts (such as Latin acronyms). Browsers and applications need to support bidirectionality. This means supporting the Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm, but also different visual locations of line start and end, isolation of embedded strings, correct line alignment, and so forth.

2.15 Other inline features

A script may call for other inline features than those mentioned above. Two examples in Japanese include warichu and kumimoji. Warichu is a kind of inline annotation where the note text is two approximately equal lines of half sized text, one above the other, but both within the normal line height. Kumimoji is a way of combining several characters into a single character space.

3. Lines & paragraphs

3.1 Line breaking

There are often specific rules about how scripts behave when a line is wrapped. For example, Chinese, Japanese and Korean tend to break a line in the middle of a word (with no hyphenation) – even in Korean, which has spaces between words. Others break lines at syllable boundaries. (See below for hyphenation.)

It is common for certain characters to be forbidden at the start or end of a line, but which characters these are, and what rules are applied when depends on the script or language. In some cases, such as Japanese, there may be different rules according to the type of content or the user's preference.

3.2 Hyphenation

Some scripts don't use hyphenation, those that do have particular rules about how it should be applied that are typically language-specific.

3.3 Justification & line-end alignment

Typographers have come up with various methods for effective full justification – causing the text to completely fill the line, in order to create visual alignment on both edges of a paragraph.

Typographic conventions for full text justification depend on the writing system, the content language, and the calligraphic style of the text. Results also tend to vary based on the capabilities of the layout engine and a given typographer’s preferences for weighing its various detrimental effects on typographic color and readability.

3.4 Lists, counters, etc

List numbering in vertical text runs across the page, but may need to be rotated to run horizontally. In a list where items are alternatively right-to-left and left-to-right, where does the counter go, and how is the list aligned? The CSS specification describes a set of simple and complex styles for counters to be used in list numbering, chapter heading numbering, etc. It also provides a generic mechanism for content authors to create their own counter styles. One has to consider not only the characters and algorithms to be used (numeric, alphabetic, additive, etc), but also what the separator or other associated marks look like.

3.5 Initial letter styling

Does the browser or ereader correctly handle special styling of the initial letter of a line or paragraph, such as for drop caps?

3.6 Baselines & inline alignment

Browsers and applications must accurately and comprehensively cover requirements for baseline alignment between mixed scripts. For example, Arabic script descenders go far below those of the Latin script, and Armenian characters need to be aligned with ideographic characters in Chinese appropriately with regard to comparative heights and baselines. European, Far Eastern and South Asian scripts tend to use different baselines, which must be aligned correctly.

3.7 Other paragraph features

Some scripts have particular rules about indenting text at the start of a paragraph, or indeed whether that's normal. Some allow punctuation to hang outside the text box at the start or end of a line. There may be other aspects of how paragraphs are presented that vary from script to script, or need to be controlled by the content author.

4. Layout & pages

4.1 Bidirectional layout

When content can flow vertically and to the left or right, how do you specify the location of objects, text, etc. relative to the flow? For example, keywords 'left' and 'right' are likely to need to be reversed for pages written in English and page written in Arabic. (See More page layout and pagination for right-to-left pagination.)

4.2 Vertical text

There are special requirements for vertically oriented text. For example, it's common for content authors to want to mix short horizontal runs of text, such as 2-digit numbers, in a vertical column (tate chu yoko). It's also important to provide appropriate support for text in scripts that are normally only horizontal.

4.3 Notes, footnotes, etc

Support for notes, footnotes, endnotes or other necessary annotations of this kind may vary in other cultures. In some cases, a script may use a very idiosyncratic approach to represent notes inline or to link to footnotes.

4.4 Page numbering, running headers, etc

These links point to conventions for managing the content that appears outside the main text block, for example page numbering, or the way that running headers and the like are handled.

4.5 More page layout and pagination

Some cultures define page areas and page progression direction very differently from those in the West. For example, the size of the Japanese kihon-hanmen, or main text block, is traditionally established by counting character cells, and margin space is then defined by the remaining space. In paged media for right-to-left scripts, pages progress from right to left, and the front and back cover are in the opposite locations to, say, and English book.

Other topics that belong here include any local requirements for things such as cross-references, bookmarks, columns, printer marks, tables of contents and indexes.

5. Changes Since the Last Published Version

The following changes have been made since the document was last published to the TR space:

See the github commit log for more details.