How to work with non-BMP characters

How to work with non-BMP characters

Ecmascript and Duktape support for non-BMP

Ecmascript standard strings are 16-bit only

Ecmascript standard itself does not support non-BMP characters: all codepoints are strictly 16-bit. Non-BMP characters are intended to be represented using surrogate pairs:

ES2015 RegExp patterns having the u flag support non-BMP characters by interpreting the string data as UTF-16:

ES2015 String.prototype.trim() also has special handling for non-BMP characters (again interpreting the string as UTF-16):

Duktape strings support up to 32-bit codepoints

Duktape represents strings in an extended UTF-8 format which allows both arbitrary 16-bit codepoints (as required by Ecmascript) but also extended codepoints for the full 32-bit range. Also arbitrary byte sequences (which are invalid UTF-8) are allowed:

As a result, Duktape supports characters in the non-BMP range directly:

  • C code can push such strings, expressed as (extended) UTF-8, directly using e.g. duk_push_string().
  • Non-BMP characters will mostly work as one expects in Ecmascript code. There are some individual Ecmascript bindings which may not work as expected because the standard bindings expect codepoints to be at most 16 bits.

Main approaches for dealing with non-BMP characters

The main choice is between:

  • Using surrogate pairs: standard approach, engine neutral, has some inconveniences like .length of strings counting the surrogate pair characters individually. C code will first encode non-BMP characters into surrogate pairs, with each codepoint in the pair then encoded using CESU-8.
  • Using Duktape specific non-BMP strings: more natural for C code, .length will be correct, has some inconveniences like some standard bindings working in unexpected ways. C code will encode strings using UTF-8 directly.

Using surrogate pairs

For example, to represent LEFT-POINTING MAGNIFYING GLASS U+1F50D:

var magnifyingGlass = '\uD83D\uDD0D';

print(magnifyingGlass.length);  // prints 2
print(Duktape.enc('hex', magnifyingGlass));  // prints eda0bdedb48d, surrogate codepoints eda0bd edb48d
= eda0bdedb48d

Note in particular that the \u escape only accepts 4 digits, which may be misleading:

// This gets parsed as U+1F50 followed by ASCII 'D'.
var magnifyingGlass = '\u1F50D';

If you want your C code to see UTF-8 you'll need to encode/decode the surrogate pairs as appropriate. It's probably best to write helpers to:

  • Push a UTF-8 string onto the value stack, converting non-BMP characters to surrogate pairs (CESU-8).
  • Read a string the value stack, converting surrogate pairs (CESU-8) into UTF-8.

Using Duktape UTF-8

This approach is convenient for C code, because strings can be expressed directly as UTF-8 with no conversion or dealing with surrogate pairs.

One limitation is that there is no Ecmascript syntax for non-BMP characters so you can't use them in literals. There are a few workarounds:

// Decode from Duktape JX format which supports UTF-8.
var magnifyingGlass = Duktape.dec('jx', '"\U0001f50d"');
print(magnifyingGlass.length);  // prints 1
print(Duktape.enc('hex', magnifyingGlass));  // prints f09f948d, direct UTF-8  for U+1F50D

// Enter UTF-8 data directly as hex.
var magnifyingGlass = Duktape.dec('hex', 'f09f948d');
print(Duktape.enc('hex', magnifyingGlass));

// Enter UTF-8 data into a buffer and coerce to string.
var magnifyingGlass = String(Duktape.Buffer(new Uint8Array([ 0xf0, 0x9f, 0x94, 0x8d ])));
print(Duktape.enc('hex', magnifyingGlass));

// Use String.fromCharCode(); since Duktape 1.2.0 fromCharCode() has default
// non-standard behavior (which can be disabled) to accept non-BMP codepoints.
var magnifyingGlass = String.fromCharCode(0x1f50d);
print(Duktape.enc('hex', magnifyingGlass));
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