CEN Guide to the Use of Character Sets in EuropeTC 304

8-Bit Character Sets - Graphic Characters


The section of this guide on concepts and terminology introduced the four code elements G0, G1, G2 and G3 and explained how these each make available 94 or 96 positions for the allocation of characters. This section of the guide explains the facilities available through use of these code elements. It shows in particular how they may provide for the representation of more characters than there are code positions.

Table of Contents

94 and 96 position character sets

ISO/IEC 2022 provides for sets of graphic characters to make use of either 94 or 96 code positions. It also prohibits the characters SPACE and DELETE from being assigned in any such set. When these sets are invoked,

  1. a 94 position set in the GL area provides assignments for bit combinations 02/01 to 7/14;
  2. a 94 position set in the GR area provides assignments for bit combinations 10/01 to 15/14;
  3. a 96 position set in the GL area provides assignments for bit combinations 02/00 to 7/15;
  4. a 96 position set in the GR area provides assignments for bit combinations 10/00 to 15/15.
All four possibilities are permitted. When a 96 position set is invoked in the GL area it overlays the positions 02/00 and 07/15 that are otherwise assigned to the SPACE and DELETE characters. The characters SPACE and DELETE are therefore not available in this situation. When a 94 position set is invoked in the GR area, the bit combinations 10/00 and 15/15 shall not be used.

ISO/IEC 2022 permits the G1, G2 and G3 code elements to be sets of either 94 or 96 positions but the G0 set is required to have only 94 positions. It also permits the G1, G2 and G3 code elements to be invoked into either the GL area or the GR area of the code table but the G0 code element is only permitted to be invoked into the GL area.

Single-byte and multiple-byte character sets

Nesting of character sets

ISO/IEC 2022 provides for two alternative types of allocation to the code positions of a 94 or 96 position set:

  1. Each position may either have a character assigned to it or be left unused, or
  2. Each position may either have a further 94 or 96 position set assigned to it or be left unused.

In the second case a 94 position set may only have its positions allocated to further 94 position sets, and similarly a 96 position set may only have its positions allocated to further 96 position sets. Nesting of sets within sets is permitted to any depth.

Coding of nested sets

When a nested set is invoked, more than one bit combination (byte) is required to represent an individual character. A sequence of bytes is used that may be processed by the following algorithm:

  1. Take the next byte in the sequence (which initially will be the first byte). It identifies either a character or a character set at the code position referenced by that byte in the currently invoked set. If it identifies a character set, go to step 2. If it identifies a character, go to step 3.
  2. The identified character set is invoked, for processing the next byte only, into the same area (GL or GR) of the code table as the set currently being processed, therefore replacing it. Processing is then repeated from step 1.
  3. The identified character is the character represented by the byte sequence. Processing is complete.

The effect of this algorithm is that the characters of a nested set may be represented by a sequence of one or more bytes with the following properties:

A character set that is nested in this way is called a multiple-byte set. A set that is not so nested is called a single-byte set.

As an illustration of the effect of the coding algorithm, if a character would be represented by the sequence 03/01 05/04 when a particular two-byte set is invoked in the GL area then it would be represented by 11/01 13/04 if the same set were invoked into the GR area.

Chinese, Japanese and Korean national standards

Two-byte coded character sets have been registered in the ISO 2375 Register to permit Japanese, Chinese and Korean ideographic scripts to be coded within the ISO/IEC 2022 code structure. These sets are taken from corresponding national standards. They are in fact very comprehensive character sets that provide multilingual facilities; they are not confined to the ideographic characters of the languages concerned. Particular examples are as follows:

In these escape sequences, replacement of "gg" by 02/08, 02/09, 02/10 or 02/11 specifies designation as a G0, G1, G2 or G3 code element respectively. Where "xx" has been used in place of "gg", it denotes an exception to the current coding rules of ISO/IEC 2022 in that this bit combination is absent in the designation as a G0 code element. It is still replaced by 02/09, 02/10 or 02/11 to specify designation as a G1, G2 or G3 code element.

The Intermediate Bytes in these escape sequences identify designation of a 94-position two-byte character set as the code element concerned; see designation of sets of graphic characters in the section of this guide on control functions.

Variable-length coding

The existence of multiple-byte character sets leads to the possibility of variable-length coding. This may occur for two different reasons:

When a character set is designated dynamically as the G0, G1, G2 or G3 element of a code by means of an escape sequence, the general syntax of such sequences allows the receiver to identify:

This is described in more detail in the section of this guide on control functions.

Combining characters

Another means of extending the repertoire of a character set beyond the number of available code positions is by means of combining characters. The original use of combining characters was to specify that certain characters of a code were to be non-spacing. When implemented on a receiving device such as a teleprinter, this had the effect of superposing the following character (a letter, say) on top of the non-spacing character (such as an accent) to produce a new character (in this example, an accented letter). A single non-spacing accent could therefore increase the repertoire of a code by many accented letters.

Although a non-spacing accent is classified as a graphic character in its own right, its coded representation cannot be used on its own to represent the accent concerned. It has to be followed by a SPACE character; superposition of the non-spacing accent on a non-printing space results in a normal (spacing) accent. This rule is stated explicitly in ISO/IEC 6937, which is the most well-known standard that uses non-spacing characters.

A non-spacing character is a combining character that combines with the following character. Now that the need to implement combining characters within electromechanical devices such as teleprinters has receded, it has become possible also to specify (and implement) characters that combine with the preceding character. It is perhaps more natural, for example, to describe "é" as a small letter E with an acute accent above it than as an acute accent with a small letter E below it. This approach has been adopted for the new multiple-octet coded character set of ISO/IEC 10646. It is permitted also in the 7-bit and 8-bit code structure of ISO/IEC 2022 but has not, in fact, been used.

The use of combining characters brings variable-length coding into use even within a single code element.


To Top of 8-Bit Guide