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6. Perl and Unicode > 6.1. Terminology

Terminology

It’s a good idea to take a little time out, before we think about what Unicode is and what problem it solves, to clarify in our minds a few terms that have been widely used and abused in the programming world. In particular, the term character set is more troublesome than it might appear.

We often talk about the ASCII character set, but this relates to many different ideas—it could mean the actual suite of characters involved, or the order in which they are placed in that suite, or the way that a piece of text is represented in bytes. In fact, when people talk about text from an ASCII system, it may not even be ASCII. The potential for confusion comes because ASCII is a seven-bit character set, whereas for the past 25 years or so, computers have had eight-bit bytes. ASCII only defines the meaning of the first 128 entries in the set, so what should be done with the other 128? Rather than leave them unused and wasted, nearly every ASCII system chooses to define them in some way, usually with accented characters and extra symbols. Many manufacturers chose to make their....character set means, so really we want avoid it altogether and replace it with some more precise terms:


  

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