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What are Unicodes?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 16, 2024
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The prefix “uni” is used to indicate “one” or “same,” for example, in the word uniform. Uniform means consistent, so essentially, one might say unicodes are uniform codes. These uniform codes are frequently used in translation between various languages, when designating particular symbols or special characters. Because a symbol or special character may look different in one area than in another, it is important that they can be represented in a uniform way in order to have efficient global communication.

You may have noticed unique looking characters in various venues, although you do not have them on your keyboard. Perhaps your word processing program allows you to recreate many of these special characters, but they can also be reproduced by manually inserting HTML. Generally, unicodes are produced by using a number or a string of numbers. Then, the system being used translates that code into the proper formatting and font to reveal the special character in a recognizable form.

Have you wondered why strange symbols or boxes sometimes appear or wondered why something you typed looked strange once you copied and pasted it elsewhere? Your system or your browser may not be able to read all unicodes. You may see strange looking characters in place of recognizable ones or you may see a blank space or the little boxes where a character should be. Upgrading your operating system, your word processing software, or your browser may resolve a good deal of your trouble with unicodes and should be fairly simple to do.

While many systems allow for bilingual processing, they cannot manage multilingual processing. By using a number instead of a symbol or "glyph," unicodes leave the size and style up to the browser or word processing program in use, to be rendered in a way that it can manage. Updated versions are better able to manage such functions. Unicodes are currently in use in many popular technologies. The Unicode Consortium is a non-profit group working to implement Unicode in place of other encoding standards.

Any interested person is welcome to join this organization. The main requirement is the ability and willingness to pay the membership dues. The goal to implement unicodes or uniform codes so that people all over the world can communicate more efficiently is certainly a worthy one, even if it is very ambitious. Many of he big names in computer hardware and software are currently members of the Unicode Consortium, from Adobe to Xerox.

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