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Unicode Character Encoding Stability Policy

Unlike many other standards, the Unicode Standard is continually expanding—new characters are added to meet a variety of uses, ranging from technical symbols to letters for archaic languages. Character properties are also expanded or revised to meet implementation requirements.

In each new version of the Unicode Standard, the Unicode Consortium may add characters or make certain changes to characters that were encoded in a previous version of the standard. However,  the Consortium imposes limitations on the types of changes that can be made, in an effort to minimize the impact on existing implementations.

This page lists the policies of the Unicode Consortium regarding character encoding stability. These policies are intended to ensure that text encoded in one version of the standard remains valid and unchanged in later versions. In many cases, the constraints imposed by these stability policies allow implementers to simplify support for particular features of the standard, with the assurance that their implementations will not be invalidated by a later update to the standard.

The notation Unicode N.n+ means “The Unicode Standard, Version N.n and all subsequent versions.” (For associated information, see the Related Links on the left.)

This page was last updated 24-January-2014

Encoding Stability

Applicable Version: Unicode 2.0+

Once a character is encoded, it will not be moved or removed.

This policy ensures that implementers can always depend on each version of the Unicode Standard being a superset of the previous version. The Unicode Standard may deprecate the character (that is, formally discourage its use), but it will not reallocate, remove, or reassign the character.

Note: Ordering of characters is handled via collation, not by moving characters to different code points. For more information, see Unicode Technical Standard #10, Unicode Collation Algorithm, and the Unicode FAQ.

Name Stability

Applicable Version: Unicode 2.0+

The Unicode Name property value for any non-reserved code point will not be changed. In particular, once a character is encoded, its name will not be changed.

Together with the limitations in name syntax, this policy allows implementations to create unique identifiers from character names. The character names are used to distinguish between characters and do not always express the full meaning of each character. They are designed to be used programmatically and, therefore, must be stable.

In some cases the original name chosen to represent the character is inaccurate in one way or another. Any such inaccuracies are dealt with by adding annotations to the character name list (which is also printed in the Unicode Standard and provided in a machine-readable format), or by adding descriptive text to the standard. In cases of outright errors in character names such as misspellings, a character may be given a formal name alias.

Note: It is possible to produce translated names for the characters, to make the information conveyed by the name accessible to non-English speakers.

Formal Name Alias Stability

Applicable Version: Unicode 5.0+

Formal aliases, once assigned to a character, will not be changed or removed.

Formal aliases are defined in the file NameAliases.txt in the Unicode Character Database and listed in the character code charts.

Named Character Sequence Stability

Applicable Version: Unicode 5.0+

Named character sequences will not be changed or removed.

This stability guarantee applies both to the name of the named character sequence and to the sequence of characters so named.

Named character sequences are defined in the file NamedSequences.txt in the Unicode Character Database. For more information on named character sequences, see Unicode Standard Annex #34, Unicode Named Character Sequences.

Note: There are also provisional named character sequences, which are included in the Unicode Character Database but are not covered by this stability policy.

Name Uniqueness

Applicable Version: Unicode 2.0+

The names of characters, formal aliases, and named character sequences are unique within a shared namespace.

The names of characters, named character sequences, and formal aliases for characters share a single namespace in which each name uniquely identifies either a single character or a single named character sequence. The definition of uniqueness is not just a simple comparison of the characters—instead, the loose matching rules from UAX #44, Unicode Character Database are used.

Note: As of Unicode 4.1, named character sequences were added to this shared namespace; as of Unicode 5.0, formal aliases were also added.

Normalization Stability

Strong Normalization Stability
Applicable Version: Unicode 4.1+

If a string contains only characters from a given version of Unicode, and it is put into a normalized form in accordance with that version of Unicode, then the results will be identical to the results of putting that string into a normalized form in accordance with any subsequent version of Unicode.

More formally, given versions V and U of Unicode, and any string S which only contains characters assigned according to both V and U, the following are always true:

toNFCV(S) = toNFCU(S)
toNFDV(S) = toNFDU(S)
toNFKCV(S) = toNFKCU(S)
toNFKDV(S) = toNFKDU(S)

In particular, once a character is encoded, its canonical combining class and decomposition mapping will not be changed in any way.

Decomposition Mapping

Once a character is assigned, its decomposition mapping will not change.

Canonical Combining Class

Once a character is assigned, its canonical combining class will not change.

Note: If an implementation normalizes a string that contains characters that are not assigned in the version of Unicode that it supports, that string might not be in normalized form according to a future version of Unicode. For example, suppose that a Unicode 5.0 program normalizes a string that contains new Unicode 5.1 characters. That string might not be normalized according to Unicode 5.1.


Weaker Version of Normalization Stability
Applicable Version: Unicode 3.1+

Note that all of the guarantees implied by this weaker specification are subsumed by the stricter stability constraints applicable to Version 4.1 and later.

If a string contains only characters from a given version of the Unicode, and it is put into a normalized form in accordance with that version of Unicode, then the result will also be in that normalized form according to any subsequent version of Unicode.

The result will also be in that normalized form according to any prior version of the standard that contains all of the characters in the string (back to the first applicable version, Unicode 3.1).

In particular, once a character is encoded, its canonical combining class and decomposition mapping will not be changed in a way that will destabilize normalization. Thus the following constraints will be maintained under all circumstances:

Decomposition Mapping

The decomposition mapping may not be changed except for the correction of exceptional errors which meet all of the following conditions (1-3):

  1. There is a clear and evident error identified in the Unicode Character Database (such as a typographic mistake).

  2. The error constitutes a clear violation of the identity stability policy.

  3. The correction of such an error does not violate the following constraints (a-d):

    1. No character will be given a decomposition mapping when it did not previously have one.

    2. No decomposition mapping will be removed from a character.

    3. No decomposition mapping will change in type (canonical to compatibility, or vice versa).

    4. The number of characters in a decomposition mapping will not change.

Canonical Combining Class

Once a character is assigned, its canonical combining class will not change.

Note: If an implementation normalizes a string that contains characters that are not assigned in the version of Unicode that it supports, that string might not be in normalized form according to a future version of Unicode. For example, suppose that a Unicode 4.0 program normalizes a string that contains new Unicode 4.1 characters. That string might not be normalized according to Unicode 4.1.

Note: In versions prior to Unicode 4.1, there were exceptional cases where the normalization algorithm had to be applied twice to put a string into normalized form. See Corrigendum #5: Normalization Idempotency and Unicode Standard Annex #15, Unicode Normalization Forms.

Identity Stability

Applicable Version: Unicode 1.1+

Once a character is encoded, its properties may still be changed, but not in such a way as to change the fundamental identity of the character.

The Consortium will endeavor to keep the values of the other properties as stable as possible, but some circumstances may arise that require changing them. Particularly in the situation where the Unicode Standard first encodes less well-documented characters and scripts, the exact character properties and behavior initially may not be well known.

As more experience is gathered in implementing the characters, adjustments in the properties may become necessary. Examples of such properties include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • General_Category
  • Case mappings
  • Bidirectional properties
  • Compatibility decomposition tags (such as <font> or <compat>)
  • Representative glyphs

However, character properties will not be changed in a way that would affect character identity. For example, the representative glyph for U+0061 “A” cannot be changed to “B”; the General_Category for U+0061 “A” cannot be changed to Ll (lowercase letter); and the decomposition mapping for U+00C1 (Á) cannot be changed to <U+0042, U+0301> (B, ´).

Property Stability

Applicable Version: Unicode 5.2+

Normative and informative properties, once defined in the Unicode Character Database, will never be removed.

This stability guarantee does not apply to Contributory properties (such as "Other_Alphabetic") nor to Provisional properties. For a list of which properties are Normative or Informative, see UAX #44, Unicode Character Database.

In prior versions of the Unicode Standard, the only non-provisional property that has ever been withdrawn from the standard was the informative property Special_Case_Condition, which was removed as of Unicode 5.1.

This policy does not preclude the deprecation of a Unicode character property. Such deprecation would not remove the property; it would only indicate a strong recommendation not to use it.

Property Value Stability

Values of certain properties are limited by the constraints listed in the table below. The applicable version is given in the first column. A version of this table ordered by property is also available.

Applicable Unicode Versions

Constraints

1.1.5+

 

 

The General_Category property value Control (Cc) is immutable: the set of code points with that value will never change.

The Canonical_Combining_Class property values are limited to the values 0 to 254.

All characters other than those with General_Category property values Spacing_Mark (Mc) and Nonspacing_Mark (Mn) have the Canonical_Combining_Class property value 0.

2.0.0+

 

 

 

The General_Category property value Private_Use (Co) is immutable: the set of code points with that value will never change.

The General_Category property value Surrogate (Cs) is immutable: the set of code points with that value will never change.

Once a character is assigned, both its Name and its Jamo_Short_Name will never change.

Canonical and compatibility mappings (Decomposition_Mapping property values) are always in canonical order, and the resulting recursive decomposition will also be in canonical order.

Canonical mappings (Decomposition_Mapping property values) are always limited so that no string when normalized to NFC expands to more than 3× in length (measured in code units).
2.1.0+ Canonical mappings (Decomposition_Mapping property values) to a pair of characters are limited such that the first of the pair in the mapping must have ccc=0, except for the Decomposition_Mapping of the following four characters: U+0344, U+0F73, U+0F75, U+0F81.

2.1.3+

The enumeration of General_Category property values is fixed. No new values will be added.

3.0.0+

No new Bidi_Class property values will be added, except in the case when they are introduced along with newly encoded characters such as bidirectional format controls.

Once a character is assigned, its Canonical_Combining_Class will never change.
Canonical mappings (Decomposition_Mapping property values) are always limited either to a single value or to a pair. The second character in the pair cannot itself have a canonical mapping.
3.0.1+ The Case_Folding property value is limited so that no string when case folded expands to more than 3× in length (measured in code units).
Once a character is ID_Continue, it must continue to be so in all future versions.
If a character is ID_Start then it must also be ID_Continue.
Once a character is ID_Start, it must continue to be so in all future versions.
Once a character is XID_Continue, it must continue to be so in all future versions.
If a character is XID_Start then it must also be XID_Continue.
Once a character is XID_Start, it must continue to be so in all future versions.

3.1.0+

The Noncharacter_Code_Point property is an immutable code point property, which means that its property values for all Unicode code points will never change.

4.0.0+

The property values for the bidirectional properties Bidi_Class and Bidi_Mirrored preserve canonical equivalence.

The set of characters having General_Category=Nd will always be the same as the set of characters having Numeric_Type=de.
Once a character is assigned, its Decomposition_Mapping will never change.

4.1.0+

 

All characters with the Lowercase property and all characters with the Uppercase property have the Alphabetic property .

The Pattern_Syntax and Pattern_White_Space properties are immutable code point properties, which means that their property values for all Unicode code points will never change.

If a character has the Pattern_Syntax or Pattern_White_Space property, then it cannot have the ID_Continue or XID_Continue property.
6.0.0+ Characters with the property value Numeric_Type=de (Decimal) only occur in contiguous ranges of 10 characters, with ascending numeric values from 0 to 9 (Numeric_Value=0..9).
6.1.0+ No new assignment of Numeric_Type=di (Digit) will be made to any character.
6.2.0+ Characters with the General_Category property value Number (Nd | Nl | No) do not have the Numeric_Type value None.
6.3.0+ Characters that have a Bidi_Paired_Bracket_Type property value of Open or Close also have the Bidi_Class property value Other_Neutral (ON) and the Bidi_Mirrored property value Yes.

These constraints ensure that implementers can simplify or optimize certain aspects of their support for character properties. For further description of these invariants, see UAX #44, Unicode Character Database.

Alias Stability

Alias Removal
Applicable Version: Unicode 5.1+

Property aliases and property value aliases, once defined in the Unicode Character Database, will never be removed.

Property aliases are defined in the file PropertyAliases.txt in the Unicode Character Database. Property value aliases are defined in the file PropertyValueAliases.txt in the Unicode Character Database.

This stability guarantee does not apply to aliases for Contributory properties (such as "Other_Alphabetic") and their values, nor to aliases for Provisional properties and their values. For a list of which properties are Normative or Informative, see UAX #44, Unicode Character Database.

This policy does not preclude the deprecation of a property alias or a property value alias. Such deprecation would not remove the alias; it would only indicate a strong recommendation not to use it.

This stability guarantee makes it possible to use property aliases and property value aliases as stable identifiers. For example, aliases may be used as stable identifiers in Unicode Regular Expressions (see Unicode Technical Standard #18, Unicode Regular Expressions).

Note that the stability guarantee for property aliases and property value aliases does not imply that the set of characters with a given Unicode character property value is stable for all Unicode versions. New characters may be added to the standard and thus to such a set, and existing characters may have one (or more) property values changed, and thus be removed from (or added to) such a set.

For backwards compatibility, implementations should always support all of the aliases in PropertyAliases.txt and PropertyValueAliases.txt for any of the Unicode character properties that they support, and should always follow the loose matching rule for symbolic values specified in UAX #44, Unicode Character Database. For example, differences in case, the presence of underscores, or similar differences in strings representing aliases are not considered to make a distinction when matching aliases.

Alias Reassignment
Applicable Version: Unicode 6.2+

Property aliases, once defined in the Unicode Character Database, will never be assigned to different properties.

Property value aliases, once defined in the Unicode Character Database, will never be assigned to different property values of the same property.

Property aliases are defined in the file PropertyAliases.txt in the Unicode Character Database. Property value aliases are defined in the file PropertyValueAliases.txt in the Unicode Character Database.

This policy means that aliases cannot be reassigned to different values. For example, in PropertyValueAliases.txt there are the following data lines establishing the relation between different aliases:

  ea;N                          ;Neutral
  ea;Na                         ;Narrow 

The alias "N" cannot be moved from being an alias for  "Neutral" and to being an alias for "Narrow". Thus a change such as the following is disallowed:

  ea;Ne                         ;Neutral
  ea;N                          ;Narrow       ;Na

Property Alias Uniqueness

Applicable Version: Unicode 3.2+

All property aliases constitute a single namespace. Property aliases are guaranteed to be unique within this namespace.

For each property, all of its property value aliases constitute a separate namespace, one per property. Within each of these property value alias namespaces, property value aliases are guaranteed to be unique.

For the purposes of these uniqueness guarantees, uniqueness is defined by the loose matching rule for symbolic values specified in UAX #44, Unicode Character Database. For example, differences in case, the presence of underscores, or similar differences in strings representing aliases are not considered to make a distinction when matching aliases.

Identifier Stability

Applicable Version: Unicode 3.0+

All strings that are valid default Unicode identifiers will continue to be valid default Unicode identifiers in all subsequent versions of Unicode. Furthermore, default identifiers never contain characters with the Pattern_Syntax or Pattern_White_Space properties.

If a string qualifies as an identifier under one version of Unicode, it will qualify as an identifier under all future versions. The reverse is not true—an identifier under Version 5.0 may not be an identifier under Version 4.0—it may contain a character that was unassigned under Unicode 4.0, or (very rarely) a Unicode 4.0 character that was not an identifier character in Unicode 4.0, but became one in Unicode 5.0.

For more information, see Unicode Standard Annex #31, Unicode Identifier and Pattern Syntax.

Case Folding Stability

Applicable Version: Unicode 5.0+

Caseless matching of Unicode strings used for identifiers is stable.

Case folding stability ensures that identifiers created in different versions of Unicode can be reliably matched in a case-insensitive manner. For more information on identifiers see Unicode Standard Annex #31, Unicode Identifier and Pattern Syntax. Identifiers commonly exclude compatibility decomposable characters; therefore this policy formally applies only to strings normalized with NFKC. The toCaseFold() operation used for caseless matching is the full case folding defined by rule R4 under “Default Case Conversion” in Section 3.13, Default Case Algorithms of the Unicode Standard.

The formal statement of this policy is:

For each string S containing characters only from a given Unicode version, toCasefold(toNFKC(S)) under that version is identical to toCasefold(toNFKC(S)) under any later version of Unicode.

Case Pair Stability

Applicable Version: Unicode 5.0+

Two distinct assigned characters form a case pair when first character of the pair is the full uppercase of the second character, and the second character is the full lowercase of the first character. (Full upper-and lowercase are defined in Section 3.13, Default Case Algorithms of the Unicode Standard.)

If two characters form a case pair in a version of Unicode, they will remain a case pair in each subsequent version of Unicode.

If two characters do not form a case pair in a version of Unicode, they will never become a case pair in any subsequent version of Unicode.

More formally, for given versions V and U of Unicode, and any two distinct characters X and Y that are both assigned according to both V and U:

toLowercaseV(X) = Y AND toUppercaseV(Y) = X

if and only if

toLowercaseU(X) = Y AND toUppercaseU(Y) = X

Note that these conditions apply to two existing, distinct assigned characters.

A character that is not part of a case pair could become part of one if the new case pair is formed at the time of the addition of a new character to Unicode. For example, a new capital version of U+028D ( ʍ ) LATIN SMALL LETTER TURNED W could be added in the future to form a new case pair. This example illustrates the usual type of such additions: a new uppercase character for an existing lowercase character. Under Case Folding Stability, the only way that a new lowercase character could become part of a case pair for an existing uppercase letter would be for the case folding operation to map the new lowercase character to that existing uppercase character; however, the case folding operation does not currently map characters that way.