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What is Unicode?

Unicode provides a unique number for every character,
no matter what the platform,
no matter what the program,
no matter what the language.

    Unicode Book Cover

Fundamentally, computers just deal with numbers. They store letters and other characters by assigning a number for each one. Before Unicode was invented, there were hundreds of different encoding systems for assigning these numbers. No single encoding could contain enough characters: for example, the European Union alone requires several different encodings to cover all its languages. Even for a single language like English no single encoding was adequate for all the letters, punctuation, and technical symbols in common use.

These encoding systems also conflict with one another. That is, two encodings can use the same number for two different characters, or use different numbers for the same character. Any given computer (especially servers) needs to support many different encodings; yet whenever data is passed between different encodings or platforms, that data always runs the risk of corruption.

Unicode is changing all that!

Unicode provides a unique number for every character, no matter what the platform, no matter what the program, no matter what the language. The Unicode Standard has been adopted by such industry leaders as Apple, HP, IBM, JustSystems, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Sun, Sybase, Unisys and many others. Unicode is required by modern standards such as XML, Java, ECMAScript (JavaScript), LDAP, CORBA 3.0, WML, etc., and is the official way to implement ISO/IEC 10646. It is supported in many operating systems, all modern browsers, and many other products. The emergence of the Unicode Standard, and the availability of tools supporting it, are among the most significant recent global software technology trends.

Incorporating Unicode into client-server or multi-tiered applications and websites offers significant cost savings over the use of legacy character sets. Unicode enables a single software product or a single website to be targeted across multiple platforms, languages and countries without re-engineering. It allows data to be transported through many different systems without corruption.

About the Unicode Consortium

The Unicode Consortium was founded to develop, extend and promote use of the Unicode Standard, which specifies the representation of text in modern software products and standards. The Consortium is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The membership of the Consortium represents a broad spectrum of corporations and organizations in the computer and information processing industry. The Consortium is supported financially through membership dues and donations. Membership in the Unicode Consortium is open to organizations and individuals anywhere in the world who support the Unicode Standard and wish to assist in its extension and implementation. All are invited to contribute to the support of the Consortium's important work by making a donation.

For more information, see the Glossary, Technical Introduction and Useful Resources.