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Character Encoding and HTML Forms

Joe Gregorio: lacking any other indications, a browser will submit the data from a form using the same character encoding that the page is served in.

This mind blowing statement was embedded in an otherwise interesting article on Atom and Wiki's.  It has caused me to rethink how I serve pages on my weblog, and has caused me to begin the switch to utf-8.  Here's why:

Meanwhile, I've been receiving a lot of good input on my i18n survival guide; once the dust settles, this information will be factored in.


The best way to control how the web browser will send back data is to use the accept-charset attribute on the <form> element.  Without that attribute, all kinds of weird things can happen (eg. if the user forces the browser to use a non-default character encoding to display the page, the form might get submitted in that encoding).

Another nice thing is that if you set accept-charset="UTF-8", Internet explorer will send back curly quotes with the correct Unicode values rather than as latin1 control characters (which it will do if you ask for ISO-8859-1).

Posted by James at

Assuming you want fancy curly quotes and the like.  In some cases, for instance if you want to send email, you're going to want to convert your utf-8 data to iso-8859-1 or whatever the common encoding is for email in your language, you'll have to make sure that your utf-8->iso-8859-1 recoder can handle those characters.  Some recoders will replace such characters with ?, some will just fail to convert the whole thing, etc.

The main characters to look out for are the various hypens and dashes, the various special spaces, the ellipsis, and of course the fancy single and double quotes (including the lower quotes).

You can see these in utf-8 forms even without the accept-charset if people do things like copy & paste text from Word into a form in IE.

Posted by Brandon at

If you declare iso-8859-1, things not encodable in that scheme will be silently converted to Windows-1252 if they are encodable in that scheme, and only converted to NCRs if they aren't in 1252 either, in Mozilla. Apparently that evil behavior made sense for some situation at some time.

As to accept-charset, it allows a space-separated list of options, though apparently only Opera actually tells the server which it used. Unless, unless, this old 1999 bug still describes the current situation, and by adding a hidden form field with the name "{underscore}charset{underscore}" will really cause both Moz and IE to populate it with the charset they are actually using. Now that would be a useful, and incredibly hidden, thing, to actually know what you are getting.

(Meta: bloody wiki-like markup. What about people who need to say {underscore}word{underscore} but are too lazy to look up the entity for the underscore character?)
(Mo-meta: preview is rather newline-happy: after one preview, a blank line between paragraphs becomes three blank lines, after another preview, it's up to seven blank lines.)

Posted by Phil Ringnalda at

<cite>If you declare iso-8859-1 (a common encoding covering western Europe and Latin countries)</cite>

That not correct. iso-8859-1, or Latin1, does cover the Western European languages, but not Latin coutries, whatever you call that. Romanian, like Polish, Hungarian, Turkish and other non-Western but Latin alphabet languages are not well suporrted by Latin1.

Posted by Gabriel Radic at

James, apparently IE only respects accept-encoding in some rather limited circumstances.

Brandon, here is a list of problem characters.

Phil, I first saw NCR's in Moz when I tried some of the original extended ASCII characters such as ♥.  With the configuration I had tried, IE would send the characters as single bytes.  I'm not sure which behavior I like least.  Oh, and I've fixed the whitespace problem, but the underscore problem is more problematic.  Oh, and don't try entering &#95; or &#x5F; as I will simply escape those.

Gabriel, thanks.  I'll try to be more precise in the future.

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ⓐⓢⓒⓘⓘ ⓢⓣⓤⓟⓘⓓ ⓠⓤⓔⓢⓣⓘⓞⓝ ⒢⒠⒯ ⒜ ⒮⒯⒰⒫⒤⒟ ⒜⒩⒮⒤. ;-)

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Thanks everyone. This page has been incredibly useful.

Posted by anonymous at

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Thanks a lot! accept-charset="ISO-8859-1" helped!
.

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