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Debian GNU/Linux Reference Guide
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9.7.3 Introduction to locales

Full locale description consists of 3 parts: xx_YY.ZZZZ.

  • xx: ISO 639 language codes (lower case)

  • YY: ISO 3166 country codes (upper case)

  • ZZZZ: codeset, i.e., character set or encoding identifier.

For language codes and country codes, see pertinent description in the info gettext.

Please note this codeset part may be normalized internally to achieve cross platform compatibility by removing all - and by converting all characters into lower case. Typical codesets are:

  • UTF-8: Unicode for all regions, mostly in 1-3 Octets (new de facto standard)

  • ISO-8859-1: western Europe (de facto old standard)

  • ISO-8859-2: eastern Europe (Bosnian, Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian)

  • ISO-8859-3: Maltese

  • ISO-8859-5: Macedonian, Serbian

  • ISO-8859-6: Arabic

  • ISO-8859-7: Greek

  • ISO-8859-8: Hebrew

  • ISO-8859-9: Turkish

  • ISO-8859-11: Thai (=TIS-620)

  • ISO-8859-13: Latvian, Lithuanian, Maori

  • ISO-8859-14: Welsh

  • ISO-8859-15: western Europe with euro

  • KOI8-R: Russian

  • KOI8-U: Ukrainian

  • CP1250: Czech, Hungarian, Polish (MS Windows origin)

  • CP1251: Bulgarian, Byelorussian (MS Windows origin)

  • eucJP: Unix style Japanese (=ujis)

  • eucKR: Unix style Korean

  • GB2312: Unix style Simplified Chinese (=GB, =eucCN) for zh_CN

  • Big5: Traditional Chinese for zh_TW

  • sjis: Microsoft style Japanese (Shift-JIS)

As for the meaning of basic encoding system jargons:

  • ASCII: 7 bits (0-0x7f)

  • ISO-8859-?: 8 bits (0-0xff)

  • ISO-10646-1: Universal Character Set (UCS) (31 bits, 0-0x7fffffff)

  • UCS-2: First 16 bit of UCS as straight 2 Octets (Unicode: 0-0xffff)

  • UCS-4: UCS as straight 4 Octets (UCS: 0-0x7fffffff)

  • UTF-8: UCS encoded in 1-6 Octets (mostly in 3 Octets)

  • ISO-2022: 7 bits (0-0xff) with the escape sequence. ISO-2022-JP is the most popular encoding for the Japanese e-mail.

  • EUC: 8 bits + 16 bits combination (0-0xff), Unix style

  • Shift-JIS: 8 bits + 16 bits combination (0-0xff), Microsoft style.

ISO-8859-?, EUC, ISO-10646-1, UCS-2, UCS-4, and UTF-8 share the same code with ASCII for the 7 bit characters. EUC or Shift-JIS uses high-bit characters (0x80-0xff) to indicate that part of encoding is 16 bit. UTF-8 also uses high-bit characters (0x80-0xff) to indicate non 7 bit character sequence bytes and this is the most sane encoding system to handle non-ASCII characters.

Please note the byte order difference of Unicode implementation:

  • Standard UCS-2, UCS-4: big endian

  • Microsoft UCS-2, UCS-4: little endian for ix86 (machine-dependent)

See Convert a text file with recode, Section 8.6.12 for conversion between various character sets. For more see Introduction to i18n.


Debian GNU/Linux Reference Guide
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