Whitespace character

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In computer science, whitespace is any character or series of whitespace characters that represent horizontal or vertical space in typography. When rendered, a whitespace character does not correspond to a visible mark, but typically does occupy an area on a page. For example, the common whitespace symbol U+0020   space (HTML:  ), also ASCII 32, represents a blank space punctuation character in text, used as a word divider in Western scripts.

With many keyboard layouts, a horizontal whitespace character may be entered through the use of a spacebar. Horizontal whitespace may also be entered on many keyboards through the use of the Tab key, although the length of the space may vary. Vertical whitespace is a bit more varied as to how it is encoded, but the most obvious in typing is the Enter result which creates a 'newline' code sequence in applications programs. Older keyboards might instead say Return, abbreviating the typewriter keyboard meaning 'Carriage-Return' which generated an electromechanical return to the left stop (CR code in ASCII-hex &0D;) and a line feed or move to the next line (LF code in ASCII-hex &0A;); in some applications these were independently used to draw text cell based displays on monitors or for printing on tractor-guided printers—which might also contain reverse motions/positioning code sequences allowing yesterdays text base fancier displays. Many early computer games used such codes to draw a screen.

The term "whitespace" is based on the resulting appearance on ordinary paper. However they are coded inside an application, whitespace can be processed the same as any other character code and programs can do the proper action as defined for the context in which they occur.

Definition and ambiguity[edit]

The most common whitespace characters may be typed via the space bar or the tab key. Depending on context, a line-break generated by the return or enter key may be considered white space as well.


Relative widths of various spaces in Unicode.

In Unicode (Unicode Character Database) the following 25 characters are defined as whitespace characters.[1] (Depending on the browser and fonts used to view this table, not all spaces may display properly.)

Whitespace[a](Unicode character property WSpace=Y)
Code point Name Decimal Display inside "][" Break in IDN Script Block General category Remarks
000009U+0009 character tabulation 9 ] [ Yes No Common Basic Latin Other, control HT, Horizontal Tab
000010U+000A line feed 10 n/a Common Basic Latin Other, control LF, Line feed
000011U+000B line tabulation 11 n/a Common Basic Latin Other, control VT, Vertical Tab
000012U+000C device control two 12 n/a Common Basic Latin Other, control FF, Form feed
000013U+000D device control three 13 n/a Common Basic Latin Other, control CR, Carriage return
000032U+0020 space 32 ] [ Yes No Common Basic Latin Separator, space Most common (normal ASCII space)
000133U+0085 next line 133 n/a Common Latin-1 Supplement Other, control NEL, Next line
000160U+00A0 no-break space 160 ] [ No No Common Latin-1 Supplement Separator, space Non-breaking space: identical to U+0020, but not a point at which a line may be broken. HTML/XML: , LaTeX: ‘\ ’
005760U+1680 ogham space mark 5760 ] [ Yes Yes Ogham Ogham Separator, space Used for interword separation in Ogham text. Normally a vertical line in vertical text or a horizontal line in horizontal text, but may also be a blank space in "stemless" fonts. Requires an Ogham font.
008192U+2000 en quad 8192 ] [ Yes No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space Width of one en. U+2002 is canonically equivalent to this character; U+2002 is preferred.
008193U+2001 em quad 8193 ] [ Yes No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space Also known as "mutton quad". Width of one em. U+2003 is canonically equivalent to this character; U+2003 is preferred.
008194U+2002 en space 8194 ] [ Yes No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space Also known as "nut". Width of one en. U+2000 En Quad is canonically equivalent to this character; U+2002 is preferred. HTML/XML:  
008195U+2003 em space 8195 ] [ Yes No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space Also known as "mutton". Width of one em. U+2001 Em Quad is canonically equivalent to this character; U+2003 is preferred. HTML/XML:  , LaTeX: ‘\quad’
008196U+2004 three-per-em space 8196 ] [ Yes No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space Also known as "thick space". One third of an em wide. HTML/XML:  
008197U+2005 four-per-em space 8197 ] [ Yes No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space Also known as "mid space". One fourth of an em wide. HTML/XML:  
008198U+2006 six-per-em space 8198 ] [ Yes No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space One sixth of an em wide. In computer typography sometimes equated to U+2009.
008199U+2007 figure space 8199 ] [ No No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space Figure space. In fonts with monospaced digits, equal to the width of one digit.
008200U+2008 punctuation space 8200 ] [ Yes No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space As wide as the narrow punctuation in a font, i.e. the advance width of the period or comma.[2] HTML/XML:  
008201U+2009 thin space 8201 ] [ Yes No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space One fifth (sometimes one sixth) of an em wide. Recommended for use as a thousands separator for measures made with SI units. Unlike U+2002 to U+2008, its width may get adjusted in typesetting.[3] HTML/XML:  ; Latex: ‘\,’
008202U+200A hair space 8202 ] [ Yes No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space Thinner than a thin space. HTML/XML:  
008232U+2028 line separator 8232 n/a Common General Punctuation Separator, line
008233U+2029 paragraph separator 8233 n/a Common General Punctuation Separator, paragraph
008239U+202F narrow no-break space 8239 ] [ No No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space Similar in function to U+00A0 No-Break Space. Introduced in Unicode 3.0 for Mongolian,[4] to separate a suffix from the word stem without indicating a word boundary. When used with Mongolian, its width is usually one third of the normal space; in other context, its width resembles that of the Thin Space (U+2009) at least with some fonts. This character is also used in French before ":;?!»" and after "«"[5].
008287U+205F medium mathematical space 8287 ] [ Yes No[b] Common General Punctuation Separator, space MMSP. Used in mathematical formulae. Four-eighteenths of an em.[6] In mathematical typography, the widths of spaces are usually given in integral multiples of an eighteenth of an em, and 4/18 em may be used in several situations, for example between the a and the + and between the + and the b in the expression a + b.[7]
012288U+3000 ideographic space 12288 ] [ Yes No[b] Common CJK Symbols and Punctuation Separator, space As wide as a CJK character cell (fullwidth). Used (for example) in tai tou.
Related characters
Code point Name Decimal Display inside "][" Break in IDN Script Block General category Remarks
006158U+180E mongolian vowel separator 6158 ]᠎[ Yes Yes Mongolian Mongolian Other, Format MVS. A narrow space character, used in Mongolian to cause the final two characters of a word to take on different shapes.[8] It is no longer classified as space character (i.e. in Zs category) in Unicode 6.3.0 even though it was in previous versions of the standard.
008203U+200B zero width space 8203 ]​[ Yes No[b]  ? General Punctuation Other, Format ZWSP, zero-width space. Used to indicate word boundaries to text processing systems when using scripts that do not use explicit spacing. It is similar to the soft hyphen, with the difference that the latter is used to indicate syllable boundaries, and should display a visible hyphen when the line breaks at it.
008204U+200C zero-width non-joiner 8204 ]‌[ Yes Yes  ? General Punctuation Other, Format ZWNJ, zero-width non-joiner. When placed between two characters that would otherwise be connected, a ZWNJ causes them to be printed in their final and initial forms, respectively. HTML/XML: ‌
008205U+200D zero-width joiner 8205 ]‍[ Yes Yes  ? General Punctuation Other, Format ZWJ, zero-width joiner. When placed between two characters that would otherwise not be connected, a ZWJ causes them to be printed in their connected forms. HTML/XML: ‍
008288U+2060 word joiner 8288 ]⁠[ No Yes  ? General Punctuation Other, Format WJ. Identical to U+200B, but not a point at which a line may be broken. Introduced in Unicode 3.2 to replace the deprecated "zero width no-break space" function of the U+FEFF character.
065279U+FEFF zero-width non-breaking space 65279 ][ No Yes  ? Arabic Presentation Forms-B Other, Format Zero-width non-breaking space. Used primarily as a Byte Order Mark. Use as an indication of non-breaking is deprecated as of Unicode 3.2, see U+2060 instead.
  1. ^ Unicode 6.3 property list
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o This character is blacklisted for domain names by browsers because it might be used for phishing.[9]

Within the algorithm for bidirectional writing, Unicode uses another definition of "whitespace" (Bidirectional Character Type=WS). These Bidi-WS characters (18 out of the 25 listed in the table here) are "neutral": they follow the writing direction of neighboring characters rather than determining their own. The eight other characters listed here are also "neutral", but have a different bidi-type.

Unicode also provides some visible characters to stand in for whitespace when necessary:

Space illustrating characters (visible) in Unicode
Code Dec Name Block Display Description
U+00B7 183 Middle dot Basic Latin · interpunct, used in text processors. HTML also: ·
U+237D 9085 Shouldered open box Miscellaneous Technical used for NBSP
U+2420 9248 Symbol for space Control Pictures
U+2422 9250 Blank symbol Control Pictures
U+2423 9251 Open box Control Pictures Used in a textbook on the Modula-2 computer language published ca. 1985 by Springer-Verlag, where it is necessary to explicitly indicate a space code. Also used in the keypad silkscreening of TI-8x series graphing calculators from Texas Instruments.[12]

Non-space blanks:

  • The Braille Patterns Unicode block contains U+2800 braille pattern blank (HTML: ⠀), a Braille pattern with no dots raised. Some fonts display the character as a fixed-width blank, however the Unicode standard explicitly states that it does not act as a space.

Whitespace and digital typography[edit]

On-screen display[edit]

Text editors, word processors, and desktop publishing software differ in how they represent whitespace on the screen, and how they represent spaces at the ends of lines longer than the screen or column width. In some cases, spaces are shown simply as blank space; in other cases they may be represented by an interpunct or other symbols. Many different characters (described below) could be used to produce spaces, and non-character functions (such as margins and tab settings) can also affect whitespace.

Variable-width general-purpose space[edit]

In computer character encodings, there is a normal general-purpose space (Unicode character U+0020; 32 decimal) whose width will vary according to the design of the typeface. Typical values range from 1/5 em to 1/3 em (in digital typography an em is equal to the nominal size of the font, so for a 10-point font the space will probably be between 2 and 3.3 points). Sophisticated fonts may have differently sized spaces for bold, italic, and small-caps faces, and often compositors will manually adjust the width of the space depending on the size and prominence of the text.

In addition to this general-purpose space, it is possible to encode a space of a specific width. See the table below for a complete list.

Breaking and non-breaking spaces[edit]

By default, computer programs usually assume that, in text with word wrap enabled, a line break may as necessary be inserted at the position of a space. The non-breaking space, U+00A0 (160 decimal), named entity   is intended to render the same as a normal space but prevents line-wrapping at that position. Hard spaces (contrasted with "soft spaces") may be defined by some word processors and operating systems as either a non-breaking space, a non-combining/non-expanding space, or some other special character.

Hair spaces around dashes[edit]

In American typography, both en dashes and em dashes are set continuous with the text (as illustrated by use in The Chicago Manual of Style, 6.80, 6.83–86). However, an em dash can optionally be surrounded with a so-called hair space, U+200A (8202 decimal), or thin space, U+2009 (8201 decimal). The thin space can be written in HTML by using the named entity   and the hair space can be written using numeric character reference   or  . This space should be much thinner than a normal space, and is seldom used on its own.

Normal space versus hair space
(as rendered by your browser)
Normal space left right
Normal space with em dash left — right
Thin space with em dash left — right
Hair space with em dash left — right
No space with em dash left—right

Computing applications[edit]

Programming languages[edit]

In programming language syntax, spaces are frequently used to explicitly separate tokens. Runs of whitespace characters (beyond the first) occurring within source code written in computer programming languages (outside of strings and other quoted regions) are ignored by most languages; such languages are called free-form. In a few languages, including Haskell, occam, ABC, and Python, white space and indentation are used for syntactical purposes. In the satirical language called Whitespace, whitespace characters are the only valid characters for programming, while any other characters are ignored.

Still, for most programming languages, excessive use of white space, especially trailing white space at the end of lines, is considered a nuisance.[by whom?] However correct use of white space can make the code easier to read and help group related logic. In interpreted languages, parsing of unnecessary white space may affect the speed of execution.

The C language defines whitespace characters to be "... space, horizontal tab, new-line, vertical tab, and form-feed".[13] The HTTP network protocol requires different types of white space to be used in different parts of the protocol, such as: only the space character in the status line, CRLF at the end of a line, and "linear white space" in header values.[14]

Command line user interfaces[edit]

In commands processed by command processors, e.g., in scripts and typed in, the space character can cause problems as it has two possible functions: as part of a command or parameter, or as a parameter or name separator. Ambiguity can be prevented either by prohibiting embedded spaces, or by enclosing a name with embedded spaces between quote characters.

Markup languages[edit]

Some markup languages, such as SGML, preserve whitespace as written.

Web markup languages such as XML and HTML treat whitespace characters specially, including space characters, for programmers' convenience. One or more space characters read by conforming display-time processors of those markup languages are collapsed to 0 or 1 space, depending on their semantic context. For example, double (or more) spaces within text are collapsed to a single space, and spaces which appear on either side of the "=" that separates an attribute name from its value have no effect on the interpretation of the document. Element end tags can contain trailing spaces, and empty-element tags in XML can contain spaces before the "/>". In these languages, unnecessary whitespace increases the file size, and so may slow network transfers. On the other hand, unnecessary whitespace can also inconspicuously mark code, similar to, but less obvious than comments in code. This can be desirable to prove an infringement of license or copyright that was committed by copying and pasting.

In XML attribute values, sequences of whitespace characters are treated as a single space when the document is read by a parser.[15] Whitespace in XML element content is not changed in this way by the parser, but an application receiving information from the parser may choose to apply similar rules to element content. An XML document author can use the xml:space="preserve" attribute on an element to instruct the parser to discourage the downstream application from altering whitespace in that element's content.

In most HTML elements, a sequence of whitespace characters is treated as a single inter-word separator, which may manifest as a single space character when rendering text in a language that normally inserts such space between words.[16] Conforming HTML renderers are required to apply a more literal treatment of whitespace within a few prescribed elements, such as the pre tag and any element for which CSS has been used to apply pre-like whitespace processing. In such elements, space characters will not be "collapsed" into inter-word separators.

In both XML and HTML, the non-breaking space character, along with other non-"standard" spaces, is not treated as collapsible "whitespace", so it is not subject to the rules above.

File names[edit]

Such usage is similar to multiword file names written for operating systems and applications that are confused by embedded space codes—such file names instead use an underscore (_) as a word separator, as_in_this_phrase.

Another such symbol was U+2422 blank symbol. This was used in the early years of computer programming when writing on coding forms. Keypunch operators immediately recognized the symbol as an "explicit space".[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Additional information about spaces: The Unicode Standard ver. 5.2.0 – section 6.2 table 6-2, and section 16.2 Line and Word Breaking
  2. ^ "Character design standards – space characters". Character design standards. Microsoft. 1998–1999. Retrieved 2009-05-18. 
  3. ^ The Unicode Standard 5.0, printed edition, p.205
  4. ^ ISO/IEC 10646-1:1993/FDAM 29:1999(E)
  5. ^ "Writing Systems and Punctuation" (PDF). The Unicode Standard 7.0. Unicode Inc. 2014. Retrieved 2014-11-02. 
  6. ^ "General Punctuation" (PDF). The Unicode Standard 5.1. Unicode Inc. 1991–2008. Retrieved 2009-05-13. 
  7. ^ Sargent, Murray III (2006-08-29). "Unicode Nearly Plain Text Encoding of Mathematics (Version 2)". Unicode Technical Note #28. Unicode Inc. pp. 19–20. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  8. ^ Gillam, Richard (2002). Unicode Demystified: A Practical Programmer's Guide to the Encoding Standard. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-70052-2. 
  9. ^ "Network.IDN.blacklist chars". MozillaZine. 2009-02-24. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  10. ^ Above the zero "0" or negative "(‒)" key
  11. ^ http://www.open-std.org/jtc1/sc22/wg14/www/docs/n1548.pdf Section 6.4, paragraph 3
  12. ^ R. Fielding et al., "2.2 Basic Rules", Hypertext Transfer Protocol—HTTP/1.1, RFC 2616 
  13. ^ "3.3.3 Attribute-Value Normalization". Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0 (Fifth Edition). World Wide Web Consortium. 
  14. ^ "9.1 White space". W3CHTML 4.01 Specification. World Wide Web Consortium. 

External links[edit]