In computer programming, whitespace is any character or series of 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 (also ASCII 32) represents a blank space punctuation character in text, used as a word divider in Western scripts.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Definition and ambiguity
- 3 Whitespace and digital typography
- 4 Computing applications
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
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 text-based output devices to achieve more sophisticated output. Many early computer games used such codes to draw a screen (e.g. Kingdom of Kroz), and word processing software would use this to produce printed effects such as bold, underline, and strikeout.
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
The table below lists the twenty-five characters defined as whitespace ("WSpace=Y", "WS") characters in the Unicode Character Database. Seventeen use a definition of whitespace consistent with the algorithm for bidirectional writing ("Bidirectional Character Type=WS") and are known as "Bidi-WS" characters. The remaining characters may also be used, but are not of this "Bidi" type.
Note: Depending on the browser and fonts used to view the following table, not all spaces may be displayed properly.
Unicode also provides some visible characters that can be used to represent whitespace:
|U+00B7||183||Middle dot||Latin-1 Supplement||·||Interpunct|
|U+237D||9085||Shouldered open box||Miscellaneous Technical||⍽||Used to indicate a NBSP|
|U+2420||9248||Symbol for space||Control Pictures||␠|
|U+2422||9250||Blank symbol||Control Pictures||␢||aka "substitute blank", used in BCDIC, EBCDIC, ASCII-1963 etc. as word separator|
|U+2423||9251||Open box||Control Pictures||␣||Used in block letter handwriting at least since the 1980s when it is necessary to explicitly indicate the number of space characters (e.g. when programming with pen and paper). Used in a textbook (published 1982, 1984, 1985, 1988 by Springer-Verlag) on Modula-2, a programming language where space codes require explicit indication. Also used in the keypad[n 1] of the Texas Instruments' TI-8x series of graphing calculators.|
- Above the zero "0" or negative "(‒)" key.
- 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.
- Exact space
- The Cambridge Z88 provided a special "exact space" (code point 160 aka 0xA0) (invokable by key shortcut ⌑+SPACE,) displayed as "…" by the operating system's display driver. It was therefore also known as "dot space" in conjunction with BBC BASIC.
- Under code point 224 (0xE0) the computer also provided a special three-character-cells-wide SPACE symbol "SPC" (analogous to Unicode's single-cell-wide U+2420).
Whitespace and digital typography
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
In computer character encodings, there is a normal general-purpose space (Unicode character U+0020) 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.
Hair spaces around dashes
Em dashes used as parenthetical dividers, and en dashes when used as word joiners, are usually set continuous with the text. However, such a dash can optionally be surrounded with a hair space, U+200A, or thin space, U+2009. The hair space can be written in HTML by using the numeric character references
, or the named entity
, but is not universally supported in browsers yet, as of 2016.[update][which?] The thin space is named entity
and numeric references
. These spaces are much thinner than a normal space (except in a monospaced (non-proportional) font), with the hair space being the thinner of the two.
|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|
Formatting values of quantities
The International System of Units (SI) prescribes inserting a space between a number and a unit of measurement and between units in compound units. A thin space should be used as thousands separator. See unit symbols and numbers.
In programming language syntax, spaces are frequently used to explicitly separate tokens. In most languages multiple whitespace characters are treated the same as a single whitespace character (outside of quoted strings); such languages are called free-form. In a few languages, including Haskell, occam, ABC, and Python, whitespace 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.
Excessive use of whitespace, especially trailing whitespace at the end of lines, is considered a nuisance. However correct use of whitespace can make the code easier to read and help group related logic.
Most languages only recognize ASCII characters as whitespace, or in some cases Unicode newlines as well, but not most of the characters listed above. The C language defines whitespace characters to be "space, horizontal tab, new-line, vertical tab, and form-feed". The HTTP network protocol requires different types of whitespace 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 whitespace" in header values.
Command line user interfaces
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.
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. 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. 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.
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". It was used in BCDIC, EBCDIC, and ASCII-1963.
- "The Unicode Standard". Unicode Consortium.
- "Character design standards – space characters". Character design standards. Microsoft. 1998–1999. Archived from the original on August 23, 2000. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
- The Unicode Standard 5.0, printed edition, p.205
- "General Punctuation" (PDF). The Unicode Standard 5.1. Unicode Inc. 1991–2008. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
- 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.
- Gillam, Richard (2002). Unicode Demystified: A Practical Programmer's Guide to the Encoding Standard. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-70052-2.
- Faltstrom, P., ed. (August 2010). "Zero Width Non-Joiner". The Unicode Code Points and Internationalized Domain Names for Applications (IDNA). IETF. sec. A.1. doi:10.17487/RFC5892. RFC 5892. Retrieved September 4, 2019.
- Faltstrom, P., ed. (August 2010). "Zero Width Joiner". The Unicode Code Points and Internationalized Domain Names for Applications (IDNA). IETF. sec. A.2. doi:10.17487/RFC5892. RFC 5892. Retrieved September 4, 2019.
- "Unicode Standard Annex #44, Unicode Character Database".
- Mackenzie, Charles E. (1980). Coded Character Sets, History and Development. The Systems Programming Series (1 ed.). Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. pp. 41, 47, 52, 102–103, 117, 119, 130, 132, 141, 148, 150–151, 212, 424. ISBN 978-0-201-14460-4. LCCN 77-90165. Retrieved 2016-05-22. 
- "American Standard Code for Information Interchange, ASA X3.4-1963". American Standards Association (ASA). 1963-06-17. Archived from the original on 2016-05-26. Retrieved 2014-05-23. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Niklaus Wirth, Programming in Modula-2
- "Cambridge Z88 User Guide". 4.7 (4th ed.). Cambridge Computer Limited. 2016 . Basic concepts - The keyboard. Archived from the original on 2016-12-12. Retrieved 2016-12-12. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- "Cambridge Z88 User Guide". 4.0 (4th ed.). Cambridge Computer Limited. 1987. Appendix D. Archived from the original on 2016-12-12. Retrieved 2016-12-12. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- "Cambridge Z88 User Guide". 4.7 (4th ed.). Cambridge Computer Limited. 2015 . Appendix D. Archived from the original on 2016-12-12. Retrieved 2016-12-12. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Usage of the different dash types is illustrated, e.g., in The Chicago Manual of Style, §§ 6.80, 6.83–6.86
- http://www.open-std.org/jtc1/sc22/wg14/www/docs/n1548.pdf Section 6.4, paragraph 3
- R. Fielding et al., "2.2 Basic Rules", Hypertext Transfer Protocol—HTTP/1.1, RFC 2616CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- "3.3.3 Attribute-Value Normalization". Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0 (Fifth Edition). World Wide Web Consortium.
- "9.1 Whitespace". W3CHTML 4.01 Specification. World Wide Web Consortium.