Summary: A character is a small, repeatable unit within some system of writing -- a letter or a punctuation mark, if the system is alphabetic, or an ideogram in a writing system like Han (Chinese). Characters are usually put together in sequences called strings.
Related Procedures and Constants:
#\a(lowercase a) ...
#\A(uppercase A) ...
As you might expect, Scheme needs a way to distinguish between many different but similar things, including: characters (the units of writing), strings (formed by combining characters), symbols (which are treated as atomic and also cannot be combined or separated), and variables. Similarly, Scheme needs to distinguish between numbers (which you can compute with) and characters (which you can put in strings).
In Scheme, a name for any of the text characters can be formed by writing
>#\ before that character. For instance, the expression
#\A denotes the capital A, the expression
denotes the character 3 (to be distinguished from the number 3) and
#\? denotes the question mark. (Control
characters, however, usually cannot be named in this way.) In addition,
#\space denotes the space character, and
#\newline denotes the newline character (the one that is
used to terminate lines of text files stored on Unix and Linux systems).
In any implementation of Scheme, it is assumed that the available
characters can be arranged in sequential order (the
sequence for the character set), and each character is associated
with an integer that specifies its position in that sequence.
In ASCII, the numbers that are associated with
characters run from 0 to 127; in Unicode,
they lie within the range from 0 to 65535. (Fortunately, Unicode
includes all of the ASCII characters and associates with each one the
same collating-sequence number that ASCII uses.) Applying the built-in
procedure to a character gives you the collating-sequence number
for that character; applying the converse procedure,
integer->char, to an
integer in the appropriate range gives you the character that has that
The importance of the collating-sequence numbers is that they extend the
notion of alphabetical order to all the characters. Scheme provides
five built-in predicates for comparing characters
They all work by determining which of the two
characters comes first in the collating sequence (that is, which one has
the lower collating-sequence number).
The Scheme standard requires that if you compare two capital letters
or two lower-case letters, you'll get standard alphabetical order:
(char<? #\A #\Z) must be true, for instance. If you
compare a capital letter with a lower-case letter, though, the result
depends on the design of the character set. In ASCII, every capital
letter -- even
#\Z -- precedes every lower-case letter --
#\a. Similarly, if you compare two digit characters,
Scheme guarantees that the results will be consistent with numerical
#\1, which precedes
#\2, and so on. But if you compare a digit with a letter, or
anything with a punctuation mark, the results depend on the character set.
Because there are many applications in which it is helpful to ignore the
distinction between a capital letter and its lower-case equivalent in
comparisons, Scheme also provides case-insensitive versions of the
essentially convert all letters to the same case (in DrScheme, upper
case) before comparing them.
There are also two procedures for converting case.
char-upcasereturns the corresponding capital letter; otherwise, it returns the argument unchanged.
char-downcasereturns the corresponding lower-case letter; otherwise, it returns the argument unchanged.
Scheme provides several one-argument predicates that apply to characters:
char-alphabetic?determines whether its argument is a letter (
char-numeric?determines whether its argument is a digit character (
char-whitespace?determines whether its argument is a
whitespace character-- one that is conventionally stored in a text file primarily to position text legibly. In ASCII, the whitespace characters are the space character and four specific control characters: <Control/I> (tab), <Control/J> (line feed), <Control/L> (form feed), and <Control/M> (carriage return). On most systems,
#\newlineis a whitespace character. On our Linux systems,
#\newlineis the same as <Control/J> and so counts as a whitespace character.
char-upper-case?determines whether its argument is a capital letter.
char-lower-case?determines whether its argument is a lower-case letter.
It may seem that it's easy to implement some of these operations. For
example, you might want to implement
A character is alphabetic if it is between
which translates to
(define is-letter? (lambda (c) (or (char<=? #\a c #\z) (char<=? #\A c #\Z)))) > (is-letter? #\a) #t > (is-letter? #\?) #f > (is-letter? #\Q) #t
However, that implementation is not necessarily correct for all versions
of Scheme: Since Scheme does not guarantee that the letters are collated
without gaps, it's possible that this implementation of
char-alphabetic? treats some non-letters as letters. The
alternative, comparing to each valid letter in turn, seems inefficient.
By making this procedure built-in, the designers of Scheme have
encouraged programmers to rely on a correct (and, presumably, efficient)
Note that all of these predicates assume that their parameter is a character. Hence, if you don't know the type of a parameter, you need to use a more complex test, like
(if (and (char? x) (char-whitespace? x) ...)
When a character is stored in a computer, it must be represented as a
sequence of bits (
binary digits, that is, zeroes and ones).
However, the choice of a particular bit sequence to represent a particular
character is more or less arbitrary. In the early days of computing, each
equipment manufacturer developed one or more
character codes of its
own, so that, for example, the capital letter A was represented by the
110001 on an IBM 1401 computer, by
000001 on a Control Data 6600, by
11000001 on an
IBM 360, and so on. This made it troublesome to transfer character data
from one computer to another, since it was necessary to convert each
character from the source machine's encoding to the target machine's
encoding. The difficulty was compounded by the fact that different
manufacturers supported different characters; all provided the twenty-six
capital letters used in writing English and the ten digits used in writing
Arabic numerals, but there was much variation in the selection of
mathematical symbols, punctuation marks, etc.
In 1963, a number of manufacturers agreed to use the American Standard Code
for Information Interchange (ASCII), which is currently the most common and
widely used character code. It includes representations for ninety-four
characters selected from American and Western European text, commercial,
and technical scripts: the twenty-six English letters in both upper and
lower case, the ten digits, and a miscellaneous selection of punctuation
marks, mathematical symbols, commercial symbols, and diacritical marks.
(These ninety-four characters are the ones that can be generated by using
the forty-seven lighter-colored keys in the typewriter-like part of a
MathLAN workstation's keyboard, with or without the simultaneous use of the
<Shift> key.) ASCII also reserves a bit sequence for a
character, and thirty-three bit sequences for so-called control
characters, which have various implementation-dependent effects on
printing and display devices -- the
newline character that drops the
cursor or printing head to the next line, the
character that causes the workstation to beep briefly, and such like.
In ASCII, each character or control character is represented by a sequence of exactly seven bits, and every sequence of seven bits represents a different character or control character. There are therefore 27 (that is, 128) ASCII characters altogether.
Over the last quarter-century, non-English-speaking computer users have grown increasingly impatient with the fact that ASCII does not provide many of the characters that are essential in writing other languages. A more recently devised character code, the Unicode Worldwide Character Standard, currently defines bit sequences for 49194 characters for the Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Bopomofo, Canadian Syllabics, Cherokee, Cyrillic, Devanagari, Ethiopic, Georgian, Greek, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Han, Hangul, Hebrew, Hiragana, Kannada, Katakana, Khmer, Latin, Lao, Malayalam, Mongolian, Myanmar, Ogham, Oriya, Runic, Sinhala, Tamil, Telugu, Thaana, Thai, Tibetan, and Yi writing systems, as well as a large number of miscellaneous numerical, mathematical, musical, astronomical, religious, technical, and printers' symbols, components of diagrams, and geometric shapes.
Unicode uses a sequence of sixteen bits for each character, allowing for
216 (that is, 65536) codes altogether. Many bit sequences are
still unassigned and may, in future versions of Unicode, be allocated for
some of the numerous writing systems that are not yet supported. The
designers have completed work on the Deseret, Etruscan, and Gothic writing
systems, although they have not yet been added to the Unicode standard.
Characters for the Shavian, Linear B, Cypriot, Tagalog, Hanunóo,
Buhid, Tagbanwa, Cham, Tai, Glagolitic, Coptic, Buginese, Old Hungarian
Runic, Phoenician, Avenstan, Tifinagh, Javanese, Rong, Egyptian
Hieroglyphic, Meroitic, Old Persian Cuneiform, Ugaritic Cuneiform, Tengwar,
Cirth, tlhIngan Hol (i.e.,
Klingon1), Brahmi, Old Permic, Sinaitic,
South Arabian, Pollard, Blissymbolics, and Soyombo writing systems are
under consideration or in preparation.
Although our local Scheme implementations use and presuppose the ASCII character set, the Scheme language does not require this, and Scheme programmers should try to write their programs in such a way that they could easily be adapted for use with other character sets (particularly Unicode).
Sunday, 15 September 2002 [Samuel A. Rebelsky]
Tuesday, 4 February 2003 [Samuel A. Rebelsky]
Friday, 7 February 2003 [Samuel A. Rebelsky]
1 Can you tell that CS folks are geeks?
I usually create these pages
on the fly, which means that I rarely
proofread them and they may contain bad grammar and incorrect details.
It also means that I tend to update them regularly (see the history for
more details). Feel free to contact me with any suggestions for changes.
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