Code points vs Unicode scalar values

Norbert Lindenberg ecmascript at
Thu Sep 5 12:07:01 PDT 2013

On Sep 4, 2013, at 14:28 , Brendan Eich <brendan at> wrote:

> Anne van Kesteren wrote:
>>> Here's the spec for String.prototype.codePointAt:
>>> >
>>> >  8. Let first be the code unit value of the element at index position in the
>>> >  String S.
>>> >  11. If second<  0xDC00 or second>  0xDFFF, then return first.
>>> >
>>> >  I take it you are objecting to step 11?
>> And step 8. The indexing is based on code units so you cannot actually
>> do indexing easily. You'd need to use the iterator to iterate over a
>> string getting only code points out.
>>>> >>  The indexing of codePointAt() is also kind of sad as it just passes
>>>> >>  through to charCodeAt(),
>>> >
>>> >  I don't see that in the spec cited above.
>> How do you read step 8?
> 8. Let first be the code unit value of the element at index position in the String S.
> This does not "[pass] through to charCodeAt()" literally, which would mean a call to S.charCodeAt(position). I thought that's what you meant.
> So you want a code point index, not a code unit index. That would not be useful for the lower-level purposes Allen identified. Again it seems you're trying to abstract away from all the details that probably will matter for string hackers using these APIs. But I summon Norbert at this point!

Previous discussion of allowing surrogate code points:

Essentially, ECMAScript strings are Unicode strings as defined in The Unicode Standard section 2.7, and thus may contain unpaired surrogate code units in their 16-bit form or surrogate code points when interpreted as 32-bit sequences. String.fromCodePoint and String.prototype.codePointAt just convert between 16-bit and 32-bit forms; they're not meant to interpret the code points beyond that, and some processing (such as test cases) may depend on them being preserved. This is different from encoding for communication over networks, where the use of valid UTF-8 or UTF-16 (which cannot contain surrogate code points) is generally required.

The indexing issue was first discussed in the form "why can't we just use UTF-32"? See
for pointers to that. It would have been great to use UTF-8, but it's unfortunately not compatible with the past and the DOM.

Adding code point indexing to 16-bit code unit strings would add significant performance overhead. In reality, whether an index is for 16-bit or 32-bit units matters only for some relatively low-level software that needs to process code point by code point. A lot of software deals with complete strings without ever looking inside, or is fine processing code unit by code unit (e.g., String.prototype.indexOf).


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