C.2 What Is Unicode?

Unicode solves the problems of previous character-encoding schemes by providing a unique code number for every character needed, worldwide and across languages. Over time, more characters are being added, but the allocation of available ranges for future uses has already been planned out, so room exists for new characters. In Unicode-encoded documents, no ambiguity exists about how a given character should display (for example, should byte value 0x89 appear as e-umlaut, as in codepage 850, or as the per-mil mark, as in codepage 1004?). Furthermore, by giving each character its own code, there is no problem or ambiguity in creating multilingual documents that utilize multiple character sets at the same time. Or rather, these documents actually utilize the single (very large) character set of Unicode itself.

Unicode is managed by the Unicode Consortium (see Resources), a nonprofit group with corporate, institutional, and individual members. Originally, Unicode was planned as a 16-bit specification. However, this original plan failed to leave enough room for national variations on related (but distinct) ideographs across East Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean), nor for specialized alphabets used in mathematics and the scholarship of historical languages.

As a result, the code space of Unicode is currently 32-bits (and anticipated to remain fairly sparsely populated, given the 4 billion allowed characters).