Make char16_t/char32_t string literals be UTF-16/32

Document Number: P1041R1
Date: 2018-06-15
Audience: Evolution Working Group


C++11 introduced character types suitable for code units of the UTF-16 and UTF-32 encoding forms, namely char16_t and char32_t. Along with this, it also introduced new string literals whose types are arrays of those two character types, prefixed with u and U, respectively. And last but not least, it also introduced UTF-8 string literals, prefixed with u8, with types arrays of const char. Of these three new string literal types, only one has a guarantee about the values that the elements of the array have; in other words, only one has a guaranteed encoding form, the UTF-8 string literals.

The standard text hints that the char16_t and char32_t string literals are intended to be encoded as, respectively, UTF-16 and UTF-32, but unlike it does for UTF-8 string literals, it never explicitly makes such a requirement.


In defining char16_t string literals ([lex.string]/10), the standard makes a mention of "surrogate pairs":

A string-literal that begins with u, such as u"asdf", is a char16_t string literal. A char16_t string literal has type “array of n const char16_t”, where n is the size of the string as defined below; it is initialized with the given characters. A single c-char may produce more than one char16_t character in the form of surrogate pairs.

Further down, when defining the size of char16_t string literals ([lex.string]/15), there is another mention of "surrogate pairs":

The size of a char16_t string literal is the total number of escape sequences, universal-character-names, and other characters, plus one for each character requiring a surrogate pair, plus one for the terminating u'\0'. [Note: The size of a char16_­t string literal is the number of code units, not the number of characters. — end note]

For char32_t string literals, the definition of their size ([lex.string]/15) essentially limits the encoding form used to one that doesn't have more than one code unit per character:

The size of a char32_t or wide string literal is the total number of escape sequences, universal-character-names, and other characters, plus one for the terminating U'\0' or L'\0'.

Additionally, the standard constrains the range of universal-character-names to the range that is supported by all of the UTF encoding forms discussed here:

Within char32_t and char16_t string literals, any universal-character-names shall be within the range 0x0 to 0x10FFFF.

All of these requirements, while never explicitly naming the UTF-16 or UTF-32 encoding forms, strongly imply that these are the encoding forms intended. Furthermore, it would be questionable for an implementation to pick any other encoding forms for these string literals: there is no well-known encoding form that uses a concept named "surrogate pair" other than UTF-16, and there is no well-known encoding form that encodes each character as a single 32-bit code unit other than UTF-32.

In practice, all implementations use UTF-16 and UTF-32 for these string literals. C++ should standardize this practice and make these requirements explicit instead of just hinting at them.


This proposal renames "char16_t string literals" and "char32_t string literals" to "UTF-16 string literals" and "UTF-32 string literals", to match the existing "UTF-8 string literals", and explicitly requires the object representations of those literals to be the values that correspond to the UTF-16 and UTF-32 (respectively) encodings of the given characters.

Technical Specifications

Interaction with other papers

Currently, the standard lacks a normative reference to UTF-16, and UTF-32; however, it also lacks one such reference for UTF-8. This paper assumes that this problem will be fixed for all three encodings in another paper, potentially P1025R0 (Update The Reference To The Unicode Standard).

This paper was also written so as to not conflict with P0482R2 (char8_t: A type for UTF-8 characters and strings (Revision 2)).