Do You Actually Know What A String In JavaScript Is? Here's What I Found.

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We preferred to think that String in JavaScript is an array of characters.

const name = ‘Nick’

console.log(name.length) // 4

Variable name has 4 characters ‘N’, ‘i’, ‘c’, ‘k’ and length is also 4.

Everything seems logical.

Let’s go further and add emoji to my name.

const name = ‘Nick 🐃’

console.log(name.length) // 7

Hmm, strange.

Variable name must have 6 characters ‘N’, ‘i’, ‘c’, ‘k’, ‘ ‘ (whitespace) and ‘🐃’

But have 7.

It seems like the bull has 2 characters.

const emoji = ‘🐃’

console.log(emoji.length) // 2

Interesting 🤔

Let’s figure out why.

We go to the official documentation of ECMAScript (it’s a programming language on which JavaScript is based).

Scroll to “6.1.4 The String Type.”

And find this:

“The String type is the set of all ordered sequences of zero or more 16-bit unsigned integer values (“elements”) up to a maximum length of 2⁵³ - 1 elements. The String type is generally used to represent textual data in a running ECMAScript program, in which case each element in the String is treated as a UTF-16 code unit value.”

So string in JavaScript is a sequence of UTF-16 code unit values.

❓What is UTF-16?

💬 A Unicode transformation format (UTF) is an algorithmic mapping from every Unicode code point to a unique byte sequence.

One UTF-16 code unit value is a number from 0x0000 to 0xFFFF.

❓What is 0x0000 and 0xFFFF?

💬 0x represent the hexadecimal numeral system, often shortened to "hex", is a numeral system made up of 16 symbols (base 16). The standard numeral system is called decimal (base 10) and uses ten symbols: 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. Hexadecimal uses the decimal numbers and six extra symbols.

If we convert my name Nick to UTF-16 (like JavaScript see it) we will get 0x004e 0x0069 0x0063 0x006b.

0x004e = N

0x0069 = i

0x0063 = c

0x006b = k

But how does JavaScript treat emojis?

In UTF-16, Unicode characters from the Basic Multilingual Plane (contains characters for almost all modern languages) are encoded with one code unit.

Other characters from the non-Basic Multilingual Plane (emojis, musical notations, cards, hieroglyphs, etc) require two code units.

So UTF-16 format represents 🐃 emoji with two code units (0Xd83d 0Xdc03).

That’s why ‘🐃’.length gives 2.

To consolidate everything we have learned, let’s play a little with Unicode and JavaScript.

const name = ‘Nick’

const nameInUnicode = ‘\u004e\u0069\u0063\u006b’

console.log(name === nameInUnicode) // true

console.log(nameInUnicode.length) // 4

const fullName = ‘Nick 🐃’

const fullNameInUnicode = ‘\u004e\u0069\u0063\u006b\u0020\ud83d\udc03console.log(fullName === fullNameInUnicode) // true

console.log(fullNameInUnicode.length) // 7

❓ What is \u?

💬 A Unicode character escape sequence represents the single Unicode code point formed by the hexadecimal number following the “\u” or “\U” characters.

In the end

Knowing that string in JavaScript is a sequence of UTF-16 code unit values can save you from unpredictable bugs when you work with different characters not from BMP, like emojis.

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Comments (1)

Ultimate Coder's photo

Wow again a awesome article by nick , well done!