13.1 Character Concepts

13.1.1 Introduction to Characters

A character is an object that represents a unitary token (e.g., a letter, a special symbol, or a “control character”) in an aggregate quantity of text (e.g., a string or a text stream).

Common Lisp allows an implementation to provide support for international language characters as well as characters used in specialized arenas (e.g., mathematics).

The following figures contain lists of defined names applicable to characters.

Figure 13–1 lists some defined names relating to character attributes and character predicates.

Figure 13–2 lists some character construction and conversion defined names.

13.1.2 Introduction to Scripts and Repertoires Character Scripts

A script is one of possibly several sets that form an exhaustive partition of the type character.

The number of such sets and boundaries between them is implementation-defined. Common Lisp does not require these sets to be types, but an implementation is permitted to define such types as an extension. Since no character from one script can ever be a member of another script, it is generally more useful to speak about character repertoires.

Although the term “script” is chosen for definitional compatibility with ISO terminology, no conforming implementation is required to use any particular scripts standardized by ISO or by any other standards organization.

Whether and how the script or scripts used by any given implementation are named is implementation-dependent. Character Repertoires

A repertoire is a type specifier for a subtype of type character. This term is generally used when describing a collection of characters independent of their coding. Characters in repertoires are only identified by name, by glyph, or by character description.

A repertoire can contain characters from several scripts, and a character can appear in more than one repertoire.

For some examples of repertoires, see the coded character standards ISO 8859/1, ISO 8859/2, and ISO 6937/2. Note, however, that although the term “repertoire” is chosen for definitional compatibility with ISO terminology, no conforming implementation is required to use repertoires standardized by ISO or any other standards organization.

13.1.3 Character Attributes

Characters have only one standardized attribute: a code. A character’s code is a non-negative integer. This code is composed from a character script and a character label in an implementation-dependent way. See the functions char-code and code-char.

Additional, implementation-defined attributes of characters are also permitted so that, for example, two characters with the same code may differ in some other, implementation-defined way.

For any implementation-defined attribute there is a distinguished value called the null value for that attribute. A character for which each implementation-defined attribute has the null value for that attribute is called a simple character. If the implementation has no implementation-defined attributes, then all characters are simple characters.

13.1.4 Character Categories

There are several (overlapping) categories of characters that have no formally associated type but that are nevertheless useful to name. They include graphic characters, alphabetic1 characters, characters with case (uppercase and lowercase characters), numeric characters, alphanumeric characters, and digits (in a given radix).

For each implementation-defined attribute of a character, the documentation for that implementation must specify whether characters that differ only in that attribute are permitted to differ in whether are not they are members of one of the aforementioned categories.

Note that these terms are defined independently of any special syntax which might have been enabled in the current readtable. Graphic Characters

Characters that are classified as graphic, or displayable, are each associated with a glyph, a visual representation of the character.

A graphic character is one that has a standard textual representation as a single glyph, such as A or * or =. Space, which effectively has a blank glyph, is defined to be a graphic.

Of the standard characters, newline is non-graphic and all others are graphic; see Section 2.1.3 (Standard Characters).

Characters that are not graphic are called non-graphic. Non-graphic characters are sometimes informally called “formatting characters” or “control characters.”

#\Backspace, #\Tab, #\Rubout, #\Linefeed, #\Return, and #\Page, if they are supported by the implementation, are non-graphic. Alphabetic Characters

The alphabetic1 characters are a subset of the graphic characters. Of the standard characters, only these are the alphabetic1 characters:


a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Any implementation-defined character that has case must be alphabetic1. For each implementation-defined graphic character that has no case, it is implementation-defined whether that character is alphabetic1. Characters With Case

The characters with case are a subset of the alphabetic1 characters. A character with case has the property of being either uppercase or lowercase. Every character with case is in one-to-one correspondence with some other character with the opposite case. Uppercase Characters

An uppercase character is one that has a corresponding lowercase character that is different (and can be obtained using char-downcase).

Of the standard characters, only these are uppercase characters:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Lowercase Characters

A lowercase character is one that has a corresponding uppercase character that is different (and can be obtained using char-upcase).

Of the standard characters, only these are lowercase characters:

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Corresponding Characters in the Other Case

The uppercase standard characters A through Z mentioned above respectively correspond to the lowercase standard characters a through z mentioned above. For example, the uppercase character E corresponds to the lowercase character e, and vice versa. Case of Implementation-Defined Characters

An implementation may define that other implementation-defined graphic characters have case. Such definitions must always be done in pairs — one uppercase character in one-to-one correspondence with one lowercase character. Numeric Characters

The numeric characters are a subset of the graphic characters. Of the standard characters, only these are numeric characters:

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

For each implementation-defined graphic character that has no case, the implementation must define whether or not it is a numeric character. Alphanumeric Characters

The set of alphanumeric characters is the union of the set of alphabetic1 characters and the set of numeric characters. Digits in a Radix

What qualifies as a digit depends on the radix (an integer between 2 and 36, inclusive). The potential digits are:

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Their respective weights are 0, 1, 2, ... 35. In any given radix n, only the first n potential digits are considered to be digits. For example, the digits in radix 2 are 0 and 1, the digits in radix 10 are 0 through 9, and the digits in radix 16 are 0 through F.

Case is not significant in digits; for example, in radix 16, both F and f are digits with weight 15.

13.1.5 Identity of Characters

Two characters that are eql, char=, or char-equal are not necessarily eq.

13.1.6 Ordering of Characters

The total ordering on characters is guaranteed to have the following properties:

Of the standard characters, those which are alphanumeric obey the following partial ordering:

either 9<A or Z<0 
either 9<a or z<0

This implies that, for standard characters, alphabetic1 ordering holds within each case (uppercase and lowercase), and that the numeric characters as a group are not interleaved with alphabetic characters. However, the ordering or possible interleaving of uppercase characters and lowercase characters is implementation-defined.

13.1.7 Character Names

The following character names must be present in all conforming implementations:


The character that represents the division between lines. An implementation must translate between #\Newline, a single-character representation, and whatever external representation(s) may be used.


The space or blank character.

The following names are semi-standard; if an implementation supports them, they should be used for the described characters and no others.


The rubout or delete character.


The form-feed or page-separator character.


The tabulate character.


The backspace character.


The carriage return character.


The line-feed character.

In some implementations, one or more of these character names might denote a standard character; for example, #\Linefeed and #\Newline might be the same character in some implementations.

13.1.8 Treatment of Newline during Input and Output

When the character #\Newline is written to an output file, the implementation must take the appropriate action to produce a line division. This might involve writing out a record or translating #\Newline to a CR/LF sequence. When reading, a corresponding reverse transformation must take place.

13.1.9 Character Encodings

A character is sometimes represented merely by its code, and sometimes by another integer value which is composed from the code and all implementation-defined attributes (in an implementation-defined way that might vary between Lisp images even in the same implementation). This integer, returned by the function char-int, is called the character’s “encoding.” There is no corresponding function from a character’s encoding back to the character, since its primary intended uses include things like hashing where an inverse operation is not really called for.

13.1.10 Documentation of Implementation-Defined Scripts

An implementation must document the character scripts it supports. For each character script supported, the documentation must describe at least the following: