MyStudio IDE: Let's talk about UTF-16


In a previous post, I mentioned using a workaround when dealing with non UTF-8 files. It's about time this was fixed.

Let's talk about about UTF-16 and how it works. Later, I'll show you how I added UTF-16 support to MyStudio IDE project.

Brief History

Character Codes

If I wanted to save the characters "abc" in a text file with UTF-8 encoding, a typical notes taking application would first iterate over the typed characters (in this case, 'a', 'b' & 'c'), find each character's unique numeric representation and store the result in the file.

Each character has a numeric representation (usually a number) called a character code that can uniquely identify it.


ASCII was developed in 1960s for use in teleprinters for sending text over phone lines.

ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange.

Computers can only understand numbers, so an ASCII code is the numerical representation of a character such as 'a' or '@' or an action of some sort. A


When you press 'a' on your keyboard, its "character code" (97) is sent to the operating system by the keyboard and any application can "listen" to these events and process them.

For example, your web browser has a "listener" which is listening to key presses and it shares them to the website anytime you type something.

My browser was doing the same thing when I was typing this article :)

ASCII Table has a complete list of valid characters here.

ASCII contains 127 characters.


ASCII is the first 128 (0x00 – 0x7f) characters of UTF-8. UTF-8 is actually a variable-length, multi-byte encoding of Unicode. UTF-8 uses from 1 to 4 bytes for each character.



Let's see what gets saved to a UTF-8 encoded text file with "abc" as it's contents.

[97, 98, 99, 10]

`97` is character code of `a`
`98` is character code of `b`
`99` is character code of `c`
`10` is character code of `LF` or **L**ine **F**eed

Interesting..isn't it?

Let's see what UTF-16 does.

We'll try to save the same text "abc" and save it with UTF-16 encoding.

[97, 0, 98, 0, 99, 0]'s the same characters as before..but with a 0 "suffix" byte.

In computer terminology, a byte number with value 0 is called a null byte.

Now, lets see how Wikipedia defines UTF-16

UTF-16 is a character encoding capable of encoding all 1,112,064 valid character code points of Unicode.

The encoding is variable-length, as code points are encoded with one or two 16-bit code units. UTF-16 arose from an earlier obsolete fixed-width 16-bit encoding, now known as UCS-2 (for 2-byte Universal Character Set).

That makes sense! We were seeing a 2-byte sequence of characters where all the trailing bytes were null bytes.

So, for a given "abc", it needs to produce [97, 0, 98, 0, 99, 0] to be considered a valid UTF-16 file.

What about LE or BE?

From my previous post:

In simple terms, it determines the order or sequence with which set of bytes are stored in a file. In this case, the UTF-16 LE means its a text which is UTF-16 encoded whose byte ordering is in Little Endian format.

For example:

Text : "bc"

Input : [98, 0, 99, 0]

Little Endian : [98, 0, 99, 0]

Big Endian : [0, 98, 0, 99]


Let's write a Rust function that takes a string and returns LE and BE byte slices.

// Borrowed from content_inspector crate
static UTF16_BYTE_ORDER_MARKS: &[(&[u8], ContentType)] = &[
    (&[0xFF, 0xFE], ContentType::UTF_16LE),
    (&[0xFE, 0xFF], ContentType::UTF_16BE),

fn encode_to_utf16<B: byteorder::ByteOrder>(
    text: String,
    content_type: ContentType,
) -> Option<Vec<u8>> {
    let mut buf: Vec<u8> = vec![];

    // Inject BOM
    let byte_order = UTF16_BYTE_ORDER_MARKS
        .find(|r| r.1 == content_type)?;
    for bom_char in byte_order.0 {

    for char in text.encode_utf16() {
        // Assume UTF16 has 2 byte sequences
        let mut data_bytes = vec![0, 0];

        // Write bytes to buffer with provided byteorder (LE or BE)
        B::write_u16(&mut data_bytes, char);

        let _ = buf.write(&data_bytes[..]);

    // return buffer


This function takes any String text, creates a empty buffer Vec (array), injects appropriate BOM bytes to the beginning of the Vec, stores the encoded UTF-16 bytes to buffer and returns it.


BOM stands for Byte Order Mark. It's a convenient way to recognize a file's byte order (LE or BE) by reading the first few characters of a file.

BOM is a set of 2 bytes - 0xFF (numeric: 255) & 0xFE (numeric: 254). In LE format, its stored as [255, 254] and in the case of BE, its stored as [254, 255].

Finally, the buffer would be:

[255, 254, 99, 0, 98, 0]

You can find my Git commit for this feature here.


I hope you've learned something interesting. Give a Like to this post (on the right) and don't forget to add a comment on your thoughts about this.

You can also @ me on Twitter.

Bye for now :-)