9.5. Wide Character Identifiers

All Virtuoso schema columns are confined to 8-bit character fields. This will remain for backwards compatibility and performance reasons, however, there are two options available for support of non-ASCII identifier names as follows:

  • Maintain an 8-bit system. Pass all 8-bit codes that enter the system and read them back according to the current database character set. This has the convenience of a 1-to-1 correspondence between the character lengths of an identifier and their representation, so it's a subject to like single character wildcards etc.

    This works well only for languages that do have single bit encodings (like western-european languages and cyrillic). But this does not work at all for the far-east languages. It also depends on the database character set and does not allow identifiers to be composed from multiple character sets.

  • Store all identifiers as UTF-8 encoded unicode strings. This would allow seamless storage and retrieval of ANY character within the unicode character space. This, however, has the disadvantage of the varying character length representation which should be taken into account when comparing identifier names with LIKE.

Virtuoso supports the above cases which are switchable through the "SQL_UTF8_EXECS" = 1/0 flag in the [Client] section of the Virtuoso INI file. Setting SQL_UTF8_EXECS = 1 enables UTF-8 identifier storage and retrieval, whereas setting SQL_UTF8_EXECS = 0 disables it. The default setting is 0: disabled for backwards compatible option.

[Note] Note:

Once a non-ASCII identifier gets stored using a particular setting for the "SQL_UTF8_EXECS" flag and the flag is subsequently changed this will make the stored identifiers unreadable by normal means (but can be read by special means).

When an SQL statement comes into the driver(s) it is expanded into unicode (using either the current database character set if it is a narrow string like in SQLExecDirect, or taking it verbatim as in SQLExecDirectW). The unicode string is then encoded into UTF-8 passed to the SQL parser. The SQL parser knows that it will receive UTF-8 so it takes that into account when parsing the national character literals (N'<literal>') and the "normal" literals ('<literal>'). It will however return identifier names in UTF-8, these will then get stored into the DBMS system tables or compared against them depending on the type of statement.

All returned identifiers will be translated from UTF-8 to Unicode when returned to the client, so the client should never actually see the UTF-8 encoding of the identifiers.

Representing a string in UTF-8 will not change the identifier parsing rules or the SQL applications logic since the SQL special characters - like dot, quote, space etc - are ASCII symbols and they will get represented as a single byte sequence in UTF-8.

The upper/lower functions should be used with care when applied to identifiers: they will get narrow strings in UTF-8, so applying an upper/lower to them may cause damage to the UTF-8 encoding. That is why the identifiers should be converted explicitly to wide strings using the charset_recode function, changed to upper or lower case and then translated back to UTF-8 using the charset_recode function again.

Using single character LIKE patterns against identifiers stored as narrow strings in system tables will generally not work, as a single character may be represented with up to 6 bytes in UTF-8. An exception to that is when using single character pattern to match an ASCII character.