Feedback on the proposal to change U+FFFD generation when decoding ill-formed UTF-8

Alastair Houghton via Unicode unicode at
Tue May 16 04:55:34 CDT 2017

> On 16 May 2017, at 10:29, David Starner <prosfilaes at> wrote:
> On Tue, May 16, 2017 at 1:45 AM Alastair Houghton <alastair at> wrote:
> That’s true anyway; imagine the database holds raw bytes, that just happen to decode to U+FFFD.  There might seem to be *two* names that both contain U+FFFD in the same place.  How do you distinguish between them?
>> If the database holds raw bytes, then the name is a byte string, not a Unicode string, and can't contain U+FFFD at all. It's a relatively easy rule to make and enforce that a string in a database is a validly formatted string; I would hope that most SQL servers do in fact reject malformed UTF-8 strings. On the other hand, I'd expect that an SQL server would accept U+FFFD in a Unicode string.

Databases typically separate the encoding in which strings are stored from the encoding in which an application connected to the database is operating.  A database might well hold data in (say) ISO Latin 1, EUC-JP, or indeed any other character set, while presenting it to a client application as UTF-8 or UTF-16.  Hence my comment - application software could very well see two names that are apparently identical and that include U+FFFDs in the same places, even though the database back-end actually has different strings.  As I said, this is a problem we already have.

> I don’t see a problem; the point is that where a structurally valid UTF-8 encoding has been used, albeit in an invalid manner (e.g. encoding a number that is not a valid code point, or encoding a valid code point as an over-long sequence), a single U+FFFD is appropriate.  That seems a perfectly sensible rule to adopt.
>> It seems like a perfectly arbitrary rule to adopt; I'd like to assume that the only source of such UTF-8 data is willful attempts to break security, and in that case, how is this a win? Nonattack sources of broken data are much more likely to be the result of mixing UTF-8 with other character encodings or raw binary data.

I’d say there are three sources of UTF-8 data of that ilk:

(a) bugs,
(b) “Modified UTF-8” and “CESU-8” implementations,
(c) wilful attacks

(b) in particular is quite common, and the result of the presently recommended approach doesn’t make much sense there ([c0 80] will get replaced with *two* U+FFFDs, while [ed a0 bd ed b8 80] will be replaced by *four* U+FFFDs - surrogates aren’t supposed to be valid in UTF-8, right?)

Kind regards,



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