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Web Design Reference Guide

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Character Sets

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

By Molly Holzschlag

Another issue of importance with markup is ensuring that the proper character set is in use. Character sets are simply sets of characters for a specific language. For English, we use what is known as iso-8859-1. This is a standardized Latin character set. Other languages will require the use of other character sets in order to be properly displayed within Web browsers.

Character sets are a complex issue because they can be declared in three places:

  • On the server.

  • Within a meta tag in the document:

  • <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" />
  • Within the XML prolog in those XHTML documents using the XML prolog.

Ideally, character sets are set by the system administrator on the Web server. You can include your character set in a meta tag within each of your documents. Although declaring a character set in an XML prolog for XHTML documents is also acceptable, the XML prolog itself is known to cause rendering problems in many browsers, so most Web designers leave it off. More information about character sets can be found in this section's resource list.

Please enjoy the following resources to gain more knowledge about the wonderful world of Web markup.