What Happened To My Beautiful En-dashes?!

First, a small introduction to the problem: We’re running stuff in UTF-8 all the way. A few sites we’re reading feeds from are using ISO-8859-1 as their charset, but they either supply the feed with the correct encoding specific or the feeds arrive as UTF-8. Everything works nicely, except for the mentioned-in-the-headline en-dashes. Firefox only shows 00 96 (0x00 0x96), but everything looks correct when you view the headlines and similiar stuff on the original site.

Strange.

The digging, oh all the digging.

After the already mentioned digging (yes, the digging) in data at the large search engines (ok, maybe I did a search or two), I discovered that the windows cp1252 encoding uses 0x96 to store endashes. This seems similiar! We’re seeing 0x96 as one of the byte values above, so apparently cp1252 is sneaking into the mix somewhere along the lines. Most of the clients using the CMS-es are windows, so they might apparently be to blame.

ISO-8859-1 enters the scene

As the sites (and feeds) provide ISO-8859-1 as their encoding, I thought it would be interesting to see what ISO-8859-1 defines as the representation for the byte value 0x96. Lo’ and behold: 0x96 is not defined in ISO-8859-1. Which actually provides us with the solution.

I welcome thee, Mr. Solution

When the ISO-8859-1 encoded string is converted into UTF-8, the bytes with the value 0x96 (which is the endash in cp1252) is simply inserted as a valid code sequence in UTF-8 which represents a character that’s not defined.

We’re saying that the string is ISO-8859-1, although in reality it is either cp1252 or a mangled version of iso-8859-1 and cp1252 (for the endashes, at least).

If you’re on the parsing end of this mumbo jumbo, one solution is to replace the generated UTF-8 sequence (0xc2 0x96) (converted from 0x96 i ISO-8859-1) with the proper one (0xe2 0x80 0x93):

$data = str_replace("\xc2\x96", "\xE2\x80\x93", $data);

And voilá, everything works.

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