In SGML, HTML and XML documents, the logical constructs known as ''character data'' and ''attribute values'' consist of sequences of characters, in which each character can manifest directly (representing itself), or can be represented by a series of characters called a ''character reference'', of which there are two types: a ''numeric character reference'' and a ''character entity reference''. This article lists the character entity references that are valid in HTML and XML documents.
A character entity reference refers to the content of a named entity. An entity declaration is created by using the
syntax in a Document Type Definition (DTD).
Character reference overview
A ''numeric character reference'' refers to a character by its Universal Character Set
''code point'', and uses the format:
where ''nnnn'' is the code point in decimal
form, and ''hhhh'' is the code point in hexadecimal
form. The ''x'' must be lowercase in XML documents. The ''nnnn'' or ''hhhh'' may be any number of digits and may include leading zeros. The ''hhhh'' may mix uppercase and lowercase, though uppercase is the usual style.
In contrast, a ''character entity reference'' refers to a character by the name of an ''entity
'' which has the desired character as its ''replacement text''. The entity must either be predefined (built into the markup language) or explicitly declared in a Document Type Definition
(DTD). The format is the same as for any entity reference:
where ''name'' is the case-sensitive name of the entity. The semicolon is required, unless marked otherwise in the table below (see
Standard public entity sets for characters
ISO Entity Sets: SGML
supplied a comprehensive set of entity declarations for characters widely used in Western technical and reference publishing, for Latin, Greek and Cyrillic scripts. The American Mathematical Society
also contributed entities for mathematical characters.
HTML Entity Sets: Early versions of HTML
built in small subsets of these, relating to characters found in three Western 8-bit fonts.
MathML Entity Sets: The W3C
developed a set of entity declarations for MathML
XML Entity Sets: The W3C
MathML Working Group took over maintenance of the ISO public entity sets, combined with the MathML and documents them iXML Entity Definitions for Characters
This set can support the requirements of XHTML
and as an input to future versions of HTML.
HTML 5: HTML5
adopts the XML entities anamed character references
however it restates them without reference to their sources and does not group them into sets. The HTML 5 specification additionally provides mappings from the names to Unicode character sequences using JSON
Numerous other entity sets have been developed for special requirements, and for major and minority scripts. However, the advent of Unicode
has largely superseded them.
Predefined entities in XML
The XML specification does not use the term "character entity" or "character entity reference". The XML specification defines five "predefined entities" representing special characters, and requires that all XML processors honor them. The entities can be explicitly declared in a DTD, as well, but if this is done, the replacement text must be the same as the built-in definitions. XML also allows other named entities of any size to be defined on a per-document basis.
The table below lists the five XML predefined entities. The initial "Name" column mentions the entity's name. The "Character" column shows the character. To render the character, the format
is used; for example,
renders as &. The "Unicode code point" column cites the character via standard UCS/Unicode "U+" notation, which shows the character's code point in hexadecimal. The decimal equivalent of the code point is then shown in parentheses. The "Standard" column indicates the first version of XML that includes the entity. The final "Name" column cites the character via its canonical UCS/Unicode name.
Character entity references in HTML
The HTML 5 DTDs define many named entities, references to which act as mnemonic aliases for certain Unicode characters.
The HTML 5 specification requires the use of the standard DTDs and does not allow users to define additional entities.
In the table below, the "Standard" column indicates the first version of the HTML DTD that defines the character entity reference. To use one of these character entity references in an HTML or XML document, enter an ''ampersand'' followed by the ''entity name'' and a ''semicolon'', e.g., enter
for the copyright symbol (©).
Alternatively, enter an ''ampersand'', followed by a ''number sign'', a ''number'' and a ''semicolon''. For example, to display the copyright symbol ©, enter
(When using this method, use the parenthesized decimal numbers in the third column.) Equivalently, you can enter an ''ampersand'', followed by a ''number sign'', the letter x, a ''hexadecimal number'' and a ''semicolon''. For example, to display the copyright symbol © enter
. (When using this method, use the hexadecimal numbers in the third column, without the prefix
Entities representing special characters in XHTML
The XHTML DTD
s explicitly declare 253 entities (including the 5 predefined entities of XML 1.0
) whose expansion is a single character, which can therefore be informally referred to as "character entities". These (with the exception of the
entity) have the same names and represent the same characters as the 252 character entities in HTML
. Also, by virtue of being XML
, XHTML documents may reference the predefined
entity, which is not one of the 252 character entities in HTML 4. Additional entities of any size may be defined on a per-document basis. However, the usability of entity references in XHTML is affected by how the document is being processed:
* If the document is read by a conforming HTML processor, then only the 252 HTML character entities can safely be used. The use of
or custom entity references may not be supported and may produce unpredictable results.
* If the document is read by an XML parser
that does not or cannot read external entities, then only the five built-in XML character entities (see above
) can safely be used, although other entities may be used if they are declared in the internal DTD subset.
* If the document is read by an XML parser that does read external entities, then the five built-in XML character entities can safely be used. The other 248 HTML character entities can be used as long as the XHTML DTD is accessible to the parser at the time the document is read. Other entities may also be used if they are declared in the internal DTD subset.
Because of the special
case mentioned above, only
will work in all processing situations.
* Character encodings in HTML
* HTML decimal character rendering
* SGML entity
(a similar concept to enter unavailable characters)
See also: Unicode Consortium
*UnicodeData.txt from the Unicode ConsortiumWorld Wide Web Consortium
See also: World Wide Web Consortium
*XML 1.0 spec
*HTML 3.2 spec
*HTML 4.0 spec
*HTML 4.01 spec
*HTML 5 spec
*XHTML 1.0 spec
*XML Entity Definitions for Characters
* The normative reference to RFC 2070 (still found in DTDs defining the character entities for HTML or XHTML) is historic; this RFC (along with other RFC's related to different part of the HTML specification) has been deprecated in favor of the newer informational RFC 2854 which defines the "text/html" MIME type and references directly the W3C specifications for the actual HTML content.
* Numerical Reference of Unicode code points
External linksCharacter entity references in HTML 4
at the W3C
XML and HTML character entity references