Skip to main content

A Unicode fgetc() in PHP

In preparation for a presentation I’m giving at this month’s Syracuse PHP Users Group meeting, I found the need to read in Unicode characters in PHP one at a time. Unicode is still second-class in PHP; PHP6 failed and we have to fallback to extensions like the mbstring extension and/or libraries like Portable UTF-8. And even with those, I didn’t see a unicode-capable fgetc() so I wrote my own.

Years ago, I wrote a post describing how to read Unicode characters in C, so the logic was already familiar. As a refresher, UTF-8 is a multi-byte encoding scheme capable of representing over 2 million characters using 4 bytes or less. The first 128 characters are encoded the same as 7-bit ASCII with 0 as the most-significant bit. The other characters are encoded using multiple bytes, each byte with 1 as the most-significant bit. The bit pattern in the first byte of a multi-byte sequence tells us how many bytes are needed to represent the character.

Here’s what the function looks like:

function ufgetc($fp)
    // mask values for first byte's bit patterns
    static $mask = [
        192, // 110xxxxx
        224, // 1110xxxx
        240  // 11110xxx

    // read first byte
    $ch = fgetc($fp);
    if ($ch === false) {
        // return false on EOF
        return false;

    // single-byte character
    if ((ord($ch) & $mask[0]) != $mask[0]) {
        return $ch;

    // multi-byte character
    $buf = $ch;
    for ($i = 0; $i < count($mask); $i++) {
        if ((ord($ch) & $mask[$i]) != $mask[$i]) {
        $buf .= fgetc($fp);
    return $buf;
PHP’s fgetc() reads in 8 bits at a time just like it’s counterpart in C, but these bytes are represented as a single-character string in PHP’s type system so we need to use the byte’s integer value for the mask check to succeed.


  1. Hi Timothy, thanks for sharing the code, saved me a lot of time !
    regards Lars


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Geolocation Search

Services that allow users to identify nearby points of interest continue to grow in popularity. I'm sure we're all familiar with social websites that let you search for the profiles of people near a postal code, or mobile applications that use geolocation to identify Thai restaurants within walking distance. It's surprisingly simple to implement such functionality, and in this post I will discuss how to do so.

The first step is to obtain the latitude and longitude coordinates of any locations you want to make searchable. In the restaurant scenario, you'd want the latitude and longitude of each eatery. In the social website scenario, you'd want to obtain a list of postal codes with their centroid latitude and longitude.

In general, postal code-based geolocation is a bad idea; their boundaries rarely form simple polygons, the area they cover vary in size, and are subject to change based on the whims of the postal service. But many times we find ourselves stuck on a c…

Composing Music with PHP

I’m not an expert on probability theory, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. And even my Music 201 class from years ago has been long forgotten. But if you’ll indulge me for the next 10 minutes, I think you’ll find that even just a little knowledge can yield impressive results if creatively woven together. I’d like to share with you how to teach PHP to compose music. Here’s an example: You’re looking at a melody generated by PHP. It’s not the most memorable, but it’s not unpleasant either. And surprisingly, the code to generate such sequences is rather brief. So what’s going on? The script calculates a probability map of melodic intervals and applies a Markov process to generate a new sequence. In friendlier terms, musical data is analyzed by a script to learn which intervals make up pleasing melodies. It then creates a new composition by selecting pitches based on the possibilities it’s observed. . Standing on ShouldersComposition doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Bach was f…

Creepy JavaScript Tracking

I recently began allergy shots so my new Monday morning routine includes me sitting in a doctor's office for 30 minutes (I must wait after receiving the shots and be checked by a nurse to make sure there was no reaction). With nothing else better to do while I waited last week, I started playing around with some JavaScript. This is what I came up with:
<html> <head> <title>Test</title> <script type="text/javascript"> window.onload = function () { var mX = 0,  mY = 0, sX = 0,  sY = 0, queue = [], interval = 200, recIntv = null, playIntv = null, b = document.body, de = document.documentElement, cursor = document.getElementById("cursor"), record = document.getElementById("record"), play = document.getElementById("play"); window.onmousemove = function (e) { e = e || window.event; if (e.pageX || e.pageY) { …