Non-Printable Characters

What Does Non-Printable Characters Mean?

Non-printable characters are parts of a character set that do not represent a written symbol or part of the text within a document or code, but rather are there in the context of signal and control in character encoding. They are used to tell word processors and certain applications, like Web browsers, how a document is supposed to look.

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Non-printable characters are also known as non-printing characters or control characters.

Techopedia Explains Non-Printable Characters

Non-printable characters are used to indicate certain formatting actions, such as:

  • White spaces (considered an invisible graphic)
  • Carriage returns
  • Tabs
  • Line breaks
  • Page breaks
  • Null characters

For example, the first 32 codes (0 to 31) in ASCII are reserved as control codes for devices like printers and magnetic tape readers/writers. An example is ASCII character 10, which represents “line feed,” which tells the printer to advance the paper.

These control characters also are used in data streams, such as the STX and ETX characters, used to transmit ON and OFF commands, as well as the NULL character, which is used to indicate the end of a data stream.

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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.