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Non-Printable Characters

Definition - 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.

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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