Special Character

What is a Special Character?

A special character is any character that is not a letter or number. In this context, a character refers to an element of writing that’s used to represent information.

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In written communication, special characters can be used to represent a concept, action, or command without the need for a lengthy explanation.

Techopedia Explains a Special Character Meaning

Special characters can be printable or non-printable. Printable special characters (like punctuation marks or emojis) can be seen on a computer screen and printed on paper.

Non-printable special characters, on the other hand, are used to control formats or actions within a computer system. They will never be seen on a computer screen, but they can be seen in source code.

ASCII and Unicode are two encoding standards that play an important role in how printable and non-printable special characters are represented, stored, and processed in digital systems.

What is the Purpose of Special Character?

The purpose of a special character is to enrich written communication by conveying a specific idea, emotion, or function in a concise manner. The effectiveness of a special character’s meaning depends on its context and the reader’s understanding of a particular symbol.

ASCII Special Characters

ASCII special characters were developed in the 1960s through a collaborative effort led by the American Standards Association, which is now known as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Essentially, the association standardized the way 128 English letters, numerical digits, and special characters were represented in digital text files. (ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange.)

The table below contains ASCII special characters that are printable and used in a wide variety of programming and formatting contexts.

Special Character ASCII Code Description
32 Space
! 33 Exclamation mark
34 Double quotes
# 35 Number sign
$ 36 Dollar sign
% 37 Percent sign
& 38 Ampersand
39 Single quote
( 40 Left parenthesis
) 41 Right parenthesis
* 42 Asterisk
+ 43 Plus sign
, 44 Comma
45 Hyphen or minus
. 46 Period
/ 47 Forward Slash
: 58 Colon
; 59 Semicolon
< 60 Less-than sign
= 61 Equals sign
> 62 Greater-than sign
? 63 Question mark
@ 64 At sign
[ 91 Left square bracket
\ 92 Backslash
] 93 Right square bracket
^ 94 Caret
_ 95 Underscore
` 96 Grave accent
{ 123 Left curly bracket
| 124 Vertical bar
} 125 Right curly bracket
~ 126 Tilde

The following table contains ASCII special characters that are non-printable. These special characters are used for controlling the formatting, flow, and behavior of data and digital devices to ensure smooth operation and communication within and between computer systems.

Special Character ASCII Code Description

NUL

0

Null character

SOH

1

Start of Heading

STX

2

Start of Text

ETX 3

End of Text

EOT 4 End of Transmission
ENQ 5 Enquiry
ACK 6 Acknowledgment
BEL 7 Bell
BS 8 Backspace
HT 9 Horizontal Tab
LF 10 Line Feed
VT 11 Vertical Tab
FF 12 Form Feed
CR 13 Carriage Return
SO 14 Shift Out / X-On
SI 15 Shift In / X-Off
DLE 16 Data Link Escape
DC1 17 Device Control 1 (oft. XON)
DC2 18 Device Control 2
DC3 19 Device Control 3 (oft. XOFF)
DC4 20 Device Control 4
NAK 21 Negative Acknowledgement
SYN 22 Synchronous Idle
ETB 23 End of Transmission Block
CAN 24 Cancel
EM 25 End of Medium
SUB 26 Substitute
ESC 27 Escape
FS 28 File Separator
GS 29 Group Separator
RS 30 Record Separator
US 31 Unit Separator

Unicode Special Characters

Unicode, which was developed in the 1990s by a consortium of technology companies and organizations, increased the number of special characters that ASCII encoded to accommodate a wider range of alphabets, languages, and symbols.

Today, the Unicode Consortium provides guidance for encoding over 144,000 alphabetical letters, numbers, and special characters.

The consortium reviews its Universal Character Set (UCS) on a regular basis and adds new characters and symbols as needed to accommodate the evolving needs of global communication.

The table below contains a list of printable Unicode special characters that showcase the standard’s diversity.

Special Character Code Point Description
© U+00A9 Copyright symbol
® U+00AE Registered trademark symbol
U+2122 Trademark symbol
U+203D Interrobang
£ U+00A3 Pound sterling sign
U+20AC Euro sign
U+2713 Check mark
U+2601 Cloud
U+2615 Hot beverage
U+262F Yin yang
U+267B Recycling symbol for generic materials
💩 U+1F4A9 Pile of poo
🍻 U+1F37B Clinking beer mugs
🦄 U+1F984 Unicorn face
🔥 U+1F525 Fire
🚀 U+1F680 Rocket
🐈 U+1F408 Cat
🐕 U+1F415 Dog
💣 U+1F4A3 Bomb
🍷 U+1F377 Wine glass
🥚 U+1F95A Egg
🏆 U+1F3C6 Trophy
🎨 U+1F3A8 Artist palette
🎸 U+1F3B8 Guitar
🏀 U+1F3C0 Basketball
🚀 U+1F680 Rocket
👑 U+1F451 Crown
💄 U+1F484 Lipstick
💎 U+1F48E Gem stone
📱 U+1F4F1 Mobile phone
💻 U+1F4BB Laptop computer
🔫 U+1F52B Water pistol
🖥 U+1F5A5 Desktop computer
🎤 U+1F3A4 Microphone
🎵 U+1F3B5 Musical note
🎶 U+1F3B6 Musical notes
📷 U+1F4F7 Camera
📸 U+1F4F8 Camera with flash
📹 U+1F4F9 Video camera
🎬 U+1F3AC Clapper board
📺 U+1F4FA Television
📻 U+1F4FB Radio
🎙 U+1F399 Studio microphone
🎥 U+1F3A5 Movie camera
👾 U+1F47E Alien monster
🧮 U+1F9EE Abacus

The following table contains a selection of non-printable Unicode special characters used for control and formatting purposes. They are similar to their ASCII counterparts, but they have a broader range of uses.

Special Character Code Point Description
U+0000 NULL Null character
U+0009 CHARACTER TABULATION Horizontal tab
U+000A LINE FEED (LF) Line feed, new line
U+000D CARRIAGE RETURN (CR) Carriage return
U+001B ESCAPE Escape character
U+007F DELETE Delete character
U+200B ZERO WIDTH SPACE Space with no width
U+200C ZERO WIDTH NON-JOINER Non-joiner for compound characters
U+200D ZERO WIDTH JOINER Joiner for ligatures
U+2028 LINE SEPARATOR Separator for lines
U+2029 PARAGRAPH SEPARATOR Separator for paragraphs

Special Characters and Passwords

Best practices for strong passwords recommend using a mix of special characters, numbers, and case-sensitive letters to add an extra layer of complexity and significantly increase the number of possibilities for each character in a password sequence.

A strong password that combines uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and standard ASCII symbols can provide a good balance between security and convenience for most end users.

While the inclusion of Unicode special characters can enhance password strength in theory, most websites, apps, and point of sale (PoS) terminals do not have a built-in character map utility that allows users to browse and select Unicode’s Universal Character Set characters.

Special Characters List for IoT Devices

Many Internet of Things (IoT) devices in use today have limitations that affect their ability to use Unicode special characters or accommodate the full range of ASCII special characters

The table below contains a truncated list (subset) of the ASCII special characters that a  point of sale (PoS) terminal might use.

PoS Special Character Description
# Often used for specifying numbers or as part of a phone number.
$ Common in indicating prices or amounts in US dollars.
% Used for discounts or tax rates.
* May be used for special functions or as a wildcard character.
+ Used for addition operations and international dialing codes.
Used in phone numbers and negative amounts.
. The decimal point in amounts.
/ Sometimes used in dates or as a division operator.
: Used in time notation.
= Used in operations to denote equivalence.
@ Used for entering email addresses.
, May be used as a separator in large numbers or in data entry.

Special character limits can prevent errors and inconsistencies in data entry, reduce the risk of injection attacks, and ensure compatibility across different data storage systems and databases. These are important concerns for edge devices that have to process data locally and/or interface with other IoT devices.

Some of the best POS systems and IoT devices for both consumer and business use are increasingly supporting Unicode in special character symbol subsets to accommodate a wider range of languages and special characters.

This change is being driven by globalization and the need to support diverse linguistic requirements.

Unfortunately, specific character subsets can vary depending on the individual IoT device, its intended use, and the device’s manufacturer. This means that even devices designed for similar purposes might not support the same range of characters.

How to Type Special Characters

Many ASCII characters can be typed directly into electronic documents and web forms.

That’s because the shift key can activate special characters on a computer keyboard. For example, the special character # can be typed by pressing and holding the shift key while typing the number 3.

Numeric keypads on standard Windows keyboards can also be used to type special characters – but you need to know the numeric code for the character you want to type. For example, if you press and hold the keyboard’s Alt key and Caps Lock key at the same time and then type 35 on the numeric keypad, you will type this: #

How Can You Insert a Special Character?

The easiest way to insert a special character is to copy it from an operating system’s character map and paste it where you want it.

A character map is a utility program that allows you to view and select a wide range of special characters that are installed in an operating system (OS).

How to Access a Windows Character Map

  • Press the Windows key.
  • Type “character map” in the search box.
  • Click on the “Character Map” app from the search results.

How to Access a MacOS Character Map

  • In the menu bar at the top of the screen, click on the “Edit” menu
  • Select “Emoji & Symbols.”

Most Linux operating systems have character map utilities as well. In GNOME-based environments, it may be known as “Gucharmap” (GNOME Character Map). In KDE environments, it’s called “KCharSelect.”

How to Access the Character Map in GNOME Environments

  • Open the Activities overview by clicking on the Activities at the top left of the screen or pressing the Super key (Windows key).
  • Start typing “Character Map” or “Gucharmap” and press Enter when the application appears in the results.

How to Access the Character Map in KDE Desktop Environments

  • Open the Application Launcher by clicking on the application menu at the bottom left of the screen or pressing the Super (Windows) key.
  • Search for “KCharSelect” or “Character Selector” and open the application.

Special Character Generators

Special character generators and special character maps serve similar purposes, but there are nuances in their functionality and usage.

Special character generators are web-based tools or software application features that facilitate the insertion of special characters into documents, websites, or software projects.

For special characters that are not available through a generator or operating system, users may need to copy and paste them from a web source or use a third-party app.

Special Character Software

Special character software applications have more options than OS character maps. Typically, this type of app has a large library of special characters and advanced search options. This can be particularly valuable for professionals in fields like graphic design, web development, and typography. 

PopChar (Windows/Mac) and BabelMap (Windows) are two of the most well-known third-party character map apps.

FAQs

What is an example of a special character?

What is a special character in a password?

What is the special symbol for “and”?

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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse 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 explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…