Recently, I got an e-mail with an interesting title:
Just how did KLM insert an airplane into the subject of an e-mail? Unicode!
I needn't put a full description here, but unicode is the system that provides a unique identifier for every single character your computer is capable of displaying. Yes Chinese, Yiddish, Maldivian, Airplane symbols, the lot!
So what does this look like under the hood?
To find out, I copied the character into Notepad and saved it, ensuring I selected 'Unicode' as the encoding at the bottom of the 'Save As' dialog.
Then, I viewed the raw binary of the file in a hex editor (I just happened to pick this online one). The results were simply:
FF FE 08 27
What we're seeing here is the hexadecimal representation of the binary in the file. You can confirm this using Windows calculator in programming mode, but for simplicity this is:
The first two bytes are telling us that is little-endian UTF-16, these are the byte order mark (BOM). Endian (or endianness) simply tells us from which end we read the data first, which in this case means we read from right to left.
So doing this, we now have (omitting the byte order marks):
Which just so happens to the unique identifier for the airplane symbol:
But why do you care about this? You could've just copied and pasted the original symbol, right?
Well, it just so happens that HTML encoding closely follows these unicode code points. So if I wanted to use this character myself, I'd want to be absolutely certain it'll render correctly.
To do this, I'd first make sure my page is described as being encoded in unicode using the correct meta tag:
Then I can create the character using &#xnnnn; where nnnnn is the unicode code point. Therefore ✈ creates our airplane:
That's just one. There are 109, 383 other characters out there, go and use 'em.