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While converting a HTML string to a NSAttributedString, I discovered a perculiar thing about it’s unicode encoding format.

HTML as NSAttributedString

Converting HTML String to NSAttributedString can be easily accomplished with this String extension:

extension String {
    func htmlAttributedString() -> NSAttributedString? {
        guard let data = self.dataUsingEncoding(NSUTF16StringEncoding, allowLossyConversion: false) else { return nil }
        guard let html = try? NSMutableAttributedString(
          data: data, 
          options: [NSDocumentTypeDocumentAttribute: NSHTMLTextDocumentType], 
          documentAttributes: nil) else { return nil }
        return html
    }
}

To use,

label.attributedText = "<b>Hello</b> \u{2022} World".htmlAttributedString()

In the above, I have purposely added a unicode \u2022 to show that it renders unicode correctly.

NSAttributedString uses NSUTF16StringEncoding

If you observe the code carefully, when we call dataUsingEncoding, we use NSUTF16StringEncoding.

Sidetrack: A small introduction to unicode and encoding will be in next section.

This is because NSAttributedString requires data to be encoded in UTF-16.

NOT UTF-8, as I expected at first.

Also note that NSUnicodeStringEncoding is the same as NSUTF16StringEncoding.

While the documentation never specify what encoding data has to be, we can get a hint from NSString which is conceptually UTF-16.

Another way is to specify the encoding in NSAttributedString initializer:

NSMutableAttributedString(
  data: data, 
  options: [NSDocumentTypeDocumentAttribute: NSHTMLTextDocumentType, 
  NSCharacterEncodingDocumentAttribute: NSUTF8StringEncoding], 
  documentAttributes: nil) else { return nil }

In the above, data will have to be UTF-8 encoded.

An Introduction to Encoding Strings

Why do we need to encode?

We need to handle encoding/decoding of string when it is converted to data (eg NSData).

When writing to a file, ultimately, the string representation is written as bytes of data. This conversion of string to data requires an encoding form.

This is because 1 character in a string (or specifically unicode string) can be represented by 1-4 bytes, depending on the encoding form.

We discuss 2 of the most common forms here.

A UTF-16 character is minimumly 2 bytes (or 16 bits).

But a unicode character is up to 21 bit, so while UTF-16 can represent most of the unicode characters (specifically 63K characters) in 2 bytes, there are characters that it needs more than 2 bytes to represent.

A UTF-8 character is minimumly 1 byte (or 8 bits). Only 128 characters are encoded in 1 byte (this includes the very common ASCII). This is much more space efficient than UTF-16.

That’s it for an introduction.

For more, read about how Swift deal with String and from objc.io.


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@samwize

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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