The char data type is based on the original Unicode specification, which defined characters as fixed-width 16-bit entities. The Unicode Standard has since been changed to allow for characters whose representation requires more than 16 bits. The range of Unicode code points is now U+0000 to U+10FFFF. The set of characters from U+0000 to U+FFFF is called the basic multilingual plane (BMP), and characters whose code points are greater than U+FFFF are called supplementary characters. Such characters are generally rare, but some are used, for example, as part of Chinese and Japanese personal names. To support supplementary characters without changing the char primitive data type and causing incompatibility with previous Java programs, supplementary characters are defined by a pair of Unicode code units called surrogates. According to the Java API [API 2014] class Character documentation (Unicode Character Representations):

The Java platform uses the UTF-16 representation in char arrays and in the String and StringBuffer classes. In this representation, supplementary characters are represented as a pair of char values, the first from the high-surrogates range, (\uD800-\uDBFF), the second from the low-surrogates range (\uDC00-\uDFFF).

A char value, therefore, represents BMP code points, including the surrogate code points, or code units of the UTF-16 encoding. An int value represents all Unicode code points, including supplementary code points. The lower (least significant) 21 bits of int are used to represent Unicode code points, and the upper (most significant) 11 bits must be zero. Similar to UTF-8 (see STR00-J. Don't form strings containing partial characters from variable-width encodings), UTF-16 is a variable-width encoding. Because the UTF-16 representation is also used in char arrays and in the String and StringBuffer classes, care must be taken when manipulating string data in Java. In particular, do not write code that assumes that a value of the primitive type char (or a Character object) fully represents a Unicode code point. Conformance with this requirement typically requires using methods that accept a Unicode code point as an int value and avoiding methods that accept a Unicode code unit as a char value because these latter methods cannot support supplementary characters.

Noncompliant Code Example

This noncompliant code example attempts to trim leading letters from string:

public static String trim(String string) {
  char ch;
  int i;
  for (i = 0; i < string.length(); i += 1) {
    ch = string.charAt(i);
    if (!Character.isLetter(ch)) {
      break;
    }
  }
  return string.substring(i);
}

Unfortunately, the trim() method may fail because it is using the character form of the Character.isLetter() method. Methods that accept only a char value cannot support supplementary characters. According to the Java API [API 2014] class Character documentation:

They treat char values from the surrogate ranges as undefined characters. For example, Character.isLetter('\uD840') returns false, even though this specific value if followed by any low-surrogate value in a string would represent a letter.

Compliant Solution

This compliant solution corrects the problem with supplementary characters by using the integer form of the Character.isLetter() method that accepts a Unicode code point as an int argument. Java library methods that accept an int value support all Unicode characters, including supplementary characters.  

public static String trim(String string) {
  int ch;
  int i;
  for (i = 0; i < string.length(); i += Character.charCount(ch)) {
    ch = string.codePointAt(i);
    if (!Character.isLetter(ch)) {
      break;
    }
  } 
  return string.substring(i);
}

Risk Assessment

Forming strings consisting of partial characters can result in unexpected behavior.

Rule

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

STR01-J

Low

Unlikely

Medium

P2

L3

Automated Detection

ToolVersionCheckerDescription
The Checker Framework

Tainting CheckerTrust and security errors (see Chapter 8)

Bibliography

[API 2014]

Classes Character and BreakIterator

[Java Tutorials]

Character Boundaries

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