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I have recently seen a few URIs containing the query parameter "utf8=✓". My first impression (after thinking "mmm, looks cool") was that this could be used to detect a broken character encoding.

So, is this a better way to resolve potential problems with character encoding, or is it just a developer having fun with a hack?

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I disagree. There are schemes out there that look like URNs and that take query parameters - such as Bitcoin. URIs are not confined to browsers. See This question may also address the general case where character encoding is required when a browser accesses a protocol handler. – Gary Rowe Oct 19 '12 at 8:29
Give examples of these URLs or didn't happen. – hakre Oct 22 '12 at 12:59
Off topic, but OK. Here's my personal donation Bitcoin URI: bitcoin:1KzTSfqjF2iKCduwz59nv2uqh1W2JsTxZH?amount=0.5&label=Agile%20Stack. Notice that the scheme is essentially a URN with query parameters, but it hands off to a protocol handler. This kind of URI could probably benefit from the “utf8=✓” workaround as well. – Gary Rowe Oct 22 '12 at 17:47
up vote 710 down vote accepted

By default, older versions of IE (<=8) will submit form data in Latin-1 encoding if possible. By including a character that can't be expressed in Latin-1, IE is forced to use UTF-8 encoding for its form submissions, which simplifies various backend processes, for example database persistence.

If the parameter was instead utf8=true then this wouldn't trigger the UTF-8 encoding in these browsers.

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I didn't know that, really interesting! – Florian Margaine Oct 13 '12 at 12:50
Ah, so it's an IE workaround... nice. Saves a lot of validation too. – Gary Rowe Oct 13 '12 at 13:03
@LarsViklund I should have been clearer with my comment. I meant that the validation associated with character encoding is simplified, not bypassed. – Gary Rowe Oct 13 '12 at 13:48
@Lars Correct, it doesn't absolve you from having to check your input. But it does mean that encoding tweaks only become part of your security handling and don't taint the concept of your "standard processing" path – Gareth Oct 14 '12 at 10:08
Also see…. Apparently Ruby on Rails used to use a snowman character, and was changed to a checkmark which was less ambiguous but less funny. – Jack V. Oct 17 '12 at 10:06

Another approach is to specify the encoding in the head: <meta charset="UTF-8">. And use JavaScript's encodeURI(), and PHP's urlencode() before sending the get/post data.

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And when JavaScript is disabled what do you do then? – Gary Rowe Oct 18 '12 at 20:01
You tell the client to upgrade their browser... – quickshiftin Oct 19 '12 at 19:25
Please think of the poor NoScript users. – jah Nov 20 '12 at 19:08
@jah Nope. – MasterMastic Oct 12 '13 at 15:23
I think most of us here don't realize NoScript users are just a tiny fraction of the user base. Supporting this small number of users may not be viable for everyone. – user Nov 19 '13 at 4:43

protected by MichaelT Nov 18 '13 at 19:58

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