JSON character encoding – is UTF-8 well-supported by browsers or should I use numeric escape sequences


I am writing a webservice that uses json to represent its resources, and I am a bit stuck thinking about the best way to encode the json. Reading the json rfc (http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc4627.txt) it is clear that the preferred encoding is utf-8. But the rfc also describes a string escaping mechanism for specifying characters. I assume this would generally be used to escape non-ascii characters, thereby making the resulting utf-8 valid ascii.

So let's say I have a json string that contains unicode characters (code-points) that are non-ascii. Should my webservice just utf-8 encoding that and return it, or should it escape all those non-ascii characters and return pure ascii?

I'd like browsers to be able to execute the results using jsonp or eval. Does that effect the decision? My knowledge of various browser's javascript support for utf-8 is lacking.

EDIT: I wanted to clarify that my main concern about how to encode the results is really about browser handling of the results. What I've read indicates that browsers may be sensitive to the encoding when using JSONP in particular. I haven't found any really good info on the subject, so I'll have to start doing some testing to see what happens. Ideally I'd like to only escape those few characters that are required and just utf-8 encode the results.

Best Solution

The JSON spec requires UTF-8 support by decoders. As a result, all JSON decoders can handle UTF-8 just as well as they can handle the numeric escape sequences. This is also the case for Javascript interpreters, which means JSONP will handle the UTF-8 encoded JSON as well.

The ability for JSON encoders to use the numeric escape sequences instead just offers you more choice. One reason you may choose the numeric escape sequences would be if a transport mechanism in between your encoder and the intended decoder is not binary-safe.

Another reason you may want to use numeric escape sequences is to prevent certain characters appearing in the stream, such as <, & and ", which may be interpreted as HTML sequences if the JSON code is placed without escaping into HTML or a browser wrongly interprets it as HTML. This can be a defence against HTML injection or cross-site scripting (note: some characters MUST be escaped in JSON, including " and \).

Some frameworks, including PHP's json_encode() (by default), always do the numeric escape sequences on the encoder side for any character outside of ASCII. This is a mostly unnecessary extra step intended for maximum compatibility with limited transport mechanisms and the like. However, this should not be interpreted as an indication that any JSON decoders have a problem with UTF-8.

So, I guess you just could decide which to use like this:

  • Just use UTF-8, unless any software you are using for storage or transport between encoder and decoder isn't binary-safe.

  • Otherwise, use the numeric escape sequences.