Entering Unicode Characters

Of course, the input of more than 100,000 possible Unicode characters can not easily be done with a button on a conventional keyboard because keyboards can provide only a small selection of the most common characters - for all other characters there is simply no room.

But what do you have to do, if you want to enter the other characters, too? There are several possibilities that are presented below. Regardless of which method you use, the outcome always depends on whether there is a glyph available in the font you use, to be able to present the sign at all. In the section about fonts, you can read some information regarding this issue.

This article contains the following sections:

Input by using the Character Code

In many programs, such as OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Microsoft Word, Notepad or the Windows Editor, Unicode characters can be entered directly by using their character code. For that, keep the ALT key pressed and enter the decimal code of your character on the Num Pad. For example, with ALT and 142 you can type the letter Ä.

It should be noted that the input must be carried out with the number pad (not with the numbers that can be found above the letters on the keyboard) and you have to activate the Num Pad (usually with the NUM LOCK key above the numeric keybad). It is more difficult to do this on laptops that do not have a separate number pad. In this case, normally the FN key can be used to access a number block, located on the letters of the keyboard.

The character codes of the characters, you can get from corresponding tables, for example published by the Unicode Consortium on this page. Please note that many of these tables, only offer the hexadecimal notation of the characters, but you have to use the decimal notation with the ALT key to produce the correct sign. If necessary, you have to convert the hex code to do so.

Frequently used Characters

Of course, writing Unicode characters by using the character code as described above is not very comfortable, especially when such tables are available only for hexadecimal codes. An improved approach is to pick up characters directly from character tables or character lists, that are for example included in all major operating systems, or to use shortcuts for frequently used characters, as offered by many programs like Microsoft Word. A description of this opportunity, you can read in the next section "Insertion via Character Maps".

Another possibility is to create your own keyboard layout, in which your personal symbols and characters have their own keyboard key and thus are immediately available in all of your applications and software. In the next but one section "Custom Keyboard Layout" you will be informed about that.

Insertion via Character Maps

Beyond the mentioned possibilities, many programs such as Microsoft Word or OpenOffice offer the possibility to insert Unicode characters from tables. In this case, of course, you do not have to search for the character code. Typically, you can find the function with "Insert > Symbol" or "Insert > Special Character". Then a window opens that contains all the available characters of a font. Either you go through all of these characters, or refine your search by selecting certain characters (such as Cyrillic letters, mathematical symbols or punctuation marks) in the options. You can also use this window to get an overview about which characters are present in what fonts. Often, there is the possibility to define keyboard shortcuts for individual characters from this window. With this, you can easily access frequently used characters without using the character table.

Custom Keyboard Layout

An elegant method to make frequently used Unicode characters available in all programs is to create your own keyboard layout. That means, that it is your choice how the keys on your keyboard are used and that you can switch between multiple keyboard layouts if you want. For example, you can simply set the copyright sign on the shortcut ALT GR + C or make any other change in your current keyboard layout. That saves a lot of time looking for characters in tables and is more comfortable than memorizing a lot of codes - especially if you always use the same unicode characters again.

Your own keyboard layout can easily created with the programs Microsoft Keyboad Layout Creator (here you get to the download) and the Keyboard Layout Manager (which you can get here). Both programs perform basically the same purpose, the Keyboard Layout Manager is just a much leaner program than the alternative from Microsoft.

With the programs, it is possible to adapt existing layouts or to create entirely new ones. The program will automatically create the appropriate installation package for your custom keyboard layout.

Input in HTML and XML

If you want to use a certain Unicode character in HTML or XML, you can also use it directly with the code of the character. For decimal codes, the notation is � and � for hexadecimal codes. The code can be entered directly in this form into the HTML source code or the XML file, where 0000 have to be replaced by the code of the Unicode character in decimal respectively hexadecimal notation. That is, for example, © or © for the copyright sign ©.

In HTML, there is yet another way to enter Unicode and special characters. This is called named entities or html entities, which means that you can enter a name for some characters in a HTML file that can be specified in the form "&name;". For example, the coding for Ä is Ä (A-Umlaut - ä is the ä in lowercase letters), © stands for the copyright sign ©, € for the euro currency symbol € or   for a non-breaking space. A list of related characters and codes is available here. However, of course, not every Unicode Codepoint has its own HTML entity.

Named entities in HTML and XML also have a special meaning in the event that characters with a meaning within the XML syntax should be written as a visible text into the HTML source text or into XML files. Specifically, it is about the pointed brackets < and > as well as the quotation mark " and the &-sign that can be written as &lt; (Lower Than), &gt; (Greater Than), &quot; (quote) and &amp; (ampersand) without any problems for the syntax.

Unicode in Microsoft Word

From Word 2002 on, you can simply enter a Unicode character with its code. To do this, just type the hexadecimal code of the character directly into a Word document and then press ALT + C (in dialog boxes ALT + X). Then automatically the required Unicode character appears. The same shortcut can also be used to display the code of the character that comes before the cursor. A table of all character codes can be found on the page of the Unicode Consortium.


Finally, we want you to show a useful program that can also assist with the input of Unicode. It's called BabelMap and you can download it on the page BabelMap makes it easy to show Unicode characters by their number or name, you can search in characters and use the clipboard to copy characters from BabelMap to another application. An explanation of all the features can be found on the website.