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Difference between UCS-2 and UTF-16

Difference between UCS-2 and UTF-16

Both UCS-2 and UTF-16 are encodings of Unicode, but they differ in how they represent characters. UCS-2 uses two bytes per character, while UTF-8 uses up to four bytes per character. This can be important when choosing an encoding for your application. UTF-16 is more compact than UCS-2, but it is not always compatible with some older applications.

What is UCS-2?

UCS-2 is a Unicode standard that uses a 16-bit character encoding. UCS-2 is capable of encoding the entire Unicode character set, making it a popular choice for applications that need to support a large number of languages. However, UCS-2 does have some limitations, as it can only represent characters in the Basic Multilingual Plane (BMP).

Characters outside of the BMP must be represented using surrogate pairs, which take up twice as much space. For this reason, UCS-2 is sometimes replaced by UTF-16, which uses a variable-length character encoding that supports the full Unicode character set. Despite these limitations, UCS-2 remains a widely used encoding standard, thanks to its simplicity and ease of implementation.

What is UTF-16?

UTF-16 is a character encoding that represents all Unicode characters. It uses a mix of 16-bit and 32-bit code units to represent each character, which allows for a wide range of characters to be represented.

  • UTF-16 is also known as Universal Character Set Transformation Format 16-bit; it was developed by the Unicode Consortium and first published in 1996.
  • UTF-16 is used by a number of operating systems, programming languages, and applications, including Microsoft Windows, Java, and XML. In UTF-16, code units are generally represented in big-endian order; however, some systems use little-endian order.
  • UTF-16 is not backward compatible with ASCII or other 7- or 8-bit character encodings. UTF-16 is an efficient way to represent Unicode characters, and it is often used in conjunction with UTF-8, which is a similar character encoding that uses 8-bit code units.

Difference between UCS-2 and UTF-16

UCS-2 and UTF-16 are two different character encodings that are used to represent text in digital form. UCS-2 is a fixed-width encoding that can represent every character in the Unicode standard. UTF-16 is a variable-width encoding that uses more bytes to represent characters that are outside of the Basic Multilingual Plane.

As a result, UCS-2 is limited to 65,536 characters, while UTF-16 can represent over one million characters. UCS-2 is simpler to implement and faster to process, but it cannot represent as many characters as UTF-16. For this reason, UCS-2 is typically only used for languages that use a limited number of characters, such as Latin-based languages. UTF-16 is used for all other languages.


UCS-2 and UTF-16 are both encoding formats used to represent text. UCS-2 uses 16 bits per character while UTF-16 uses 32 bits per character. This difference in bit allocation means that UTF-16 can encode a greater range of characters than UCS-2. The main downside to using UTF-8 is that it is more processor intensive than UCS-2, so if speed is a priority you may want to stick with the latter format.

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