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The GNU C Library

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6.5.4 The iconv Implementation in the GNU C library

After reading about the problems of iconv implementations in the last section it is certainly good to note that the implementation in the GNU C library has none of the problems mentioned above. What follows is a step-by-step analysis of the points raised above. The evaluation is based on the current state of the development (as of January 1999). The development of the iconv functions is not complete, but basic functionality has solidified.

The GNU C library's iconv implementation uses shared loadable modules to implement the conversions. A very small number of conversions are built into the library itself but these are only rather trivial conversions.

All the benefits of loadable modules are available in the GNU C library implementation. This is especially appealing since the interface is well documented (see below), and it, therefore, is easy to write new conversion modules. The drawback of using loadable objects is not a problem in the GNU C library, at least on ELF systems. Since the library is able to load shared objects even in statically linked binaries, static linking need not be forbidden in case one wants to use iconv.

The second mentioned problem is the number of supported conversions. Currently, the GNU C library supports more than 150 character sets. The way the implementation is designed the number of supported conversions is greater than 22350 (150 times 149). If any conversion from or to a character set is missing, it can be added easily.

Particularly impressive as it may be, this high number is due to the fact that the GNU C library implementation of iconv does not have the third problem mentioned above (i.e., whenever there is a conversion from a character set A to B and from B to C it is always possible to convert from A to C directly). If the iconv_open returns an error and sets errno to EINVAL, there is no known way, directly or indirectly, to perform the wanted conversion.

Triangulation is achieved by providing for each character set a conversion from and to UCS-4 encoded ISO 10646. Using ISO 10646 as an intermediate representation it is possible to triangulate (i.e., convert with an intermediate representation).

There is no inherent requirement to provide a conversion to ISO 10646 for a new character set, and it is also possible to provide other conversions where neither source nor destination character set is ISO 10646. The existing set of conversions is simply meant to cover all conversions that might be of interest.

All currently available conversions use the triangulation method above, making conversion run unnecessarily slow. If, for example, somebody often needs the conversion from ISO-2022-JP to EUC-JP, a quicker solution would involve direct conversion between the two character sets, skipping the input to ISO 10646 first. The two character sets of interest are much more similar to each other than to ISO 10646.

In such a situation one easily can write a new conversion and provide it as a better alternative. The GNU C library iconv implementation would automatically use the module implementing the conversion if it is specified to be more efficient.

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