You mean my web app has to support characters other than English?!? – level 300

The time will come when some text or some data will need to contain foreign characters.  For me, this means Japanese Kanji text for a global application under development.  I need to use the following text: ??????????????. You are seeing question marks because .Text doesn’t support these characters in all places.

ASP.NET is unicode-based, so a lot of the work is done for me, but in order to work with this text, I have to make some changes to my development workstation and database (potentially).  First, I looked at the database, and the database was developed with a forward-thinking method, and all character fields are nchar or nvarchar, so SQL Server 2000 will be able to store all unicode characters without anything special.  I also had to check to make sure my stored procedures all used nvarchar and that no strings were ever converted to another codepage.  I was please to find the database in order, and I could store and retrieve this text.  With .Net, I was able to whip up a web app, and it just worked, but when looking at our existing application written with ASP & VB6 COM+, I found that it didn’t “just work”.  I separated the parts and discovered that I could call the COM+ pieces to store and retrieve this data, so the large part was taken care of.  Thank God VB6 supports unicode.  Of course, all that is happening is the transport of character codes.

The problem came with ASP making the call to COM+, getting information, but it was written to the page garbled.  After a lot of research, the fix was to set the CodePage that ASP uses to stream the response to the client.  This can be done in the header line with CodePage=”65001” – which is the unicode codepage, or I can use Response.CodePage = 65001 at the top of the ASP.  But header information also needed to be in the HTML page to display properly on the client, so I use Response.CharSet = “utf-8” to tell the browser to use this character set.  Doing this is every page did the trick, but I have a LOT of pages, so I set about looking for a global setting for the CodePage.  After a lot of searching, I found the AspCodePage IIS Metabase setting.  This is an obscure setting because we don’t normally have to change the IIS Metabase.  It’s kind of like a registry for IIS.  IIS Manager have GUI for some common settings, but this isn’t one of them.  I downloaded the IIS Metabase Explorer with the IIS 6.0 kit from Microsoft, and I was able to set this setting to 65001 for my application, and this affected all the pages in my app.

For good measure, I went ahead and added

<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=UTF-8″>

to all my pages. 

It took me quite a while to educate myself on character sets because up to this point, I’d only had to deal with English.  It’s good education though.  I think all developers should know that text doesn’t always translate to normal ASCII codes.