unicode-composition-for-filenames [plain text]
-*- Text -*-
* Issue description
* Pre-resolution state of affairs
- Single platform
- Multi-platform: Windows + MacOS X
* Proposed support library
* Proposed normal form
* Possible solutions
- Normalization of path-input on MacOS X
- Normalization of path-input everywhere
- Comparison routines (client side)
- Comparison routines (everywhere)
* Short term (ie before 2.0) solution
* Long term solution (ie 2.0+)
Within Unicode, some characters - with diacritical marks - can be
represented in 2 forms: Normal Form Composed (NFC) or Normal Form
Decomposed (NFD). A string of unicode characters can contain any
mixture of both forms.
This problem explicitly does not concern itself with invisible
characters, spaces or other characters unlikely to be present in
filenames. Please note that this issue is explicitly excluding
NFKC/NFKD (compatibility) normal forms, because they remove
for example formatting (meaning they are lossy?).
Because there are 2 forms for representing (some) characters in Unicode,
it's possible to produce different sequences of codepoints meaning to
indicate the same sequence of characters . UTF-8, the internal
Unicode encoding of choice for Subversion, encodes codepoints in (a
series of) bytes (octets). Because the sequences of codepoints specifying
a character may differ, so may the resulting UTF-8. Hence, we end up
with more than one way to specify the same path.
The following table specifies behaviour of OSes related to handling
of Unicode filenames:
Accepts Gives back See
MacOS X * NFD(*) 
Linux * <input>
Windows * <input>
Others ? ?
*) There are some remarks to be made regarding full or partial
NFD here, but the essential thing is: If you send in NFC, don't
expect it back!
From the above issue description, 2 problems follow:
1) We can't generally depend on the OS to give us back the
exact filename we gave it
2) The same filename may be encoded in different codepoints
Issue #1 is mainly a client side issue, something which might be
resolved in the client side libraries (client/subr/wc).
Issue #2 is much broader than that, especially given the fact that
we already have lots of populated repositories "out there": it means
we cannot depend on a filename coming from the operating system - even
though different from the one in the repository - to name a different
file. This has repository (ie. server-side) impact.
Pre-resolution state of affairs
This section serves to describe the problems to be expected in different
combinations of client/server OSes. As indicated in the table in the
context section, Linux and Windows are expected to behave equally. This
section therefor leaves out the consideration of Linux as a separate
The platforms below are strictly client side: the server side problems
mentioned in the issue description section solely relates to the repository,
which can be located at any server platform.
This can be multiple MacOSX machines or multiple Windows machines. In this
scenario, no interoperability problems are to be expected.
Multi-platform: Windows + MacOSX
Consider a file which contains one or more precomposed (NFC) characters
being committed from Windows. When the MacOSX developer updates, a
file is written in NFC form, but as stated in the context section, Mac
recodes that to NFD. Now, when comparing what comes from the disk (NFD)
with what's in the entries file (NFC), results in a missing file (the
NFC encoded one) and an unversioned file (the NFD encoded one). Both of
these files look exactly the same to the person reading the Subversion
output on the screen. [==> confusion!]
Committing a file the other way around might be less problematic, since
Windows is capable of storing NFD filenames.
Proposed support library
The main assumption is that we'll keep using APR for character set
conversion, meaning that the recoding solution to choose would not need
to provide any other functionality than recoding.
There are 2 options (that I'm aware of [dionisos]) for choosing a library
which supports the required functionality:
1) ICU - International Component for Unicode 
a library with a very wide range of targeted functions, with a
memory footprint to match. In order to be able to use it, we'd need
to trim this library down significantly.
2) utf8proc - a library for processing UTF-8 encoded unicode strings
a library specifically targeted at a limited number of operations
to be performed on UTF-8 encoded strings. It consists of 2 .c and
1 .h file, with a total source size of 1MB (compiled less than 0.5MB).
From these 2, under the given assumption, it only makes sense to use
Proposed normal form
The proposed internal normal 'normal form' should be NFC, if only if it
were because it's the most compact form of the two: when allocating memory
to store a conversion result, it won't be necessary (ever) to allocate more
than the size of the input buffer.
This would give the maximum performance from utf8proc, which requires 2
recoding runs when the buffer is too small: 1 to retrieve the required
buffer size, the second to actually store the result.
Several options are available for resolution of this problem, each
with its pros and cons, to be outlined below.
1) Normalization of (path) input on MacOSX
Since the Mac seems to be the only platform which mutilates its
pathname input to be NFD, this seems like a logical (low impact)
2) Normalization of (path) input on all platforms
Since paths can't differ only in encoding if we standardize on
encoding, this seems like a logical (relatively low) impact solution.
3) Normalization of path input in the client and server
On the server side, non-normalized paths may have become part
of the repository. We can achieve full in-memory standardization
by converting any path coming from the repository as well as the
4) Client and server-side path comparison routines
Because paths read from the repository may be used to access said
repository, possibly by calculating hash values, paths from can't be
munged (repository-side). To eliminate the effect, we acknowledge
we're not going to be 'clean': we'll always need path comparison
Solution (1) has a very strong CON: it will break all pre-existing
MacOSX-only workshops. Consider a client which starts sending NFC
encoded paths in an environment where all paths have been NFD encoded
until that time - without proper support in the server. This would
result in commits with NFC encoded paths to files for which the path
in the repository is NFD encoded: breakage.
Solution (2) has the same problem as solution (1) on MacOSX, but
on the upside it prevents new NFD paths from entering into the repository
(for sufficiently broad definitions of 'client' [think mod_dav_svn]).
As already stated, solution (3) may prevent paths from being found, if
the retrieval mechanism is hash-based. Meaning this could break any
repository backend using hashing to store information about paths.
(Don't we store locks in FSFS based on hashing?)
Solution (4) defines no internal standard representation, assuming it's
not possible to maintain a clean in-memory state, given all problems
found in the earlier solutions. Instead, it requires all path comparisons
to be performed using special NFC/NFD encoding aware functions.
Short term solution
Because of our interoperability guarantees, the client and server
should be considered separate universes, each of which can use its own
(internal) solution. However, the client should at all times use the
exact path the server sent it. The same applies the other way around.
Given the above, the short term (before 2.0) solution should be to
use path comparison routines as stated in solution (4).
Long term solution
The long term (2.0+) solution would be to use option (2), which ensures
recoding of all input paths into the 'normal' normal form (NFC). In that
case, it'll no longer require the use of specialised path comparison
routines (although that might still be desired for other design
Short term solution implementation consequences
As stated before, since we don't know whether the other side of the
equation might be a pre-normalization-aware client or server until
we break backward compat in 2.0, the client and server should be
able to talk backward compatibly with a pre-NF-aware 'other side'.
Hence, solving this problem means considering the client and the server
separate universes, each of which can employ its own internal solution.
Implementing option (4) means:
A. Comparing file names with entry paths using NFC/NFD aware comparison
functions. Then, when there's a match, *use the pathname from the
entries file* to communicate with the server; after all, the path
might have been added with a different encoding than we got back
from the disk.
B. Match working copy paths with entries-file paths using NFC/NFD aware
comparison functions. On a match, use the entries-file path to
communicate with the server.
1) UAX #15: Unicode normalization forms
2) Apple Technical Q&A: Path encodings in VFS
3) ICU - International Component for Unicode
4) utf8proc - a library targeted at processing UTF-8 encoded unicode strings