Characters in C++

Character variables ( type char ) are typically 1 byte, enough to hold 256 values (see Appendix C). A char can be interpreted as a small ...

Character variables (type char) are typically 1 byte, enough to hold 256 values (see Appendix C). A char can be interpreted as a small number (0-255) or as a member of the ASCII set. ASCII stands for the American Standard Code for Information Interchange. The ASCII character set and its ISO (International Standards Organization) equivalent are a way to encode all the letters, numerals, and punctuation marks.

Computers do not know about letters, punctuation, or sentences. All they understand are numbers. In fact, all they really know about is whether or not a sufficient amount of electricity is at a particular junction of wires. If so, it is represented internally as a 1; if not, it is represented as a 0. By grouping ones and zeros, the computer is able to generate patterns that can be interpreted as numbers, and these in turn can be assigned to letters and punctuation.

In the ASCII code, the lowercase letter "a" is assigned the value 97. All the lower- and uppercase letters, all the numerals, and all the punctuation marks are assigned values between 1 and 128. Another 128 marks and symbols are reserved for use by the computer maker, although the IBM extended character set has become something of a standard.

Characters and Numbers

When you put a character, for example, `a', into a char variable, what is really there is just a number between 0 and 255. The compiler knows, however, how to translate back and forth between characters (represented by a single quotation mark and then a letter, numeral, or punctuation mark, followed by a closing single quotation mark) and one of the ASCII values.
The value/letter relationship is arbitrary; there is no particular reason that the lowercase "a" is assigned the value 97. As long as everyone (your keyboard, compiler, and screen) agrees, there is no problem. It is important to realize, however, that there is a big difference between the value 5 and the character `5'. The latter is actually valued at 53, much as the letter `a' is valued at 97.

Listing 3.6. Printing characters based on numbers
1:   #include <iostream.h>
2:   int main()
3:   {
4:   for (int i = 32; i<128; i++)
5:         cout << (char) i;
6:         return 0;
7: }
 Output: !"#$%G'()*+,./0123456789:;<>?@ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP

This simple program prints the character values for the integers 32 through 127.

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Characters in C++
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