How do I use PHP to work with Unicode and multibyte strings?

Working with Unicode and Multibyte Strings in PHP

When working with internationalization or simply handling text in different languages, it’s essential to have a solid understanding of Unicode and multibyte strings. In this blog post, we will explore how to use PHP to work with Unicode and multibyte strings, including encoding, decoding, and string manipulation.

1. Understanding Unicode and Multibyte Strings

Unicode is a standard for encoding characters, which includes nearly all characters from the world’s writing systems. It assigns a unique number (code point) for each character. UTF-8, UTF-16, and UTF-32 are some common Unicode encodings.

Multibyte strings are sequences of bytes that represent Unicode characters. Each character can be one or more bytes long, depending on the encoding. In this post, we will focus on UTF-8 encoding since it’s the most widely used and recommended for the web.

2. Enabling the Multibyte String Extension (mbstring)

To work with multibyte strings, you need to enable the “mbstring” extension in PHP. This extension provides several functions to handle multibyte characters.

To enable the mbstring extension, locate your php.ini file, and uncomment (or add) the following line:


Then restart your web server.

3. Setting the Internal Encoding

It’s essential to set the internal encoding to UTF-8, ensuring that all mbstring functions work correctly with multibyte characters. You can do this using the mb_internal_encoding() function:


4. Encoding and Decoding Strings

You can encode and decode strings in PHP using the mb_convert_encoding() function. Here’s an example of converting a string from ISO-8859-1 to UTF-8:

$iso_string = "Héllo, Wörld!";
$utf8_string = mb_convert_encoding($iso_string, "UTF-8", "ISO-8859-1");

5. String Manipulation with Multibyte Functions

Multibyte string functions are similar to regular string functions but are designed to work correctly with multibyte characters.

Here are some common mbstring functions with examples:

Getting the length of a multibyte string:

$utf8_string = "こんにちは";
$length = mb_strlen($utf8_string); // Output: 5

Substring extraction for multibyte strings:

$utf8_string = "ありがとう";
$substring = mb_substr($utf8_string, 1, 3); // Output: "りがとう"

Finding the position of a multibyte string within another:

$haystack = "¡Hola, mundo!";
$needle = "mundo";
$position = mb_strpos($haystack, $needle); // Output: 7

6. Regular Expressions with Multibyte Strings

To work with regular expressions on multibyte strings, use the mb_ereg_* functions. Here’s an example of matching a pattern in a multibyte string:

$utf8_string = "Привет, мир!";
$pattern = "мир";
if (mb_ereg($pattern, $utf8_string)) {
    echo "Pattern found!";
} else {
    echo "Pattern not found!";


In this blog post, we explored how to work with Unicode and multibyte strings in PHP. We covered enabling the mbstring extension, setting the internal encoding, encoding and decoding strings, string manipulation with multibyte functions, and using regular expressions with multibyte strings.

By using the mbstring extension and its associated functions, you can confidently handle text in different languages and ensure proper handling of Unicode characters in your PHP applications. Remember to always set the internal encoding to UTF-8 and use the appropriate multibyte functions when working with strings containing multibyte characters.

With this knowledge, you should be well-equipped to create more inclusive and internationalized PHP applications that cater to users from various linguistic backgrounds.

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