Non-Printable Characters



Non-printable characters are characters in a computer system or encoding scheme that do not have a visual representation and are not meant to be displayed on screen or printed. They typically serve to control the formatting, spacing, or processing of text and data within a file. Examples of non-printable characters include newline, tab, and various ASCII control codes.

Key Takeaways

  1. Non-printable characters are control characters in character encoding sets, such as ASCII, which are not represented visually or meant for display.
  2. These characters are often used to instruct a computer or printer on how to interpret the data being sent, like formatting text or controlling cursor placement.
  3. Common non-printable characters include carriage return, line feed, tab, and escape character, with their respective ASCII codes ranging from 0 to 31 and 127.


Non-printable characters are important in the realm of technology because they serve a critical purpose in data formatting, user interfaces, and computer processes.

These characters, also known as control characters, do not have a visual representation and thus, are not rendered or displayed on the screen.

They are essential for the proper interpretation and organization of text, allowing for a smooth control of the flow of information.

In applications like word processors and programming, non-printable characters are used for controlling text formatting, spacing, and implementing various functions, contributing significantly to the efficiency, consistency, and functionality of both digital content and technology platforms as a whole.


Non-printable characters, commonly referred to as control characters, serve as essential components in the world of computing systems as they fulfill the critical role of facilitating data organization, management, and display in electronic texts across various platforms. These characters are responsible for issuing commands that enable the proper execution of operational tasks such as line breaks, tabulations, and white spaces, or even setting the course of action during data transmission and interpretation.

In this capacity, non-printable characters contribute significantly to the seamless structuring and adjustment of information, allowing users to interact effectively with electronic data and yielding optimal system performance. As opposed to visible characters that represent letters, numerals, and other symbols, non-printable characters are typically invisible, yet their significance cannot be overstated.

For instance, they are employed in the formation of complex computing documents and code writing, ensuring that formatting and layout requirements are met for an enhanced user experience. In addition, non-printable characters play a vital role in facilitating communication between devices and applications, working behind-the-scenes to regulate functionalities like cursor positioning.

Overall, these invisible characters possess an indispensable utility and ultimately pave the way for a more user-friendly and structured digital environment.

Examples of Non-Printable Characters

Non-printable characters are characters that, when included in a text or data stream, control various aspects of presentation and data interpretation without being visually represented themselves. Here are three examples of real-world applications of non-printable characters:

Text file formatting: Many non-printable characters or control characters were initially developed for use with teletypewriters and are now utilized in modern text editors. Examples include the newline or carriage return (CR) and line feed (LF) characters, which are used to represent a new line, or the tab character that defines the indentation in a text.

Data transmission: Non-printable characters, such as start of text (STX), end of text (ETX), and acknowledge (ACK), are used to control the communication between devices in a computer network. These characters assist in the synchronization of data transmission, acknowledging the received data, and delimiting the start and end of a data packet.

Escaping characters in programming: In computer programming, non-printable characters are often used to escape other characters. For example, the backslash (\) before a double quote (“) in a string signifies that the double quote should be treated as a literal character and not as an end-of-string character. In this case, the backslash is a non-printable character that controls the interpretation of the following character.

Frequently Asked Questions – Non-Printable Characters

What are non-printable characters?

Non-printable characters are characters that are not displayed as readable symbols or text on the screen. These characters are represented by ASCII or Unicode codes and serve to perform specific functions such as formatting or control operations in plain text, documents, or communication protocols.

What are some common non-printable characters?

Some common non-printable characters include carriage return (CR), line feed (LF), horizontal tab (HT), and escape (ESC). These characters are often used to control the flow or format of text and data within a document or program.

How do I recognize non-printable characters in a text file?

Non-printable characters are usually represented by a special notation or code in text editors. They may appear as a small box, dot, or other distinctive symbols. You may also find them displayed as their equivalent ASCII or Unicode code, such as \x0D for a carriage return.

How can I remove non-printable characters from a text file?

To remove non-printable characters from a text file, you can use text processing tools or programming languages, such as Python or JavaScript, to replace these characters with a blank space or the appropriate line breaks. You may also find dedicated tools or software to remove non-printable characters from a document.

Why should I be concerned about non-printable characters?

Non-printable characters may cause issues when processing or transferring text files between different programs or platforms. In some cases, these characters may lead to formatting inconsistencies or misinterpretation of the content. By being aware of and properly handling non-printable characters, you can ensure a smoother experience when working with text files and documents.

Related Technology Terms

  • ASCII Control Codes
  • Escape Sequences
  • Whitespace Characters
  • Control Characters
  • Character Encoding

Sources for More Information

  • W3Schools – A comprehensive web development tutorial site covering various aspects of non-printable characters in programming languages.
  • Wikibooks – A collection of open-content textbooks, including detailed information on programming language syntax and non-printable characters.
  • IBM DeveloperWorks – A platform for developers to learn, explore, and connect on various technology topics, including non-printable characters in coding.
  • Microsoft Docs – The official Microsoft documentation resource, featuring articles and guides related to non-printable characters in programming languages.

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