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A tutorial on Fonts for Indian Languages:  Section-4

Fonts as used in web pages and web displays

  Indian language text may be conveniently displayed on web pages using the html based approach. While it is indeed possible to display our texts this way, certain interesting problems crop up  when transparent viewing across different web browsers is required. It is true that the html standard allows user specified fonts to be used for the display but there is no guarantee that all web browsers will support the particular encoding specified in a font. Most web browsers can be told the encoding to be used for the font, which will be used to display the downloaded page. Automatic switch over to the encoding applicable to individually specified fonts within the downloaded page is never guaranteed. 

  It has also been observed that Dynamic fonts, a very interesting and useful concept, which permits the fonts used in a web page to be sent along with the page, are rendered properly only if they conform to the ISO-8859-1 latin encoding.  As of now Dynamic fonts generation tools work only with truetype fonts. Many Indian language fonts in truetype format are not rendered properly on Unix systems as these fonts for Indian languages are encoded according to windows-1252 encoding which permits several more glyphs to be accommodated in the font compared to ISO-8859-1. In fact, Sanskrit_1.2, a truly high quality Devanagari font, does not get rendered properly when sent as a Dynamic font. This is a very useful font as it supports Vedic symbols as well but it is usable only under Windows95/98. The same applies to a Telugu font called Pothana. 

  It appears that as of today, the safest approach to displaying Indian language text on web pages, so as to be viewed from almost all the browsers, is to restrict the font used to an ISO-8859-1 encoding. If Java based applications are considered, then it is even more important that we stick to this encoding. 

  Such a restriction always goes against the wishes of font designers who would like to accommodate as many glyphs as possible to allow a richer set of aksharas to be rendered. Among the freely available fonts for Indian languages, very few seem to conform to this requirement of 8859-1 coding. This may be a consequence of the fact that font design tools are more easily available for the MSWindows platforms and thus most designers end up producing truetype fonts. 

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In Summary

     The concept of the font is a simple one but one that involves many technical issues. These technical issues usually deter people from even getting an understanding of the approaches to dealing with the fonts. With such variety in Encoding standards as seen these days, character set formation and dependence on the platform, one has to necessarily sift through pages and pages of information relating to fonts before grasping the problems involved.  The interested reader is referred to the following for detailed information relating to all aspects of fonts.

      Dr. Luc Devroye  has compiled a lot of useful information about a lot of fonts. The information given in his pages is the best that we have seen. 


     Please look at his compilation of information on Indian language fonts (he calls them Indic fonts). It looks like we will have to have as many word processors and applications if we have to effectively use the variety of fonts listed! 

       The situation in respect of fonts for Indian languages may best be described as "Unity in diversity". It is inevitable that we have to accept a language DEPENDENT, font DEPENDENT approach to computing in Indian languages unless we agree to go the sixteen bit way and develop our own applications or user interfaces. In doing so, we will be setting up our own standards for representing text that may not permit existing applications to support multilingual interfaces in Indian languages. Since most applications rely on using an eight bit character encoding along with eight bit fonts, we will invariably face the multibyte representation problem. 

     We may however look at the sixteen bit approach taken to handling Japanese. Unicode has indeed, a unique range of about 24000 codes for the characters of Japanese, Chines and Korean. We may try to map the aksharas into this range and use a sixteen bit font to render the same. This may offer a solution but even this will suffer  the problem of lack of support in general applications.  The best approach, at least in the experience of the exercise at IIT Madras, is to use a uniform 16 bit character encoding for all the aksharas and use any eight bit font to display the characters, even if some compromise has to be effected in displaying some of the conjuncts. Applications may then be free use virtually any font using just a selectable mapping table between the characters and the glyphs. 

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The concept of the font

Font encoding

Fonts for Indian languages/scripts

Problems in designing fonts for our languages/scripts

Unicode fonts for Indian languages

Fonts as used in web pages

In summary


When Indian language fonts are used to display text on a web page, the approach taken by most people is to code the text in plain eight bit ASCII and relate the codes to a font conforming to the native encoding of the system running the Browser. In many cases this would be ISO-8859-1 compatible. Unfortunately, many glyphs will not render properly across browsers due to differences in interpreting the character set specified for the encoding of the text. 

Entity References

Characters other than the letters of the Roman alphabet have been assigned names so that web browsers may correctly identify them for display when reference to a name ( called an entity) is seen in an HTML document. The above mentioned link provides useful information about the entity names relating to the characters in the 160-254 range of iso-8859-1 character set.

Acharya Logo
Text in Brahmi script at the Gate of the Great Stupa at Sanchi. The text records the donation of the pillar by a desciple of Arya Kshudra. The text reads "aya chuDasa atevAsino balamitasa dAnam thabho". More information about the Brahmi script is presented under Languages and Scripts.

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