What are whitespace characters?
Whitespace characters denote the empty space between all the characters you can actually see.They have width (height if you’re writing vertically), some special rules, and not much else.
The most common whitespace character, is the word space The one you get when you press the space bar.
What is white space?
Generally speaking, white space is any empty area of a design or composition; the margins in a book, or the sky in a painting:
It’s as simple as that, yet it’s often white space that separates good design from bad—almost always because there isn’t enough of it.
Using white space online
Big type, even huge type, can be beautiful and useful.But poise is usually far more important than size – and poise consists primarily of emptiness. Typographically, poise is made of whitespace.
Robert Bringhurst — The elements of typographic style
The above holds especially true online. Web developers have a tendency to cram as much information on your screen as possible. One common criticism of this website is that there’s too much “wasted space.”
This is wrong. The opposite is true. The more crowded a composition, the less weight is carried by each individual element. When designing a website or a document, you can use whitespace to distinguish important information.
Whitespace on Social Media
Online (particularly on social media) you’re often limited to the whitespace characters designated by Unicode.
While most of these characters do little but add some white space in very particular situations, it’s worth getting to know them a little.
Using them effectively can and help your writing seem more authoritative.
The word space is the character you get when you press the space bar. It’s the most common whitespace character.
The word space is a character with an inherent conflict of interest: the space must be wide enough to separate individual words, but narrow enough to encourage grouping into sentences and paragraphs.
Karen Cheng — Designing Type
The word space is used to separate words and sentences. You know that already - but there’s still a couple of pitfalls to be aware of when using it.
Don’t use two spaces between sentences.
Sometimes people add two spaces after a period. There 's a logic behind this—as the elements of your writing get bigger, so does the white space between them.
letters → words → sentences → paragraphs
However, a period is mostly white space. So sentences already have more space between them than words. The type designer of your chosen typeface will have taken this into account.
Don't do this. Do this. See?
The word space also tells your word processor, or web browser when it’s okay to break onto another line—but this isn’t always what you want.
If it’s important to the flow of your writing that two words never be apart, you should insert a no-break space. You can space two words, like normal, without the possibility of them being on separate lines.
|MacOS / Windows||ctr–shift–space|
|HTML Entity|| |
Use the hair space when two characters are just a tiny bit closer than you’d like.
Kerning on the fly
You can use the hair space to add kerning (space between two individual letters) in circumstances where you normall can’t, like on social media.
For example, the 𝔻𝕠𝕦𝕓𝕝𝕖 𝕊𝕥𝕣𝕦𝕔𝕜 characters generated by the Fancy Font Generator? can have terrible 𝕜𝕖𝕣𝕟𝕚𝕟𝕘. Using a hair space you can fix it. So 𝕜𝕖𝕣𝕟𝕚𝕟𝕘 becomes 𝕜𝕖𝕣 𝕟𝕚𝕟𝕘.
|HTML Entity|| |
Thin Space and Six‑per‑em Space
These two are pretty much the same. Just like the hair space they’re used to create a little extra space between characters.
Both are roughly one sixth of an Em in width. One specific use of the thin space is for seperating quotes in nested quotations:
Clive told me “Prof. Reginald said ‘don't use nested quotations’ ”
|HTML Entity|| |
|HTML Entity|| |
The punctuation space takes up as much width as a period. It also acts as a non-breaking space. Some languages have whitespace before a punctuation mark. This space is used in those circumstances .
|HTML Entity|| |
Figure Space and Ideographic Space
A figure space is used solely for spacing fixed-width numerals. Its width is the same as one of the numerals.
The ideographic space, similar to the figure space, is used with fixed-width CJK (Chinese Japanese Korean) characters.
|HTML Entity|| |
|HTML Entity||　|
Three-per-em Space and Four-per-em Space
The three-per-em space and four-per-em spaces are one third and one fourth the width of an em.
|HTML Entity|| |
|HTML Entity|| |
Em space and En Space
The Em space is the width of a capital M, which also happens to be the height of most fonts.
The En space is half the width of an Em.
|HTML Entity|| |
|HTML Entity|| |
This is my favourite—its not really a space. It’s meant to represent a braille pattern with six non-raised dots. So, it displays as blank or sometimes six hollow dots. ⠀
This means you can use this space places where you normally can’t, like in URLs.
The paradoxically named zero-width space has one odd job to do. It lets your browser know when it’s okay to break a word onto a new line, without hyphenating it.
Useful, maybe, but the ability to use an invisible character with no width has serious cyber-security implications.
Hackers could create usernames, emails addresses, and websites that look identical to a human, but different to computers. Luckily, zero-width spaces are prohibited in email addresses or domain names—and it’s a well-known issue.
You’re unlikely to be tricked in this way—but it has happened.
On the upside, there are a few genuinely useful things you can do with a zero-width space:
You can stop social media sites from automatically turning a URL into a link, without breaking up the text of the link.
Empty form inputs
You can use all these spaces to fill inputs with empty space, but the zero-width space seems to work in a few places the others don’t.
Prevent information leaks
This idea comes from cyber-security guy Zach Aysan
If your company has a leaker, you can add zero-width spaces to sensitive documents—hidden in different places for each of the recipients.
Once the material is leaked, you can check it for zero-width spaces and find out the identity of the leaker.
Send secret messages
You can use zero-width spaces to hide an encoded binary message in a piece of text.
For instance: there is a hidden emoji in this
Standing out online
While most of these tricks are only useful to web developers–I can imagine a few scenarios where these characters could help you stand out on social media.
Let me know if you come up with any fun uses for these characters.