Code page 437 is the character set of the original IBM PC (personal computer), or DOS. It is also known as CP437, OEM-US, OEM 437,
PC-8, or DOS Latin US. The set includes ASCII codes 32–126, extended codes for accented letters (diacritics), some Greek letters, icons, and line-drawing symbols. It is sometimes referred to as the "OEM font" or "high ASCII", or as "extended ASCII" (one of many mutually incompatible ASCII extensions).
This character set remains the primary font in the core of any EGA and VGA-compatible graphics card. Text shown when a PC reboots, before any other font can be loaded from a storage medium, typically is rendered in this character set.
Many file formats developed at the time of the IBM PC are based on code page 437 as well.
The original IBM PC contained this font as a 9×14 pixels-per-character font stored in the Read-only memory
of the IBM Monochrome Display Adapter (MDA) and an 8×8 pixels-per-character font of the Color Graphics Adapter (CGA) cards. The IBM Enhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA) contained an 8×14 pixels-per-character version, and the VGA contained a 9×16 version.
All these display adapters have text modes in which each character cell contains an 8-bit character code point (see details), giving 256 possible values for graphic characters. All 256 codes were assigned a graphical character in ROM, including the codes from 0 to 31 that were reserved in ASCII for non-graphical control characters.
Various Eastern European PCs used different character sets, sometimes user-selectable via jumpers or CMOS setup. These sets were designed to match 437 as much as possible, for instance sharing the code points for many of the line-drawing characters, while still allowing text in a local language to be displayed.
A legacy of code page 437 and other DOS codepages is the set of number combinations used in Windows Alt keycodes introduced in the first versions of DOS
. The user could enter a character by holding down the Alt key
and entering the three-digit decimal Alt keycode on the numpad
. When Microsoft switched to their proprietary character sets (such as CP1252) and later Unicode
in Windows, so many users had memorized the numbers used by their DOS codepage that Microsoft chose to retain the original codes (they added the ability to type a code in the actual character set, such as CP1252, by typing the numpad 0 before the digits).
The following tables show code page 437. Each character is shown with its equivalent Unicode
code point and its decimal code point. See also the notes below, as there are multiple equivalent Unicode characters for some code points. The decimal codes are also known as
Although the ROM provides a graphic for all 256 different possible 8-bit codes, some APIs will not print some code points, in particular the range 1-31 and the code at 127.
Instead they will interpret them as control characters. For instance many methods of outputting text on the original IBM PC would interpret the codes for BEL, BS, CR and LF. Many printers were also unable to print these characters.
When translating to Unicode it should be noted that some codes do not have a unique, single Unicode equivalent; the correct choice may depend upon context.
The repertoire of code page 437 was taken from the character set of Wang word-processing machines, according to Bill Gates
in an interview with Gates and Paul Allen
that appeared in the 2 October 1995 edition of Fortune Magazine:
- "... We were also fascinated by dedicated word processors from Wang, because we believed that general-purpose machines could do that just as well. That's why, when it came time to design the keyboard for the IBM PC, we put the funny Wang character set into the machine—you know, smiley faces and boxes and triangles and stuff. We were thinking we'd like to do a clone of Wang word-processing software someday."
According to an interview with David J. Bradley (developer of the PC's ROM-BIOS) the characters were decided upon during a four-hour meeting on a plane trip from Seattle to Atlanta by Andy Saenz (responsible for the video card), Lew Eggebrecht (chief engineer for the PC) and himself.
The selection of graphic characters has some internal logic:
Table rows 0 and 1, codes 0 to 31 (00hex to 1Fhex), are assorted (complementary and decorative characters). The isolated character 127 (7Fhex) also belongs to this group.
Table rows 2 to 7 (except character 127, 7Fhex), codes 32 to 126 (20hex to 7Ehex), are the standard ASCII printable characters.
Table rows 8 to 10 (8hex to Ahex), codes 128 to 175 (80hex to AFhex), are a selection of international text characters.
Table rows 11 to 13 (Bhex to Dhex), codes 176 to 223 (B0hex to DFhex), are box drawing and Unicode symbols characters. This block is arranged so that characters 192 to 223 (C0hex to DFhex) contain all the right arms and right-filled areas. The original IBM PC MDA display adapter stored the code page 437 character as eight wide, but for visual enhancement displayed them every nine pixels on screen. This range of characters had the eighth pixel column duplicated by special hardware circuitry,
thus filling in gaps in lines and filled areas.
Table rows 14 and 15 (Ehex and Fhex), codes 224 to 255 (E0hex to FFhex) are devoted to mathematical symbols, where the first twelve are a selection of Greek letters commonly used in physics. Characters 244 (F4hex) and 245 (F5hex) are the upper and lower portion of an italic long S, the symbol used as the integral sign (∫), and they can be extended with the character 179 (B3hex), the vertical line of the box drawing block. Character 244 could also be used as a surrogate for the long s character (ſ). Characters 249 (F9hex) and 250 (FAhex) are almost indistinguishable: the first is slightly larger than the second, which resembles the typographic Interpunct (·). The character 255 (FFhex) is merely blank, and acts as a kind of non-breaking space in order to arrange math formulae.
Most fonts for Microsoft Windows include the special graphic characters at the Unicode indexes shown, as they are part of the WGL4 set that Microsoft encourages font designers to support. (The monospaced raster font family Terminal was an early font that replicated all code page 437 characters, at least at some resolutions.) To draw these characters directly from these code points, a Microsoft Windows font called MS Linedraw
replicates all of the code page 437 characters, thus providing one way to display DOS text on a modern Windows machine as it was shown in DOS, with limitations.
Code page 437 has a series of international characters, mainly values 128 to 175 (80hex
). However, it lacks several characters important to many Western languages:
Spanish language: Á, Í, Ó, and Ú
French language: À, Â, È, Ê, Ë, Î, Ï, Ô, Œ, œ, Ù, Û, and Ÿ
Portuguese: Á, À, Â, Ã, ã, Ê, Í, Ó, Ô, Õ, õ, and Ú
Catalan language: À, È, Í, Ï, Ò, Ó, and Ú
Italian language: À, È, Ì, Ò and Ù
Icelandic: Á, Ð, ð, Í, Ó, Ú, Ý, ý, Þ and þ
Danish language/Norwegian: Ø and ø. Character number 237 (EDhex), the small phi (closed form), could be used as a surrogate even though it may not render well (furthermore, it tends to map to Unicode, and/or render in Unicode fonts, as the open-form phi or the closed-vertical-form phi, which are even further from the O with stroke). To compensate, the Danish language/Norwegian and Icelandic code pages (865 and 861) replaced cent sign (¢) with ø and the yen sign (¥) with Ø.
Most Greek alphabet symbols were omitted, beyond the basic math symbols. (They were included in the Greek-language code pages 737 and 869.)
Along with the cent (¢), pound sterling (£) and yen/Chinese yuan (¥) currency symbols, it has a couple of former European currency symbols: the Dutch guilder (ƒ, Netherlands) and the Spanish peseta (₧, Spain). The presence of the last is unusual, since the Spanish peseta was never an internationally relevant currency, and also never had a symbol of its own; it was simply abbreviated as "Pt", "Pta", "Pts", or "Ptas". Spanish models of the IBM electric typewriter, however, also had a single position devoted to it.
Later DOS character sets, such as code page 850 (DOS Latin-1), code page 852 (DOS Central-European) and code page 737 (DOS Greek), filled the gaps for international use with some compatibility with code page 437 by retaining the single and double box-drawing characters, while discarding the mixed ones ( e.g. horizontal double/vertical single). All code page 437 characters have similar glyphs in Unicode and in Microsoft's WGL4 character set, and therefore are available in most fonts in Microsoft Windows, and also in the default VGA font of the Linux kernel, and the ISO 10646 fonts for X11.
Atari ST character set, derived from code page 437
[Systems available in Eastern European, Arabic, and Asian countries often use a different set. The designation "OEM", for "original equipment manufacturer", indicates that the "native" hardware character set supplied in ROM could be changed by the manufacturer to meet different markets.]