The C Standard Library Function isspace() Depends on Locale

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[ 2023-June-06 09:41 ]

This is a post for myself, because I wasted a lot of time understanding this bug, and I want to be able to remember it in the future. I expect close to zero others to be interested. The C standard library function isspace() returns a non-zero value (true) for the six "standard" ASCII white-space characters ('\t', '\n', '\v', '\f', '\r', ' '), and any locale-specific characters. By default, a program starts in the "C" locale, which will only return true for the six ASCII white-space characters. However, if the program changes locales, it can return true for other values. As a result, unless you really understand locales, you should use your own version of this function, or ICU4C's u_isspace() function. An implementation of isspace() for ASCII is one line:

/* Returns true for the 6 ASCII white-space characters: \t \n \v \f \r ' '. */
int isspace_ascii(int c)
  return c == '\t' || c == '\n' || c == '\v' || c == '\f' || c == '\r' || c == ' ';

I ran into this because On Mac OS X, Postgres switches to the system's default locale, which is something that uses UTF-8 (e.g. en_US.UTF-8, fr_CA.UTF-8, etc). In this case, isspace() returns true for Unicode white-space values, which includes 0x85 = NEL = Next Line, and 0xA0 = NBSP = No-Break Space. This caused a bug in parsing Postgres Hstore values that use Unicode. I have attempted to submit a patch to fix this (mailing list post, commitfest entry).

For a program to demonstrate the behaviour on different systems, see isspace_locale on Github.