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Network Working Group A. Phillips, Ed. Request for Comments: 4647 Yahoo! Inc. BCP: 47 M. Davis, Ed. Obsoletes: 3066 Google Category: Best Current Practice September 2006

                     Matching of Language Tags

Status of This Memo

 This document specifies an Internet Best Current Practices for the
 Internet Community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
 improvements.  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

 Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2006).


 This document describes a syntax, called a "language-range", for
 specifying items in a user's list of language preferences.  It also
 describes different mechanisms for comparing and matching these to
 language tags.  Two kinds of matching mechanisms, filtering and
 lookup, are defined.  Filtering produces a (potentially empty) set of
 language tags, whereas lookup produces a single language tag.
 Possible applications include language negotiation or content
 selection.  This document, in combination with RFC 4646, replaces RFC
 3066, which replaced RFC 1766.

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 1] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

Table of Contents

 1. Introduction ....................................................3
 2. The Language Range ..............................................3
    2.1. Basic Language Range .......................................4
    2.2. Extended Language Range ....................................4
    2.3. The Language Priority List .................................5
 3. Types of Matching ...............................................6
    3.1. Choosing a Matching Scheme .................................6
    3.2. Implementation Considerations ..............................7
    3.3. Filtering ..................................................8
         3.3.1. Basic Filtering .....................................9
         3.3.2. Extended Filtering .................................10
    3.4. Lookup ....................................................12
         3.4.1. Default Values .....................................14
 4. Other Considerations ...........................................15
    4.1. Choosing Language Ranges ..................................15
    4.2. Meaning of Language Tags and Ranges .......................16
    4.3. Considerations for Private-Use Subtags ....................17
    4.4. Length Considerations for Language Ranges .................17
 5. Security Considerations ........................................17
 6. Character Set Considerations ...................................17
 7. References .....................................................18
    7.1. Normative References ......................................18
    7.2. Informative References ....................................18
 Appendix A. Acknowledgements ......................................19

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 2] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

1. Introduction

 Human beings on our planet have, past and present, used a number of
 languages.  There are many reasons why one would want to identify the
 language used when presenting or requesting information.
 Applications, protocols, or specifications that use language
 identifiers, such as the language tags defined in [RFC4646],
 sometimes need to match language tags to a user's language
 This document defines a syntax (called a language range (Section 2))
 for specifying items in the user's list of language preferences
 (called a language priority list (Section 2.3)), as well as several
 schemes for selecting or filtering sets of language tags by comparing
 the language tags to the user's preferences.  Applications,
 protocols, or specifications will have varying needs and requirements
 that affect the choice of a suitable matching scheme.
 This document describes how to indicate a user's preferences using
 language ranges, three schemes for matching these ranges to a set of
 language tags, and the various practical considerations that apply to
 implementing and using these schemes.
 This document, in combination with [RFC4646], replaces [RFC3066],
 which replaced [RFC1766].
 The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
 document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].

2. The Language Range

 Language tags [RFC4646] are used to help identify languages, whether
 spoken, written, signed, or otherwise signaled, for the purpose of
 communication.  Applications, protocols, or specifications that use
 language tags are often faced with the problem of identifying sets of
 content that share certain language attributes.  For example,
 HTTP/1.1 [RFC2616] describes one such mechanism in its discussion of
 the Accept-Language header (Section 14.4), which is used when
 selecting content from servers based on the language of that content.
 It is, thus, useful to have a mechanism for identifying sets of
 language tags that share specific attributes.  This allows users to
 select or filter the language tags based on specific requirements.
 Such an identifier is called a "language range".

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 3] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

 There are different types of language range, whose specific
 attributes vary according to their application.  Language ranges are
 similar to language tags: they consist of a sequence of subtags
 separated by hyphens.  In a language range, each subtag MUST either
 be a sequence of ASCII alphanumeric characters or the single
 character '*' (%x2A, ASTERISK).  The character '*' is a "wildcard"
 that matches any sequence of subtags.  The meaning and uses of
 wildcards vary according to the type of language range.
 Language tags and thus language ranges are to be treated as case-
 insensitive: there exist conventions for the capitalization of some
 of the subtags, but these MUST NOT be taken to carry meaning.
 Matching of language tags to language ranges MUST be done in a case-
 insensitive manner.

2.1. Basic Language Range

 A "basic language range" has the same syntax as an [RFC3066] language
 tag or is the single character "*".  The basic language range was
 originally described by HTTP/1.1 [RFC2616] and later [RFC3066].  It
 is defined by the following ABNF [RFC4234]:
 language-range   = (1*8ALPHA *("-" 1*8alphanum)) / "*"
 alphanum         = ALPHA / DIGIT
 A basic language range differs from the language tags defined in
 [RFC4646] only in that there is no requirement that it be "well-
 formed" or be validated against the IANA Language Subtag Registry.
 Such ill-formed ranges will probably not match anything.  Note that
 the ABNF [RFC4234] in [RFC2616] is incorrect, since it disallows the
 use of digits anywhere in the 'language-range' (see [RFC2616errata]).

2.2. Extended Language Range

 Occasionally, users will wish to select a set of language tags based
 on the presence of specific subtags.  An "extended language range"
 describes a user's language preference as an ordered sequence of
 subtags.  For example, a user might wish to select all language tags
 that contain the region subtag 'CH' (Switzerland).  Extended language
 ranges are useful for specifying a particular sequence of subtags
 that appear in the set of matching tags without having to specify all
 of the intervening subtags.
 An extended language range can be represented by the following ABNF:
 extended-language-range = (1*8ALPHA / "*")
                           *("-" (1*8alphanum / "*"))

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 4] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

 The wildcard subtag '*' can occur in any position in the extended
 language range, where it matches any sequence of subtags that might
 occur in that position in a language tag.  However, wildcards outside
 the first position are ignored by Extended Filtering (see Section
 3.2.2).  The use or absence of one or more wildcards cannot be taken
 to imply that a certain number of subtags will appear in the matching
 set of language tags.

2.3. The Language Priority List

 A user's language preferences will often need to specify more than
 one language range, and thus users often need to specify a
 prioritized list of language ranges in order to best reflect their
 language preferences.  This is especially true for speakers of
 minority languages.  A speaker of Breton in France, for example, can
 specify "br" followed by "fr", meaning that if Breton is available,
 it is preferred, but otherwise French is the best alternative.  It
 can get more complex: a different user might want to fall back from
 Skolt Sami to Northern Sami to Finnish.
 A "language priority list" is a prioritized or weighted list of
 language ranges.  One well-known example of such a list is the
 "Accept-Language" header defined in RFC 2616 [RFC2616] (see Section
 14.4) and RFC 3282 [RFC3282].
 The various matching operations described in this document include
 considerations for using a language priority list.  This document
 does not define the syntax for a language priority list; defining
 such a syntax is the responsibility of the protocol, application, or
 specification that uses it.  When given as examples in this document,
 language priority lists will be shown as a quoted sequence of ranges
 separated by commas, like this: "en, fr, zh-Hant" (which is read
 "English before French before Chinese as written in the Traditional
 A simple list of ranges is considered to be in descending order of
 priority.  Other language priority lists provide "quality weights"
 for the language ranges in order to specify the relative priority of
 the user's language preferences.  An example of this is the use of
 "q" values in the syntax of the "Accept-Language" header (defined in
 [RFC2616], Section 14.4, and [RFC3282]).

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 5] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

3. Types of Matching

 Matching language ranges to language tags can be done in many
 different ways.  This section describes three such matching schemes,
 as well as the considerations for choosing between them.  Protocols
 and specifications requiring conformance to this specification MUST
 clearly indicate the particular mechanism used in selecting or
 matching language tags.
 There are two types of matching scheme in this document.  A matching
 scheme that produces zero or more matching language tags is called
 "filtering".  A matching scheme that produces exactly one match for a
 given request is called "lookup".

3.1. Choosing a Matching Scheme

 Applications, protocols, and specifications are faced with the
 decision of what type of matching to use.  Sometimes, different
 styles of matching are suited to different kinds of processing within
 a particular application or protocol.
 This document describes three matching schemes:
 1.  Basic Filtering (Section 3.3.1) matches a language priority list
     consisting of basic language ranges (Section 2.1) to sets of
     language tags.
 2.  Extended Filtering (Section 3.3.2) matches a language priority
     list consisting of extended language ranges (Section 2.2) to sets
     of language tags.
 3.  Lookup (Section 3.4) matches a language priority list consisting
     of basic language ranges to sets of language tags to find the one
     exact language tag that best matches the range.
 Filtering can be used to produce a set of results (such as a
 collection of documents) by comparing the user's preferences to a set
 of language tags.  For example, when performing a search, filtering
 can be used to limit the results to items tagged as being in the
 French language.  Filtering can also be used when deciding whether to
 perform a language-sensitive process on some content.  For example, a
 process might cause paragraphs whose language tag matched the
 language range "nl" (Dutch) to be displayed in italics within a
 Lookup produces the single result that best matches the user's
 preferences from the list of available tags, so it is useful in cases
 in which a single item is required (and for which only a single item

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 6] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

 can be returned).  For example, if a process were to insert a human-
 readable error message into a protocol header, it might select the
 text based on the user's language priority list.  Since the process
 can return only one item, it is forced to choose a single item and it
 has to return some item, even if none of the content's language tags
 match the language priority list supplied by the user.

3.2. Implementation Considerations

 Language tag matching is a tool, and does not by itself specify a
 complete procedure for the use of language tags.  Such procedures are
 intimately tied to the application protocol in which they occur.
 When specifying a protocol operation using matching, the protocol
 MUST specify:
 o  Which type(s) of language tag matching it uses
 o  Whether the operation returns a single result (lookup) or a
    possibly empty set of results (filtering)
 o  For lookup, what the default item is (or the sequence of
    operations or configuration information used to determine the
    default) when no matching tag is found.  For instance, a protocol
    might define the result as failure of the operation, an empty
    value, returning some protocol defined or implementation defined
    default, or returning i-default [RFC2277].
 Applications, protocols, and specifications are not required to
 validate or understand any of the semantics of the language tags or
 ranges or of the subtags in them, nor do they require access to the
 IANA Language Subtag Registry (see Section 3 in [RFC4646]).  This
 simplifies implementation.
 However, designers of applications, protocols, or specifications are
 encouraged to use the information from the IANA Language Subtag
 Registry to support canonicalizing language tags and ranges in order
 to map grandfathered and obsolete tags or subtags into modern
 Applications, protocols, or specifications that canonicalize ranges
 MUST either perform matching operations with both the canonical and
 original (unmodified) form of the range or MUST also canonicalize
 each tag for the purposes of comparison.

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 7] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

 Note that canonicalizing language ranges makes certain operations
 impossible.  For example, an implementation that canonicalizes the
 language range "art-lojban" (artificial language, lojban variant) to
 use the more modern "jbo" (Lojban) cannot be used to select just the
 items with the older tag.
 Applications, protocols, or specifications that use basic ranges
 might sometimes receive extended language ranges instead.  An
 application, protocol, or specification MUST choose to a) map
 extended language ranges to basic ranges using the algorithm below,
 b) reject any extended language ranges in the language priority list
 that are not valid basic language ranges, or c) treat each extended
 language range as if it were a basic language range, which will have
 the same result as ignoring them, since these ranges will not match
 any valid language tags.
 An extended language range is mapped to a basic language range as
 follows: if the first subtag is a '*' then the entire range is
 treated as "*", otherwise each wildcard subtag is removed.  For
 example, the extended language range "en-*-US" maps to "en-US"
 (English, United States).
 Applications, protocols, or specifications, in addressing their
 particular requirements, can offer pre-processing or configuration
 options.  For example, an implementation could allow a user to
 associate or map a particular language range to a different value.
 Such a user might wish to associate the language range subtags 'nn'
 (Nynorsk Norwegian) and 'nb' (Bokmal Norwegian) with the more general
 subtag 'no' (Norwegian).  Or perhaps a user would want to associate
 requests for the range "zh-Hans" (Chinese as written in the
 Simplified script) with content bearing the language tag "zh-CN"
 (Chinese as used in China, where the Simplified script is
 predominant).  Documentation on how the ranges or tags are altered,
 prioritized, or compared in the subsequent match in such an
 implementation will assist users in making these types of
 configuration choices.

3.3. Filtering

 Filtering is used to select the set of language tags that matches a
 given language priority list.  It is called "filtering" because this
 set might contain no items at all or it might return an arbitrarily
 large number of matching items: as many items as match the language
 priority list, thus "filtering out" the non-matching items.
 In filtering, each language range represents the least specific
 language tag (that is, the language tag with fewest number of
 subtags) that is an acceptable match.  All of the language tags in

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 8] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

 the matching set of tags will have an equal or greater number of
 subtags than the language range.  Every non-wildcard subtag in the
 language range will appear in every one of the matching language
 tags.  For example, if the language priority list consists of the
 range "de-CH" (German as used in Switzerland), one might see tags
 such as "de-CH-1996" (German as used in Switzerland, orthography of
 1996) but one will never see a tag such as "de" (because the 'CH'
 subtag is missing).
 If the language priority list (see Section 2.3) contains more than
 one range, the content returned is typically ordered in descending
 level of preference, but it MAY be unordered, according to the needs
 of the application or protocol.
 Some examples of applications where filtering might be appropriate
 o  Applying a style to sections of a document in a particular set of
 o  Displaying the set of documents containing a particular set of
    keywords written in a specific set of languages.
 o  Selecting all email items written in a specific set of languages.
 o  Selecting audio files spoken in a particular language.
 Filtering seems to imply that there is a semantic relationship
 between language tags that share the same prefix.  While this is
 often the case, it is not always true: the language tags that match a
 specific language range do not necessarily represent mutually
 intelligible languages.

3.3.1. Basic Filtering

 Basic filtering compares basic language ranges to language tags.
 Each basic language range in the language priority list is considered
 in turn, according to priority.  A language range matches a
 particular language tag if, in a case-insensitive comparison, it
 exactly equals the tag, or if it exactly equals a prefix of the tag
 such that the first character following the prefix is "-".  For
 example, the language-range "de-de" (German as used in Germany)
 matches the language tag "de-DE-1996" (German as used in Germany,
 orthography of 1996), but not the language tags "de-Deva" (German as
 written in the Devanagari script) or "de-Latn-DE" (German, Latin
 script, as used in Germany).

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 9] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

 The special range "*" in a language priority list matches any tag.  A
 protocol that uses language ranges MAY specify additional rules about
 the semantics of "*"; for instance, HTTP/1.1 [RFC2616] specifies that
 the range "*" matches only languages not matched by any other range
 within an "Accept-Language" header.
 Basic filtering is identical to the type of matching described in
 [RFC3066], Section 2.5 (Language-range).

3.3.2. Extended Filtering

 Extended filtering compares extended language ranges to language
 tags.  Each extended language range in the language priority list is
 considered in turn, according to priority.  A language range matches
 a particular language tag if each respective list of subtags matches.
 To determine a match:
 1.  Split both the extended language range and the language tag being
     compared into a list of subtags by dividing on the hyphen (%x2D)
     character.  Two subtags match if either they are the same when
     compared case-insensitively or the language range's subtag is the
     wildcard '*'.
 2.  Begin with the first subtag in each list.  If the first subtag in
     the range does not match the first subtag in the tag, the overall
     match fails.  Otherwise, move to the next subtag in both the
     range and the tag.
 3.  While there are more subtags left in the language range's list:
     A.  If the subtag currently being examined in the range is the
         wildcard ('*'), move to the next subtag in the range and
         continue with the loop.
     B.  Else, if there are no more subtags in the language tag's
         list, the match fails.
     C.  Else, if the current subtag in the range's list matches the
         current subtag in the language tag's list, move to the next
         subtag in both lists and continue with the loop.
     D.  Else, if the language tag's subtag is a "singleton" (a single
         letter or digit, which includes the private-use subtag 'x')
         the match fails.
     E.  Else, move to the next subtag in the language tag's list and
         continue with the loop.

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 10] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

 4.  When the language range's list has no more subtags, the match
 Subtags not specified, including those at the end of the language
 range, are thus treated as if assigned the wildcard value '*'.  Much
 like basic filtering, extended filtering selects content with
 arbitrarily long tags that share the same initial subtags as the
 language range.  In addition, extended filtering selects language
 tags that contain any intermediate subtags not specified in the
 language range.  For example, the extended language range "de-*-DE"
 (or its synonym "de-DE") matches all of the following tags:
    de-DE (German, as used in Germany)
    de-de (German, as used in Germany)
    de-Latn-DE (Latin script)
    de-Latf-DE (Fraktur variant of Latin script)
    de-DE-x-goethe (private-use subtag)
    de-Latn-DE-1996 (orthography of 1996)
    de-Deva-DE (Devanagari script)
 The same range does not match any of the following tags for the
 reasons shown:
    de (missing 'DE')
    de-x-DE (singleton 'x' occurs before 'DE')
    de-Deva ('Deva' not equal to 'DE')
 Note: [RFC4646] defines each type of subtag (language, script,
 region, and so forth) according to position, size, and content.  This
 means that subtags in a language range can only match specific types
 of subtags in a language tag.  For example, a subtag such as 'Latn'
 is always a script subtag (unless it follows a singleton) while a
 subtag such as 'nedis' can only match the equivalent variant subtag.
 Two-letter subtags in the initial position have a different type
 (language) than two-letter subtags in later positions (region).  This
 is the reason why a wildcard in the extended language range is
 significant in the first position but is ignored in all other

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 11] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

3.4. Lookup

 Lookup is used to select the single language tag that best matches
 the language priority list for a given request.  When performing
 lookup, each language range in the language priority list is
 considered in turn, according to priority.  By contrast with
 filtering, each language range represents the most specific tag that
 is an acceptable match.  The first matching tag found, according to
 the user's priority, is considered the closest match and is the item
 returned.  For example, if the language range is "de-ch", a lookup
 operation can produce content with the tags "de" or "de-CH" but never
 content with the tag "de-CH-1996".  If no language tag matches the
 request, the "default" value is returned.
 For example, if an application inserts some dynamic content into a
 document, returning an empty string if there is no exact match is not
 an option.  Instead, the application "falls back" until it finds a
 matching language tag associated with a suitable piece of content to
 insert.  Some applications of lookup include:
 o  Selection of a template containing the text for an automated email
 o  Selection of an item containing some text for inclusion in a
    particular Web page.
 o  Selection of a string of text for inclusion in an error log.
 o  Selection of an audio file to play as a prompt in a phone system.
 In the lookup scheme, the language range is progressively truncated
 from the end until a matching language tag is located.  Single letter
 or digit subtags (including both the letter 'x', which introduces
 private-use sequences, and the subtags that introduce extensions) are
 removed at the same time as their closest trailing subtag.  For
 example, starting with the range "zh-Hant-CN-x-private1-private2"
 (Chinese, Traditional script, China, two private-use tags) the lookup
 progressively searches for content as shown below:
 Example of a Lookup Fallback Pattern
 Range to match: zh-Hant-CN-x-private1-private2
 1. zh-Hant-CN-x-private1-private2
 2. zh-Hant-CN-x-private1
 3. zh-Hant-CN
 4. zh-Hant
 5. zh
 6. (default)

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 12] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

 This fallback behavior allows some flexibility in finding a match.
 Without fallback, the default content would be returned immediately
 if exactly matching content is unavailable.  With fallback, a result
 more closely matching the user request can be provided.
 Extensions and unrecognized private-use subtags might be unrelated to
 a particular application of lookup.  Since these subtags come at the
 end of the subtag sequence, they are removed first during the
 fallback process and usually pose no barrier to interoperability.
 However, an implementation MAY remove these from ranges prior to
 performing the lookup (provided the implementation also removes them
 from the tags being compared).  Such modification is internal to the
 implementation and applications, protocols, or specifications SHOULD
 NOT remove or modify subtags in content that they return or forward,
 because this removes information that can be used elsewhere.
 The special language range "*" matches any language tag.  In the
 lookup scheme, this range does not convey enough information by
 itself to determine which language tag is most appropriate, since it
 matches everything.  If the language range "*" is followed by other
 language ranges, it is skipped.  If the language range "*" is the
 only one in the language priority list or if no other language range
 follows, the default value is computed and returned.
 In some cases, the language priority list can contain one or more
 extended language ranges (as, for example, when the same language
 priority list is used as input for both lookup and filtering
 operations).  Wildcard values in an extended language range normally
 match any value that can occur in that position in a language tag.
 Since only one item can be returned for any given lookup request,
 wildcards in a language range have to be processed in a consistent
 manner or the same request will produce widely varying results.
 Applications, protocols, or specifications that accept extended
 language ranges MUST define which item is returned when more than one
 item matches the extended language range.
 For example, an implementation could map the extended language ranges
 to basic ranges.  Another possibility would be for an implementation
 to return the matching tag that is first in ASCII-order.  If the
 language range were "*-CH" ('CH' represents Switzerland) and the set
 of tags included "de-CH" (German as used in Switzerland), "fr-CH"
 (French, Switzerland), and "it-CH" (Italian, Switzerland), then the
 tag "de-CH" would be returned.

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 13] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

3.4.1. Default Values

 Each application, protocol, or specification that uses lookup MUST
 define the defaulting behavior when no tag matches the language
 priority list.  What this action consists of strongly depends on how
 lookup is being applied.  Some examples of defaulting behavior
 o  return an item with no language tag or an item of a non-linguistic
    nature, such as an image or sound
 o  return a null string as the language tag value, in cases where the
    protocol permits the empty value (see, for example, "xml:lang" in
 o  return a particular language tag designated for the operation
 o  return the language tag "i-default" (see [RFC2277])
 o  return an error condition or error message
 o  return a list of available languages for the user to select from
 When performing lookup using a language priority list, the
 progressive search MUST process each language range in the list
 before seeking or calculating the default.
 The default value MAY be calculated or include additional searching
 or matching.  Applications, protocols, or specifications can specify
 different ways in which users can specify or override the defaults.
 One common way to provide for a default is to allow a specific
 language range to be set as the default for a specific type of
 request.  If this approach is chosen, this language range MUST be
 treated as if it were appended to the end of the language priority
 list as a whole, rather than after each item in the language priority
 list.  The application, protocol, or specification MUST also define
 the defaulting behavior if that search fails to find a matching tag
 or item.
 For example, if a particular user's language priority list is "fr-FR,
 zh-Hant" (French as used in France followed by Chinese as written in
 the Traditional script) and the program doing the matching had a
 default language range of "ja-JP" (Japanese as used in Japan), then
 the program searches as follows:

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 14] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

 1. fr-FR
 2. fr
 3. zh-Hant // next language
 4. zh
 5. ja-JP   // now searching for the default content
 6. ja
 7. (implementation defined default)

4. Other Considerations

 When working with language ranges and matching schemes, there are
 some additional points that can influence the choice of either.

4.1. Choosing Language Ranges

 Users indicate their language preferences via the choice of a
 language range or the list of language ranges in a language priority
 list.  The type of matching affects what the best choice is for a
 Most matching schemes make no attempt to process the semantic meaning
 of the subtags.  The language range is compared, in a case-
 insensitive manner, to each language tag being matched, using basic
 string processing.  Users SHOULD select language ranges that are
 well-formed, valid language tags according to [RFC4646] (substituting
 wildcards as appropriate in extended language ranges).
 Applications are encouraged to canonicalize language tags and ranges
 by using the Preferred-Value from the IANA Language Subtag Registry
 for tags or subtags that have been deprecated.  If the user is
 working with content that might use the older form, the user might
 want to include both the new and old forms in a language priority
 list.  For example, the tag "art-lojban" is deprecated.  The subtag
 'jbo' is supposed to be used instead, so the user might use it to
 form the language range.  Or the user might include both in a
 language priority list: "jbo, art-lojban".
 Users SHOULD avoid subtags that add no distinguishing value to a
 language range.  When filtering, the fewer the number of subtags that
 appear in the language range, the more content the range will
 probably match, while in lookup unnecessary subtags can cause
 "better", more-specific content to be skipped in favor of less
 specific content.  For example, the range "de-Latn-DE" returns
 content tagged "de" instead of content tagged "de-DE", even though
 the latter is probably a better match.

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 15] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

 Whether a subtag adds distinguishing value can depend on the context
 of the request.  For example, a user who reads both Simplified and
 Traditional Chinese, but who prefers Simplified, might use the range
 "zh" for filtering (matching all items that user can read) but
 "zh-Hans" for lookup (making sure that user gets the preferred form
 if it's available, but the fallback to "zh" will still work).  On the
 other hand, content in this case ought to be labeled as "zh-Hans" (or
 "zh-Hant" if that applies) for filtering, while for lookup, if there
 is either "zh-Hans" content or "zh-Hant" content, one of them (the
 one considered 'default') also ought to be made available with the
 simple "zh".  Note that the user can create a language priority list
 "zh-Hans, zh" that delivers the best possible results for both
 schemes.  If the user cannot be sure which scheme is being used (or
 if more than one might be applied to a given request), the user
 SHOULD specify the most specific (largest number of subtags) range
 first and then supply shorter prefixes later in the list to ensure
 that filtering returns a complete set of tags.
 Many languages are written predominantly in a single script.  This is
 usually recorded in the Suppress-Script field in that language
 subtag's registry entry.  For these languages, script subtags SHOULD
 NOT be used to form a language range.  Thus, the language range
 "en-Latn" is inappropriate in most cases (because the vast majority
 of English documents are written in the Latin script and thus the
 'en' language subtag has a Suppress-Script field for 'Latn' in the
 When working with tags and ranges, note that extensions and most
 private-use subtags are orthogonal to language tag matching, in that
 they specify additional attributes of the text not related to the
 goals of most matching schemes.  Users SHOULD avoid using these
 subtags in language ranges, since they interfere with the selection
 of available content.  When used in language tags (as opposed to
 ranges), these subtags normally do not interfere with filtering
 (Section 3), since they appear at the end of the tag and will match
 all prefixes.  Lookup (Section 3.4) implementations are advised to
 ignore unrecognized private-use and extension subtags when performing
 language tag fallback.

4.2. Meaning of Language Tags and Ranges

 Selecting language tags using language ranges requires some
 understanding by users of what they are selecting.  The meanings of
 the various subtags in a language range are identical to their
 meanings in a language tag (see Section 4.2 in [RFC4646]), with the
 addition that the wildcard "*" represents any matching sequence of

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 16] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

4.3. Considerations for Private-Use Subtags

 Private agreement is necessary between the parties that intend to use
 or exchange language tags that contain private-use subtags.  Great
 caution SHOULD be used in employing private-use subtags in content or
 protocols intended for general use.  Private-use subtags are simply
 useless for information exchange without prior arrangement.
 The value and semantic meaning of private-use tags and of the subtags
 used within such a language tag are not defined.  Matching private-
 use tags using language ranges or extended language ranges can result
 in unpredictable content being returned.

4.4. Length Considerations for Language Ranges

 Language ranges are very similar to language tags in terms of content
 and usage.  The same types of restrictions on length that can be
 applied to language tags can also be applied to language ranges.  See
 [RFC4646] Section 4.3 (Length Considerations).

5. Security Considerations

 Language ranges used in content negotiation might be used to infer
 the nationality of the sender, and thus identify potential targets
 for surveillance.  In addition, unique or highly unusual language
 ranges or combinations of language ranges might be used to track a
 specific individual's activities.
 This is a special case of the general problem that anything you send
 is visible to the receiving party.  It is useful to be aware that
 such concerns can exist in some cases.
 The evaluation of the exact magnitude of the threat, and any possible
 countermeasures, is left to each application or protocol.

6. Character Set Considerations

 Language tags permit only the characters A-Z, a-z, 0-9, and HYPHEN-
 MINUS (%x2D).  Language ranges also use the character ASTERISK
 (%x2A).  These characters are present in most character sets, so
 presentation or exchange of language tags or ranges should not be
 constrained by character set issues.

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 17] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

7. References

7.1. Normative References

 [RFC2119]       Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
                 Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
 [RFC2277]       Alvestrand, H., "IETF Policy on Character Sets and
                 Languages", BCP 18, RFC 2277, January 1998.
 [RFC4234]       Crocker, D., Ed. and P. Overell, "Augmented BNF for
                 Syntax Specifications: ABNF", RFC 4234, October 2005.
 [RFC4646]       Phillips, A., Ed., and M. Davis, Ed., "Tags for
                 Identifying Languages", BCP 47, RFC 4646, September

7.2. Informative References

 [RFC1766]       Alvestrand, H., "Tags for the Identification of
                 Languages", RFC 1766, March 1995.
 [RFC2616]       Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Frystyk, H.,
                 Masinter, L., Leach, P., and T. Berners-Lee,
                 "Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616,
                 June 1999.
 [RFC2616errata] IETF, "HTTP/1.1 Specification Errata", October 2004,
 [RFC3066]       Alvestrand, H., "Tags for the Identification of
                 Languages", BCP 47, RFC 3066, January 2001.
 [RFC3282]       Alvestrand, H., "Content Language Headers", RFC 3282,
                 May 2002.
 [XML10]         Bray, T., Paoli, J., Sperberg-McQueen, C., Maler, E.,
                 and F. Yergeau, "Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0
                 (Third Edition)", World Wide Web Consortium
                 Recommendation, February 2004,

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 18] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

Appendix A. Acknowledgements

 Any list of contributors is bound to be incomplete; please regard the
 following as only a selection from the group of people who have
 contributed to make this document what it is today.
 The contributors to [RFC1766] and [RFC3066], each of which was a
 precursor to this document, contributed greatly to the development of
 language tag matching, and, in particular, the basic language range
 and the basic matching scheme.  This document was originally part of
 [RFC4646], but was split off before that document's completion.
 Thus, directly or indirectly, those acknowledged in [RFC4646] also
 had a hand in the development of this document, and work done prior
 to the split is acknowledged in that document.
 The following people (in alphabetical order by family name)
 contributed to this document:
 Harald Alvestrand, Stephane Bortzmeyer, Jeremy Carroll, Peter
 Constable, John Cowan, Mark Crispin, Martin Duerst, Frank Ellermann,
 Doug Ewell, Debbie Garside, Marion Gunn, Jon Hanna, Kent Karlsson,
 Erkki Kolehmainen, Jukka Korpela, Ira McDonald, M. Patton, Randy
 Presuhn, Eric van der Poel, Markus Scherer, Misha Wolf, and many,
 many others.
 Very special thanks must go to Harald Tveit Alvestrand, who
 originated RFCs 1766 and 3066, and without whom this document would
 not have been possible.

Authors' Addresses

 Addison Phillips (Editor)
 Yahoo! Inc.
 Mark Davis (Editor)
 EMail: or

Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 19] RFC 4647 Matching of Language Tags September 2006

Full Copyright Statement

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 contained in BCP 78, and except as set forth therein, the authors
 retain all their rights.
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Phillips & Davis Best Current Practice [Page 20]

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