This document describes and prioritises gaps for the support of Arabic and Persian languages on the Web and in eBooks. In particular, it is concerned with text layout. It checks that needed features are supported in W3C specifications, in particular HTML and CSS and those relating to digital publications. It also checks whether the features have been implemented in browsers and ereaders. This is a preliminary analysis.

This document describes and prioritises gaps for the support of Arabic and Persian languages on the Web and in eBooks. In particular, it is concerned with text layout. It checks that needed features are supported in W3C specifications, in particular HTML and CSS and those relating to digital publications. It also checks whether the features have been implemented in browsers and ereaders. This document complements the document Text Layout Requirements for the Arabic Script, which describes the requirements for areas where gaps appear. It is linked to from the language matrix that tracks Web support for many languages.

The editor's draft of this document is being developed by the Arabic Layout Task Force, part of the W3C Internationalization Interest Group. It is published by the Internationalization Working Group. The end target for this document is a Working Group Note.


The W3C needs to make sure that the needs of scripts and languages around the world are built in to technologies such as HTML, CSS, SVG, etc. so that Web pages and eBooks can look and behave as people expect around the world.

This page documents difficulties people encounter when trying to use the Arabic and Persian languages in the Arabic script on the Web.

Having identified an issue, it investigates the current status with regards to web specifications and implementations by user agents (browsers, e-readers, etc.), and attempts to prioritise the severity of the issue for web users.

A summary of this report and others can be found as part of the language matrix.


Early versions of this document contained text from Shervin Afshar (Netflix) and Richard Ishida (W3C).

See also the GitHub commit history page.

Work flow

This version of the document is a preliminary analysis

Gap analysis work usually starts with a preliminary analysis, conducted quickly by one or a small group of experts. Then a more detailed analysis is carried out, involving a wider range of experts. The detailed analysis may involve the development of tests, in order to illustrate issues and track results for browsers. The next phase is ongoing maintenance. It is expected that the resulting document will not be frozen: as gaps are fixed, this should be noted in the document. It is also possible that new gaps are noticed or arise, and they can be added to this document when that happens.

As the gap analysis develops, the requirements for features that are problematic should be described in the companion document, Text Layout Requirements for the Arabic Script. Links to the appropriate part of that document should be added to this document as the material is created. Note that the requirements document should not contain any technology-specific information: all of that belongs here.


This document not only describes gaps, it also attempts to prioritise them in terms of the impact on the local user. The prioritisation is indicated by colour.


It is important to note that these colours do not indicate to what extent a particular features is broken. They indicate the impact of a broken or missing feature on the content author or end user.

Basic styling is the level that would be generally accepted as sufficient for most Web pages. Advanced level support would include additional features one might expect to include in ebooks or other advanced typographic formats. There may be features of a script or language that are not supported on the Web, but that are not generally regarded as necessary (usually archaic or obscure features). In this case, the feature can be described here, but the status should be marked as OK.

The decision as to what priority level is assigned to a described gap is down to the experts doing the gap analysis. It may not always be straightforward to decide. If a given section in this document refers to more than one feature that is broken, each with different impacts on Web users, the priority for the section should be the lowest denominator.

A cell can be scored as OK if the feature in question is specified in an appropriate specification, and is supported by user agents. A specification that is in CR or later and has two implementations in 'major' browsers will count. This means that the feature may not be supported in all browsers yet. (At some point in the future we may try to distinguish, visually, whether support is available in a specification but still pending in major browsers or applications.)

Text direction

See also General page layout & progression for features such as column layout, page turning direction, etc. that are affected by text direction.

Vertical text

We need to clarify whether there is a particular requirement for handling arabic text specially in vertical lines, such as upright glyphs. We are also waiting on implementation of sideways values of writing-modes in order to be able to effectively use arabic text in vertical arrangements (such as book spines, table headings, etc), but that is not a problem specific to arabic.

Bidirectional text

Characters and phrases

Characters & encoding


Font styles, weight, etc

Glyph shaping and positioning

Cursive text

Baselines, line-height, etc

Transforming characters

Grapheme/word segmentation & selection

Arabic script word boundaries, similar to Latin script, generally can be distinguished by white space and a specific subset of punctuations. There are few exceptions which are listed in Arabic Layout Requirement document.

To enforce a disjoining behavior between the letters which under circumstances of their position normally join, special Unicode character U+200C ZERO WIDTH NON-JOINER (ZWNJ) is used. This usage is detailed in Arabic Layout Requirement document.

All major desktop browsers select a whole word when you double-click on it, including when the word contains ZWNJ. Single-letter prepositions attached to the word are also selected. See some tests.

Inline features & punctuation

Text decoration


Inline notes & annotations

Data formats & numbers

Internationalization software libraries identify Arabic-Indic numerals as the set of numerals which should be used with text in Arabic language excluding a number of Arabic-speaking countries of Northern and Northwestern Africa which should use Arabic (ASCII) numerals. Surveys of publications, monetary and governmental documents, and manuscripts confirm these precedences. However, there is a considerable diverging trend from these recommendations observable on the web, digital products, and in user-generated content. If not considered in design and implementation of software products dealing with Arabic text, this discrepency could be potentially disadvantageous to the quality of text layout, digital typography, and locale-specific data processing.

Lines and Paragraphs

Line breaking


There is no hyphenation in Arabic or Persian language text.

Text alignment & justification

Letter spacing

Lists, counters, etc.

Styling initials

Although initial letter styling is not an innate feature of the Arabic script, there have been occurences of its usage noted. However, the specifications and guidelines for composition of these decorative elements are undefined or insubstantial; for example, which of the joining forms of letters is to be used or how the joining behaviour is treated accross the boundary between the styled initial letter and rest of the paragraph.

Page & book layout

General page layout & progression

Footnotes, endnotes, etc.

Page headers, footers, etc.

Forms & user interaction


Culture-specific features

Sometimes a script or language does things that are not common outside of its sphere of influence. This is a loose bag of additional items that weren't previously mentioned. This section may also be relevant for observations related to locale formats (such as number, date, currency, format support).

What else?

There are many other CSS modules which may need review for script-specific requirements, not to mention the SVG, HTML, Speech, MathML and other specifications. What else is likely to cause problems for worldwide deployment of the Web, and what requirements need to be addressed to make the Web function well locally?

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