In my previous post I suggested that I was still thinking about reasonable use cases for Unicode 8.0 on z/OS. I’ve got some ideas now. Here are a few:

1. It will be quite some time before all Web and mobile devices will support all the glyphs in the Unicode 8.0. One useful option is to use Unicode 8.0 font support on z/OS to render a graphical representation of an unsupported glyph (such as a new emoji character) and deliver that graphical rendering to a client device. That substitution approach works beautifully in WebSphere Liberty Profile for z/OS and WebSphere Application Server for z/OS, as examples.

2. Likewise, you can take the same approach when generating billing statements, financial statements, etc. (whether printed or, increasingly, electronic) processed on z/OS. Yes, your monthly bank statement can include new Unicode 8.0 emoji characters, for example.

3. Both of the approaches above can be combined with a persistent BLOB datastore, specifically DB2 for z/OS, so that graphical representations of new characters can be generated once and persisted for better performance and throughput.

On June 17, 2015, the Unicode Consortium released the final Unicode 8.0 specification. The Unicode Standard defines how text (and text-like elements: glyphs, symbols, characters, etc.) ought to be encoded. Unicode 8.0 adds 7,716 characters versus its predecessor version. Among those new characters are several emoji.

In a rush to get your z/OS system emojified? Need to process Cherokee language data next fiscal quarter? No problem! z/OS is open for business. Here’s how you can add a Unicode 8.0 typeface to Java on z/OS (in outline):

1. Download your preferred GNU Unifont font file onto your z/OS system in binary mode. You should place the desired uncompressed/extracted .ttf file in a convenient location in a zFS directory. (/usr/lpp/fonts/unifont would probably be a good location.) Choose a path that is unlikely to be inadvertently overwritten with product installations and updates. Make sure the permissions are set to something reasonable (i.e. read-only).

2. Make sure you have a supported Java Standard Edition release for z/OS installed, preferably the latest. I prefer the 64-bit edition, but the 31-bit edition is also fine.

3. Refer to the “Using non-default system fonts” part of IBM’s SDK Java Technology Edition for z/OS Knowledge Center. (The direct link for SDK Version 8 is here.) Also refer to IBM PM05140. These instructions provide general guidance on how to add fonts (typefaces) to the Java runtime on z/OS.

All you have to do is add the Unifont typeface to the configuration file for your Java installation(s). You’ll find that configuration file in the lib directory within your Java installation path. Within that configuration file you should see a section that begins with this comment:

# Font File Names

Add another line to the configuration file below that section, for example:


Obviously you should make sure you use an appropriate text editor that preserves that configuration file’s character encoding. IBM Explorer for z/OS works well here.

4. Test your configuration. Start by listing all the fonts that Java knows about using this simple Java program. If you see “Unifont” on the list when you run that program on z/OS, you’re off to a great start.

Any program or environment that can take advantage of Java-based services can take advantage of this Unicode 8.0 support. That’s pretty much everything including WebSphere Application Server for z/OS, CICS Transaction Server for z/OS, IMS Transaction Manager for z/OS, DB2 for z/OS, etc. All major programming languages on z/OS can invoke Java code, too.

Please note that IBM doesn’t support the GNU Unifont typefaces. If something breaks you can always let IBM know, but you might be on your own. The ability to add and use non-standard fonts is a supported, documented feature, however. Nonetheless, if the font file you choose is broken, IBM can’t fix that. Also be careful that you understand Java’s font selection algorithms, especially before you put anything into production.

Thanks to Roman Czyborra, Paul Hardy, Unifoundry, and all who devote their time and expertise to develop GNU Unifont.

Admittedly I don’t have many use cases in mind yet for Unicode 8.0 typeface support on z/OS. Maybe you do. Success stories and other reports are welcome in the comments, but please avoid rude emoji.