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Old 29/05/2018, 12:54 PM   #1
Eoussama
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Default Beginner to Intermediate guide - String formatting

String Formatting

Beginner friendly tutorial


✦ Table of content

Code:
  • Introduction
    • Tutorial description
    • What is string formatting?
  • String manipulation
    • String declaration
      • Length limits
      • Assigning values
      • The null terminator
    • String manipulation functions
    • The format function
    • String optimazation tips
  • String output
    • Console
      • print
      • printf
    • Client messages
    • Textdraws
    • Dialogs
  • Color interpretation
    • Client messages and Dialogs
      • RGBA
      • RGB
    • Textdraws and GameTexts
  • The escape character
    • Description
    • Escape sequences
    • Custom escape character
  • Format specifiers
    • Description
    • Usage
    • Custom specifiers
  • External links
    • Similar tutorials
    • Related includes/plugins
    • References
✦ Introduction

✧ Tutorial description

Howdy, ya all out there, it surely is a nice quiet night, or at least it is at the composition of this tutorial. So, hey, what about tagging along to both enrich and/or engage with the main focus of this article, this is and as the title suggests, going to be focused on “String manipulation” in pawn, we will go through the absolute intermediate stuff that everybody should be aware of to some sort of advanced, clever and effective tips.

✧ What is string formatting?

In general, formatting a text is the act of manipulating it to visually improve its readability, be it changing the font’s family, color, weight and so on.

Strings being an array of characters (alphabets, numbers, symbols), which we wouldn’t specifically call a text on itself but is referred as such when displayed, can be processed with the same approach, but unfortunately, SA-MP’s interpretation of pawn does not allow for much (yet? Maybe never), generally speaking changing the color is as far as we can get, yes, you can still change/customize the font, but that’s client-sided only, and yes, GTA San Andreas (the parent game) does provide some extra fonts, but that only works on textdraws and gametext, this does cause limitations concerning text presentation, but hey, it’s been over a decade now, and we survived just fine.

✧ String declaration

As I said before, strings are basically arrays of characters, so it is used the same way arrays are, and so as we would create an array, we would do for strings following this format; string_name[string_size].

string_name: the name of the character array (e.g. string, str, message, text…etc. as long as it’s a valid variable name (begins with a character or an underscore)).

string_size: the maximum characters this string would have.

Code:
// declaring a string of 5 characters.
new str_1[5];

// declaring a string of 100 characters.
new str_2[100];
You can also predefine constant values so you can use them multiple times as string sizes.

Code:
// declaring a constant.
#define STRING_SIZE 20

// declaring a string with the size of STRING_SIZE's value.
new str_3[STRING_SIZE];
On compilation time, the compiler will replace all occurrences of STRING_SIZE with the value 20, this method is both time-saving and more readable on most cases, keep in mind that the value you assign to the STRING_SIZE constant must be an integer or else it will give a compilation error.

In addition to predefined constants, you can perform basic operations, the modulo (%) however will give compilation errors if used, you can still get away with division calculations (/) but keep in mind, dividing by 0 will trigger errors, the bonus here is all floating results will be automatically rounded for you.

Code:
// declaring a constant.
#define STRING_SIZE 26

// declaring strins with the use of the STRING_SIZE constant and some calculations..
new
    str_4[STRING_SIZE + 4],
    str_5[STRING_SIZE - 6],
    str_6[9 / 3],
    str_7[STRING_SIZE * 2];
Theoretically, you can create somewhat ridiculously huge arrays, but SA-MP puts few restrictions on the length of strings you can work with, depending on what you’re working on, it limits the number of characters you can normally output.

✩ Length limits

SA-MP limits characters that can be stored in a single string and keeps scripters from going overboard with working with text, luckily, it’s not as bad as it might seem, the list below breaks down some of these limits;

Text inputThe text you input on the chat.128
Text outputText that's output on the client's screen.144
NamePlayer nickname / Username.24
Textdraw stringPretty self-explanatory.1024
Dialog infoThe text displayed on all dialogs of the type DIALOG_STYLE_MSGBOX, DIALOG_STYLE_INPUT and DIALOG_STYLE_PASSWORD.4096
Dialog captionThe caption/title on top of the dialog.64
Dialog inputThe input box on DIALOG_STYLE_INPUT and DIALOG_STYLE_PASSWORD.128
Dialog columntThe characters on each column of DIALOG_STYLE_TABLIST_HEADER and DIALOG_STYLE_TABLIST.128
Dialog rowThe characters on each column of DIALOG_STYLE_TABLIST_HEADER, DIALOG_STYLE_TABLIST and DIALOG_STYLE_LIST.256
Chat bubbleThe chat bubble that displays above the player's name tag.144
Menu titleThe GTA San Andreas native menu (mostly used for shops) header.31
Menu itemThe GTA San Andreas native menu (mostly used for shops) item/row.31

If somehow these limits have been exceeded, few inconveniences might occur, it can even crash/freeze the server in some cases (e.g. long textdraw strings), in some other cases, the text would just truncate like the Menu title (if it reaches 32 characters, it truncates back to 30) and items.

Besides the strict limits put on strings, there are many others concerning different stuff, you can view the complete list here.


✩ Assigning values

Assigning values to strings can be done via many methods, some assign them upon their creation, others after, there are people who use loops, other use functions, and yes, there are who do this process manually, slot by slot, there is no exact right or wrong way for doing so, some methods are often more effective in few cases than others some are not, at the end of the day all that matters is performance, optimization, and readability.

In most cases you’d want to give a default value to the string upon its creation, you can go through this simply as follows;

Code:
new
    message_1[6] = "Hello",
    message_2[] = "This is another message";
Make sure the string’s size is greater than the number of characters you assigned them for, having a smaller or equal string size to that, will trigger compilation errors, leaving the size slot between the two brackets empty (like on the message_2 example), will automatically give the array the size of the text you’ve assigned it to plus 1, in this case, 23 + 1 = 24, why? It reserves a slot for the null character (aka the null-terminator), more on that later, the word “Hello” has 5 characters, so in order to store it on a string, it should have 6 cells, 5 cells for the word’s character count, and one for the null character.

Let’s take a look at doing the same process slot by slot manually, first, we define a new array, you can determine its size or leave that empty for the compiler to fill, both would work just fine, we will fill the array with characters to create the string “Hello”.

Code:
// Including the string' size on its declaration, or it won't work otherwise.

new message_3[6];

message_3[0] = 'H';
message_3[1] = 'e';
message_3[2] = 'l';
message_3[3] = 'l';
message_3[4] = 'o';
message_3[5] = '\0';
There, we assigned for each slot on the message_3 array a character, this won’t work if you were to declare a sting with no definitive size, note that to represent a single character, it ought to be written between two single quotations (), also, notice how we started with slot 0, and it’s only natural, considering how I emphasised on how a string is an array of characters, meaning, that the first slot is always 0, and the last one is its size minus 1 (the null character does not count), which in this case is 4, counting from 0 to 4, that makes it 5 characters, with the sixth being the null terminator, more on that comes later.

You can also assign strings numbers which will be viewed as ASCII (a system representing character numerically, it covers 128 characters ranging from 0 to 127, more on that here) code for a character, the same message “Hello” can be assigned using ASCII code like this;

Code:
new message_4[6];

message_4[0] = 72; // ASCII representation of capitalized h, “H”.
message_4[1] = 101; // ASCII representation of “e”.
message_4[2] = 108: // ASCII representation of “l”.
message_4[3] = 108; // ASCII representation of “l”.
message_4[4] = 111; // ASCII representation of “o”.
message_4[5] = 0; // ASCII representation of the null terminator.
And yes, you can perform numeric operations with these codes the same you do with normal numbers, after all, the machine views characters as just mere numbers.

Code:
new message_5[1];
message_5[0] = 65 + 1;
if you were to output message_5[0], you would get B, weird right? Well, no, not really, you can perform other basic operations (subtraction, multiplication, division even the modulo), floating numbers will get auto-rounded for you, let’s see how this works.

You have 65 + 1, that returns 66, checking the ASCII table, you will find that 66 is the numeric representation of the character “B” (capitalized). So, the snippet above is basically the same as doing, message_5[0] = 'B';
For reference, use this ASCII table.

You can also perform the same operation between multiple characters or a mix of both, them and numbers, here are few examples;

Code:
new message_6[3];

message_6[0] = 'B' - 1; // Which is 66 - 1, returns 65, the numeric representation of “A”.
message_6[1] = 'z' - '&'; // Which is 122 - 38, returns 84, the numeric representation of “T”.
message_6[2] = '0' + '1'; // Which is 48 + 49, returns the numeric representation of “a”, note that '0' and '1' are not the numbers 0 and 1, but rather characters.
It might get confusing sometimes if you never knew about the ASCII system, all it takes is some practice, because understanding how it works, is very handy.
ASCII code is not exclusive to decimal numbers only, you can also use hexadecimal or binary numbers the same way.

Code:
new numString[4];

numString[0] = 0x50; // The decimal number 80 in hexadecimal, capitalized p, “P”.
numString[1] = 0b1000001; // The decimal number 65 in binary, capitalized a, “A”.
numString[2] = 0b1010111; // The decimal number 87 in binary, capitalized w, “W”.
numString[3] = 0x4E; // The decimal number 78 in hexadecimal, capitalized n, “N”.

Now let’s see something else, assigning values through loops, it’s literally the same as filling an array through loops, you can use all sorts of looping methods as well, goes as follow;

Code:
// Let's fill this string with capitalized alphabets.
new message_7[26];

// The for loop.
for (new i = 0; i < 26; i++)
    message_7[i] = 'A' + i;

// The while loop.
while (i++ < 'Z')
    message_7[i - 'A'] = i;

// The do-while loop.
new j = 'A';

do
{
    message_7[j - 'A'] = j;
}
while(j++ < 'Z');

// You can even use goto to simulate a loop, but it's not recommended.
All three of them will output the same exact string, ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ.

If you found the loops above confusing, you might want to take a deep look into how loops work, or on that can be found here and here.
Notice how I used characters in some logical conditions, like (j++ < 'Z') that easily translates to (j++ < 90), again, characters are treated like numbers, don’t feel strange, you’re welcome to check the ASCII table whenever you’d like.

Say, you want to fill a string with a number of one specific character, (e.g. “AAAAAA”, “TTTTTT”, “vvvvvv”, “666” (not it’s not a coincidence)), the typical idea that might cross most of the scripters, is hard-coding it, but what about long strings, well, what about using a loop, that’s fine too, but what if I told you there is an even more efficient way, just like you’d fill an array with the same value, you’d do the same for strings.

Code:
new message_8[100] = {'J', ...};
The code above declares a new string called message_8 with 100 cells (ranging from 0 to 99) and gives each slot the value of ‘J’, which of course can be used both as a character J, or number 74 according to the ASCII system.

One other thing you can do with this is filling the string with characters whom values based on intervals, see the example of the capitalized alphabets from A to Z above? Let’s create the same string using this method.
Code:
new message_9[26] = {'A', 'B', ...};
How easy is that?! this is both more optimized and easy to read, and provides the same results as the 3 examples done using loop methods above, so how does it exactly work? Well, we gave the string initial values, ‘A’ and ‘B’, which they respectively are 65 and 66, the compiler calculates the interval between the two values, which in this case is 1, and completes filling the empty cells with values based on that interval until it fills up the whole array, you can put as many initial values as you want, but it will only regard the interval between the last two values, and work based on it, keep in mind that the initial values are treated as ASCII code, so trying to output numeric intervals using this method on a string will result in something inconvenient, say you declared some random string like this;

Code:
new rand_str[5] = {'1', '5', ...},
Ideally, this should have output 151520 (more specifically “1 5 15 20”), but instead, it output; 159=A, which is actually the correct output, why? Because remember, this is ASCII code, ‘1’ is 49 and ‘5’ is 53, the interval between the two is 4 (53 - 49), the string accepts 5 characters, we already occupied two cells when we included initial catalog, so that makes it 3 left empty cells that have to be filled respecting the interval of 4, so this is how it goes [ 49 | 53 | 57 | 61 | 65 ], let’s replace each number value with its ASCII code match. [ ‘1’ | ‘5’ | ‘9’ | ‘=’ | ‘A’], makes more sense huh?!

✩ The null terminator

I referred to this on early sections of this tutorial, I hope it wasn’t that confusing at first, but even if it was, let’s peal the confusion off already, don’t you worry, it’s nothing hard or even that advances, just a basic fact that you should be aware of, I’ll keep it as short as possible, but if you want a deeper view on this, you can visit this page.

So, the null terminator (aka the null character), is a character present on all strings, its role is to indicate that a string has ended, you can think of it as a period mark (.) anything that comes after this character is not accounted for and completely ignored. You can’t type it using your keyboard, but you can refer to its value while coding, it’s present on the ASCII table though, referred to as NUL, represented by the number 0.

In pawn, you can type it as its numeric value, or as a character ‘\0’. The backslash there acts as an escaping character, it’s there to tell the machine that that character is the null character with the value of 0 and NOT the character ‘0’ that has the value of 48.

There is a symbol used in pawn, EOS, short for End Of String, it’s a predefined macro for the null terminator, you can set the null terminator in a lot of different ways;

Code:
message_9[0] = 0;
message_9[0] = '\0';
message_9[0] = 0b; // The decimal number 0 in binary.
message_9[0] = 0x00; // The decimal number 0 in hexadecimal.
message_9[0] = _:0.0; // The floating number 0.0, we have to prefix it with the detag '_' to avoid compilation errors.
message_9[0] = false;
message_9[0] = EOS;
As I said earlier on the tutorial, you can ignore assigning the null character, but it’s always there at empty cells, when you declare a new string, all of its cells are automatically occupied by the null terminator, so for instance, if I go ahead and declare this string text[3], all of its cells are assigned the value of 0 by default, here’s a simple visual representation of the string’s content;

Cells012
ASCII code012
Characters'\0''\0''\0'

Here is another example of a pre-filled string.

Code:
new text_1[8] = "Hello";
Here's the string's content per cell;

Cells01234567
ASCII code72101108108111000
Characters'H''e''l''l''o''\0''\0''\0'

If you, for instance, wanted to delete the content of this string, you can simply do so using one of the three examples below;

Code:
text_1[0] = 0;
text_1[0] = EOS;
text_1[0] = '\0';
Passing the string through an X-Ray scan will print out the following;

Cells01234567
ASCII code72101108108111000
Characters'\0''e''l''l''o''\0''\0''\0'

If you try to output this string, everything beyond the slot number 0 will be ignored, and thus labeled as an empty string, even the strlen function will return 0 as it depends on the placement of the null character to retrieve the string’s length.

✧ String manipulation functions

When it comes to working with multiple chunks of text, pawn has got you covered, it provides some very basic functions that do the job efficiently, no need to create your own when you’ve got native support that assures speed and optimization.

These are some natively supported functions (taken from string.inc);

Code:
native strlen(const string[]);
native strpack(dest[], const source[], maxlength=sizeof dest);
native strunpack(dest[], const source[], maxlength=sizeof dest);
native strcat(dest[], const source[], maxlength=sizeof dest);
native strmid(dest[], const source[], start, end, maxlength=sizeof dest);
native bool: strins(string[], const substr[], pos, maxlength=sizeof string);
native bool: strdel(string[], start, end);
native strcmp(const string1[], const string2[], bool:ignorecase=false, length=cellmax);
native strfind(const string[], const sub[], bool:ignorecase=false, pos=0);
native strval(const string[]);
native valstr(dest[], value, bool:pack=false);
native bool: ispacked(const string[]);
native uudecode(dest[], const source[], maxlength=sizeof dest);
native uuencode(dest[], const source[], numbytes, maxlength=sizeof dest);
native memcpy(dest[], const source[], index=0, numbytes, maxlength=sizeof dest);
We will take a closer look at few of them, the ones are more often used.

-The strlen function (this and sizeof are completely different things), that takes a string as a parameter, returns the length of that string (the number of characters it has), but pay attention as this is a bit tricky on how it works, I’ve said it earlier in the tutorial, this function depends on the position of the null character to determine the length of the string, so any other valid non-null character that comes after will not be counted, as soon as the first null character is reached, the function returns the number of cells from the beginning to that null character.

-The strcat concatenates strings with each other, it takes 3 parameters.

Code:
new str_dest[12] = "Hello", str_source[7] = " World";
strcat(str_dest, str_source);
If we were to output str_dest, it will show Hello World, the two strings were added to each other, and the result was stored in str_dest, “Hello” + “ World” = “Hello World”, notice how we included that space in the second string, yes, spaces are character themselves, according to the ASCII table, their value is 32, hadn't we add the space, the resulting string would have been HelloWorld.

-the strval function will convert a string to a number, for instance, the following string, “2017” will be converted to the number 2017, this works on signed and unsigned numbers, if the string has no numeric characters, the function will return 0, the same happens if the string has a numeric character but begins with non-numeric ones, if a string begins with numeric characters but includes non-numeric characters as well, the numeric characters will still get retrieved and converted, here are some use cases;

Code:
strval("2018"); // Returns “2018”.
strval("-56"); // Returns “-56”.
strval("17.39"); // Returns “17”, the floating number 17.39 was auto floored for us.
strval("no number here"); // Returns “0”.
strval("6 starts"); // Returns “6”.
strval("here we go, 2018"); // Returns “0”.
strval("2017 ended, welcome 2018"); // Returns “2017”.
There are many community-made libraries you can download that have to do with string manipulation, I can’t think of a better include than strlib.

✧ The format function

This is probably the most used string-related function in the community, very simple and user-friendly, all it does, is format chunks of text and pieces them together, it can be implemented in various situations, like linking variables and strings together, embedding colors, adding line-breaks... etc.

Code:
format(output[], len, const format[], {Float, _}:...)
The format function takes as parameters the output array, its size (number of its cells), the formatting string (this can be pre-stored on another array, or directly assigned from inside the function), and finally some optional parameters, those can be variables from different types.
Let’s use this function to assign a value to an empty string.

Code:
new formatMsg[6];
format(formatMsg, 6, "Hello");
The output of formatMsg is Hello, keep in mind that this is a bad way of assigning values to strings, mostly because of its speed, there are better methods for doing this, we already discussed some of them on early stages of this tutorial.

Remember to always put the correct array size, otherwise, it will still work, but it delivers some unwanted behavior, the format function will over-flow your array size, and trust me on that, you don’t want that to happen, if you don’t want to bother putting the correct string size every time you want to work with this function, you can simply use the sizeof function (it’s not a function per se, but rather a compiler directive), we’ve seen earlier a function called strlen that returns the number of characters a string has (excluding and stopping at the null-character), but this one, returns the array’s size, in other words, the number of cells this array has, be them filled with valid character or not, in this case, 6.

Code:
new formatMsg[6];
format(formatMsg, sizeof(formatMsg), "Hello");
Text must always be included in double quotation marks, however, there is an uncommon way of inputting text, that’s rarely ever used, it uses the Number sign (#) symbol, and works as follows.

Code:
new formatMsg[6];
format(formatMsg, sizeof(formatMsg), #Hello);
It supports spaces, escaped characters, and you can even use the mix of both double quotations and the number sign;

Code:
new formatMsg[6];
format(formatMsg, sizeof(formatMsg), "Hello "#World);
The code above will input Hello World, this method of inputting strings is more known to be used with predefined constants.

Let’s take a look at this example of using two different predefined constants, one being an integer 2017, the other being a string “2018”.

Code:
#define THIS_YEAR 2018 // Thisconstant has an integer as its value.
#define NEW_YEAR "2019" // This constant has a string as its value.

new formatMsg[23];
format(formatMsg, sizeof(formatMsg), "This is "#THIS_YEAR", not"NEW_YEAR);
This will output This is 2018, not 2019, the reason why I emphasised on the two constants being from different types is the use of the number sign (#), if the value is NOT a string, then you must prefix it with the number sign (#THIS_YEAR) so it will be treated like “2018”, or else you’ll get some compilation errors, as for a string value, you can choose to include or omit the number sign, because it will work either way (NEW_YEAR is the same as #NEW_YEAR). You can only use this to retrieve values from predefined constants, it will not work with regular variables, or arrays/strings, as treating those can be done using placeholders, more on this later.

You can also line up as much double quotations as you want one next to each other, although it doesn’t make sense, as it’s more natural to just write a sentence into a single pair of double quotations, here’s an example of the same sentence written in both concepts;

Code:
new formatMsg[29];

// One single pair of double quotations.
format(formatMsg, sizeof(formatMsg), "This is reality...or is it?!");

// Multiple pairs of double quotations.
format(formatMsg, sizeof(formatMsg), "This is reality""...""or is it?!");
Both will output the same sentence, This is reality... or is it?!.

✧ Optimization tips

Now, that we’ve seen some basic stuff about string declaration, manipulation …etc. some of us would just jump into practicing with no regards to some general guidelines followed by the community if only more people cared about readability, optimization, and performance the world would have been a better place. a code that compiles fine, doesn’t mean it works fine, most bugs come from those little things we overlooked or created in such a way that they wouldn’t interact friendly with other systems. a well-written code will survive the ordeal of time, how? You can always come back to it, and debug, fix, review it with ease, optimization will reflect result on the performance too, always try to get the best of your machine, and optimized code is the way to go.

The first thing that must be brought up, and that personally triggers me, is seeing how large strings are being created when not nearly half of the cells declared are even used, only declare strings the size you’ll use, extra cells will only task more memory, let’s take a look at a supposedly unoptimized way of declaring a string.

Code:
new badString[100];
badString ="Hello :)";
We declared a string with 100 cells, 1 cell takes up 4 bytes, let’s do some basic math, 100 * 4 = 400 bytes, that’s roughly 0.0004 Megabyte, nothing for today’s standards I know, but supposedly, on a huge script, obviously you will have to use more than one string, 60, 70, heck 100 more strings? (possibly more), those tiny numbers will stack up on each other resulting in a much bigger number, and cause you serious trouble later on, and believe me when I tell you, the string we declared doesn’t come as near to looking stupid when compared to the likes of those with a size five times bigger or more.

What I come across more, something that’s stereotypically vague, is the usage of the mysterious string size 256, just why people? Why?

Keep in mind the limits SA-MP puts when dealing with strings, where does the 256-long string come into play? What are you going to do with a string this long (except for formatting a dialog/textdraw string)? The maximum string input is 128 characters long, that’s half the size, 512 bytes just went into waste, say what? You intended to use it for output, not input? That’s still way too large, output strings are not to pass 144 characters, see where I’m going? Let’s try and see how we’d correct our fault, we have this sentence, “Good string”, it contains 11 characters (the space is counted as a character too) + 1 for the null terminator (got to always have this dude in mind), that makes it 12 characters in total.

Code:
new goodString[12];
goodString="Good string";
See how we preserved memory? A mere 48 bytes, and no extra weigh that would cause trouble later, feels much better.

But hey, what if I told you, you can get an even more optimized code, that’s right, have you ever heard of packed strings? A string is typically formed from multiple cells, and as we said earlier, each cell represents 4 bytes, so strings are made up of multiple sets of 4 bytes. A single character takes up 1 byte, and each cell allows only a single character to be stored, meaning, that on each cell 3 bytes go to waste,

Code:
new upkString[5];
upkString = "pawn";
The string above takes up 5 cells (that is approximately 20 bytes), can be narrowed down to only 8 bytes, a mere 2 cells.

Code:
new pkString_1[5 char];
pkString_1 = !"pawn";
// or
pkString_1 = !#pawn;
That’s simply how it works, you declare a string with the size that it would normally take (counting the null-terminator of course), then suffix it with the with keyword “char”, each character will be stored in bytes rather than cells, meaning that every cell will have 4 characters stored, remember that when assigning values to packed strings, prefix them with an exclamation mark (!), this, however, doesn’t apply for a single character.

This is an approximate visual representation of upkString's content;

Cell
0
1
2
3
4
Bytes
0. 1. 2. 3
0. 1. 2. 3
0. 1. 2. 3
0. 1. 2. 3
0. 1. 2. 3
Characters
\0.\0.\0.p
\0.\0.\0.a
\0.\0.\0.w
\0.\0.\0.n
\0.\0.\0.\0

And this is what pkString_1 would be like in the second example;

Cell
0
1
Bytes
0. 1. 2. 3
0. 1. 2. 3
Characters
p. a. w. n
\0.\0.\0.\0

You can also access a packed string’s indexers, as follows;

Code:
new pkString_2[5 char];

pkString_2{0} = 'p';
pkString_2{1} = 97; // ASCII code for the character “a”.
pkString_2{2} = 0b1110111; // The decimal number 199 in binary, translates to the character “w”.
pkString_2{3} = 0x6E; // The decimal number 110 in hexadecimal, translates to the character “n”.
pkString_2{4} = EOS; // EOS (End Of String), has the value of 0, which is the ASCII code for \0 (NUL), the null character.
The result will be the same as pkString_1 in this case, as you can see, ASCII code is still being taken into considerations, take notes that when accessing indexers on packed strings, we use curly brackets instead of brackets. That means we’re indexing the bytes themselves, and not the cells.

In spite of their effectiveness in preserving memory, SA-MP’s implementation of pawn doesn’t 100% support packed strings, but you can still use them in infrequently used strings/arrays.
✦ String output

✧ Console

✩ print

The following function is probably the most basic function in not only pawn but a lot of other programming languages too, it simply accepts one parameter and outputs it on the console.

Code:
print("Hello world");
Code:
Hello world
You can also pass predeclared strings or predefined constants as well as merging multiple of them together, or use the number sign (#) too, much like we used to do with the format function, but keep in mind, that doesn’t include multiple parameters, we can only pass one and only parameter.

Code:
#define HAPPY_STRING "I'm happy today" // String constant.
#define NEW_YEAR 2019 // Integer constant.
new stylishMsg[12] = "I'm stylish";

print(HAPPY_STRING);
print(stylishMsg);
print(#2019 is beyond the horizon);
print("I'm excited for "#NEW_YEAR);
print("What ""about"" you""?");
Code:
I'm happy today
I'm stylish
2019 is beyond the horizon
I'm excited for 2019
What about you?
Notice how we used the number symbol here the same way we did with the format function, if the value is an integer, you prefix it with # so it’s treated as a string.

Also keep in mind that the print function does support packed strings, however only accepts string type variables (array of characters), passing anything that’s not an array, a string (be it between double quotations or prefixed by the number symbol) will give compilation errors, so doing any of the following will not work;

Code:
// Case 1.
new _charA = 'A';
print(_charA);

// Case 2.
new _charB = 66;
print(_charB);

// Case 3.
print('A');

// Case 4.
print(66);
Let’s see how we can fix that;

Code:
// Case 1.
new _charA[2] = "A";
print(_charA);
We change the single quotation mark to the double quotation mark and give the array two cells, one of the A character, and the second one for the null terminator because anything between the double quotation marks is a string, the output is A.

Code:
// Case 2.
new _charB[2] = 66;
print(_charB);
We change the _charB to an array with one cell and set the cell labelled 0 to the value of 66, which translates to B according to the ASCII table, the output is B, we preserve an additional cell for the null-terminator (how much is there so it's not funny anymore?).

Code:
// Case 3.
print("A");
Not much can be said, all it took is switching from the single quotation marks to a pair of double quotation marks.

As for the fourth case, there’s not much we can do while working with the print function, but it can simply be resolved using another similar function, called...

✩ printf

Short for “print formatted”, I can simply put, this is a more diverse version of the previous print function, more specifically, it’s like a combination between the format function and the print function, meaning that it also prints characters on the server’s console, but with the benefit of formatting the output text.

Unlike print, printf accepts multiple parameters, and with different types too, however it does not support packed strings, in order to expand on its functionality, we use these sequences called “format specifiers”, more on them later, outputting anything more than 1024 characters will crash the server, so take notes on that

Code:
#define RANDOM_STRING "Vsauce"
#define RANDOM_NUMBER 2018

printf("Hey "RANDOM_STRING", Micheal here! #"#RANDOM_NUMBER);
Notice how we similarly to the print and the format functions, we nested those strings into one, which outputs the following;

Code:
Hey Vsauce, Micheal here! #2018
The printf function as I said before, really shines when format specifiers are used, it’s what distinguishes it and sets it apart, you can attach as many variables as you want, and output simple and complex strings with ease, we will have a much deeper look on that when we’re introduced to those specifiers later on.

✧ Client messages

Apart from the other doll texts you can print on the server’s console, who are mainly used for debugging, there are messages that are printed on the client’s screen, on the chat section, those ones can be formatted the same way too, but they also support color embedding, which makes for a wonderful presentation for texts (if used correctly of course).

Keep in mind the that SA-MP’s restrictions on displaying strings apply for this type of messages too, being like the previous ones, limited to smaller than 144 characters, or else the message won’t be sent, sometimes they will even crash some commands.

There are two functions that natively print text on the client’s screen, the only difference between them is the scoop, the first takes three parameters, the id of the player you want to print the text on their screen, the text’s color, and the text itself.

Code:
SendClientMessage(playerid, color, const message[])
Say, you want to send a text to the player whose id’s 1, telling them “Hello there!”;

Code:
SendClientMessage(1, -1, "Hello there!");
Simple, just like that, the player with the ID of 1 will be sent a text saying “Hello there!”, the -1 is the color parameter, in this case, it’s the color white, more on colors later.

Obviously, you can also pass an array of characters, formatted strings...etc. And as we saw with other function, you can use the number sign (#).

Code:
#define STRING_MSG "today"
new mornMsg[] = "Hello!";

SendClientMessage(0, -1, mornMsg);
SendClientMessage(0, -1, "How are you ",STRING_MSG#?);
As you can see at the example above, this will send the player with the id 0 two messages colored in white, the first messages will say “Hello!”, and the second will say, “How are you today?”, pretty similar to how other functions work. Keep in mind that predefined constant integers must be prefixed with the # symbol.

Code:
#define NMB_MSG 3
SendClientMessage(3, -1, "It's "#NMB_MSG" PM");
Pretty self-explanatory, the text will be sent to the player with the id 3, colored in white, saying “It’s 3 PM”.

Now that you know how to send someone a message, you can use the same approach to send the same message to everyone, child’s play really, you can just put the function in a loop that goes through all connected players, and risk showing your code in public and call it a day, but hey, there is already a native function that does the exact same thing, the same rules apply, the only thing that differ between the two is a slight change in their syntax.

Code:
SendClientMessageToAll(color, const message[]);
pretty self-explanatory too, exposed by its name, now let’s send everyone on the server a greeting message.

Code:
SendClientMessageToAll(-1, "Hello everyone!");
Just like that, you can play with it the same way you do with its other sibling, two toys from the same brand really, just try not to bypass the 144 characters limit.

✧ Textdraws

One of SA-MP’s most powerful functionalities, just unleash your imagination, textdraws are basically graphic shapes/texts/sprites/preview models...etc. that can be displayed on clients’ screens, they make the UI especially much more lively and interactive (to an extent). But hey, there are limitations here too, for example, you cannot display a string that’s more than 1024 characters long, to be honest, that’s more than enough. Nothing special can be said here, even with their wide functionality, strings that can be displayed are poor on formatting, you can’t do as much as you could with other output functions, it feels a little narrow when it comes to this, but it certainly does make up for the lack of formatting with other exciting stuff, more on textdraws here.

✧ Dialogs

Dialogs can be thought of as “message boxes”, they, of course, come in different types, accept few different inputs, and more importantly, accept all types of formatting that a normal string does, with makes them much easier to use than textdraw. There are limitations concerning them too, like string sizes and being able to only synchronously display them on the client’s screen, SA-MP only provides one native function for dealing with dialogs, and honestly, that would be one of your last concerns, as the lone function does its job, and does it efficiently, more on dialogs here.
✦ Color interpretation

✧ Client messages and dialogs

✩ RGBA

RGBA (short for red green blue alpha), is a simple use of the RGB model with an extra channel, the alpha channel, basically, a form of representing colors digitally, by mixing variations of red, green, blue and alpha (opacity), more on that here.

In SA-MP’s implementation of pawn, we use hexadecimal numbers to represent these color spaces, red, green, blue and alpha are noted by 2 bits each, resulting in an 8 bits long hexadecimal number, for example; (FF0000FF = red), (00FF00FF = green), (0000FFFF = blue), (000000FF = black), (FFFFFFFF = white), here’s a clearer visualization on this notation: FFFFFFFF.

A lot of programming/scripting languages prefix hexadecimal numbers with the number sign (#), In pawn, however, we prefix them with (0x), so the following hexadecimal number 8060C1FF, becomes 0x8060C1FF.

We can, of course, use decimal numbers to represent colors, but it’s much clearer to use the hexadecimal notation, as it’s the more readable between the two, let’s look the following example;
Code:
// Representing the color white with decimal numbers.
SendClientMessageToAll(-1, "Hello everyone!");

// Representing the color white with hexadecimal numbers.
SendClientMessageToAll(0xFFFFFFFF, "Hello everyone!");

// A client message colored in white will be sent to everybody.
Keep in mind that assigning all bits to the same value will result in variations of shades of grey (no pun intended), assigning the alpha channel to 0 will make the text invisible.

It’s possible to format texts with multicolor simultaneously, but for that, we embed the simpler RGB notation.

✩ RGB

This is exactly like the RGBA color spaces, but with no alpha channel, just a mixture of red, green and blue, noted as a hexadecimal number of 6 bits, in pawn, this notation is used mostly to embed colors into texts, simply wrap your 6 bits hexadecimal number between a pair of curly brackets, and you’re set up to go, for example; ({FF0000} = red), ({00FF00} = green), ({0000FF} = blue), ({000000} = black), ({FFFFFF} = white), here’s a clearer visualization on this notation: {FFFFFF}. Let’s look at this quick example here;

Code:
SendClientMessageToAll(0x00FF00FF, "I'm green{000000}, and {FF0000}I'm red");
This will send the following message to everyone (and I'm no Italian):

Code:
I’m green, and I’m red
Keep in mind that the hexadecimal notation is case insensitive, so typing 0xFFC0E1FF is the same as typing 0xfFC0e1Ff, the same goes for embedded colors, {401C15} is the same as {401c15}.

Sometimes, working with colors can prove to be quite the labor, It’s not that easy to go around remembering all of those long hexadecimal numbers like no big deal, You should always have a reference to go back to, there are plenty of online color pickers you can use, you can simply g.oogle “color picker”, and choose between thousands of them, let me do that on you if you don’t mind, here’s a simple tool that I recommend using when working with colors.

One of the problems that people find, is managing their workflow, which if done right, it facilitates the work pacing, and makes it less painful to work around your projects, while color picker tools are of a great help, you can still waste plenty of time going on and off to it every time you need to pick a color, the frustration of that can be as annoying as a pizza with pineapples, luckily, you can take advantage of predefined constants, and define your most used colors for later usage, here’s a simple example;

Code:
#define COLOR_RED 0xFF0000FF
#define COLOR_GREEN 0xFF0000FF
#define COLOR_BLUE 0xFF0000FF

SendClientMessageToAll(COLOR_RED, "I'm a red text");
SendClientMessageToAll(COLOR_GREEN, "I'm a green text");
SendClientMessageToAll(COLOR_BLUE, "I'm a blue text");
The latter can be done on embedded colors too;

Code:
#define COL_RED "{FF0000}"
#define COL_GREEN {FF0000}
#define COL_BLUE "{FF0000}"

SendClientMessageToAll(-1, ""COL_RED"I'm a red text");
SendClientMessageToAll(-1, "{"COL_GREEN}"I'm a green "COL_BLUE"and blue");
ShowPlayerDialog(playerid, 0, DIALOG_STYLE_MSGBOX, "Notice", "{"COL_GREEN"}Hello! "COL_RED"what's up?", "Close", "");
At compilation time, all predefined constants will be replaced by their values, and thus, this “”COL_RED”I’m a red text” becomes this “”{FF0000}”I’m a red text”, notice how we used two methode to predifne those colors, “RRGGBB” and “{RRGGBB}”, it’ goes into personal preference which methode to go by, personaly, I find defining them as “RRGGBB” much cleared, as the usages of curly brackets is present, and thus makes it noticable that we’re embedding a color.

That was the general approach on color embedding with dialog and client messages strings, it is possible to use colors within text in client messages, dialogs, 3D text labels, object material texts and vehicle number plates, but hey, SA-MP has also texdraws and gametexts functionalities, however those don’t support the RGB notation, and thus, adding colors is done differently.

✧ Textdraws and Gametexts

as mentioned above, RGB notation is not supported, but luckily, we have other ways to work around this problem, for textdraws, you can use the native TextDrawColor function to change the textdraw's color, but this the same to textdraw as RGBA color spaces are to client messages and dialogs, they can’t be embedded, for that, we use special combination of characters to refer to colors and few other symbols, you can see them here.

~r~
Red
~g~
Green
~b~
Blue
~w~ or ~s~
White
~p~
Purple
~l~
Black
~y~
Yellow

So, embedding colors can go in like this: ~w~Hello this is ~b~blue ~w~and this is ~r~red

You can use another combination of characters to play with color mixes, ~h~, it makes a certain color lighter, here are few examples:

~r~~h~
Lighter red
~r~~h~~h~
Red pink
~r~~h~~h~~h~
Dark red
~r~~h~~h~~h~~h~
Light red pink
~r~~h~~h~~h~~h~~h~
Pink
~g~~h~
Light green

You can find more information about this here.
✦ The escape character

✧ Description

The escape character is a character in which when prefixed to some character or number, it creates its own constant character, in most programming/scripting languages like pawn, the backslash is used as the escape character (\), a combination of this and some other character/number will result in an escape sequence which has a certain meaning, you can find more about escape character here.

✧ Escape sequences

Escape sequences make it easier to express certain characters in the source code of your script, here is a table containing the escape sequences used in pawn:

Audible beep (on server machines)
\a or \7
Backspace
\b
Escape
\e
Form feed
\f
New line
\n
Carriage return
\r
Horizontal tab
\t
Vertical tab
\v
Backslash
\\
Single quote
\'
Double quote
\"
Character code with decimal values "ddd"
\ddd;
Character code with hexadecimal values "hhh"
\xhhh;

Let’s look at each one of them, after all, the best way to learn these sort of stuff rests within practicing them.

The “Audible beep” escape sequence - \a

Audible beep or a bell code (sometimes bell character) is a device control code originally sent to ring a small electromechanical bell on tickers and other teleprinters and teletypewriters to alert operators at the other end of the line, often of an incoming message.

Using this on a computer will result in sending a bell/notification sound in the background, it can be used in some creative ways, to notify and/or alert users on certain activities, the escape sequence that represents it is \a (or \7 noted as decimal code), fire off your pawn text editor, and write the following code;

Code:
print("\a");
Upon executing the samp-server.exe, you will hear a beep notification sound, you can also use the decimal code;
Code:
print("This is a beep \7");

The “Backspace” escape sequence - \b

This escape sequence is noted as \b, it simply moves your cursor backward, most people would expect it to act like the backspace button on your typical keyboard, but not entirely, it only moves the carriage one position backward without erasing what’s written there.

This one doesn’t have that much usability in pawn unless you were clever enough to milk something useful out of it, here’s how it works.

Code:
print("Hello 2018");
This will print Hello 2018 in the console, the cursor remains on the null character’s position, more clearly, like this:

Code:
Hello 2018
          ^
As you can see, the cursor stops after the last visible character of the string, which is normal, now, let’s add a backspace escape sequence;

Code:
print("Hello 2018\b");
That will result in;

Code:
Hello 2018
         ^
As you can see, the cursor is exactly in the position of the last visible character of the string, which is 8, this is the same as toggling on the insert mode on your keyboard, now, let’s add some sorcery to this.

Code:
print("Hello 2018\b9");
If you guessed it right, yes, this will print Hello 2019, so, let’s see how this works, the machine will process the string character by character, until it reaches the backspace escape sequence, then it moves the carriage one position backwards, which selects whatever character there, in this case 8, then, it inserts 9 in its place.

Code:
Hello 2019
         ^
The carriage is going to move backward as long as there is a backspace escape sequence in your string.

Code:
print("Hello 2018\b9\b\b\b");
Code:
Hello 2019
       ^
The cursor will stop at the first character’s position if the amount of backspace escape sequence exceeded that of the number of characters between the position of the first character (yes, arrays start at 0, head to r/programmerhumor for some good memes) and the initial position of the cursor.

Code:
print("Hi\b\b\b\b\b\b\b\b\b\b\b\b\b\b");
Will always result in this;

Code:
Hi
^

The “Escape” escape sequence - \e

With the hexadecimal value of 1B in ASCII, it’s used for common non-standard code, let’s look for some programming languages like C as an example; a sequence such as \z is not a valid escape sequence according to the C standard. The C standard requires such invalid escape sequences to be diagnosed (the compiler must print an error message). Notwithstanding this fact, some compilers may define additional escape sequences, with implementation-defined semantics. An example is the \e escape sequence, represents the escape character. It wasn't however added to the C standard repertoire because it has no meaningful equivalent in some character sets.


The “Form feed” escape sequence - \f

Form feed is a page breaking ASCII code. It forces the printer to eject the current page and to continue printing at the top of another. Often, it will also cause a carriage return, this doesn’t make any noticeable change in the SA-MP’s debugging console.

The “New line” escape sequence - \n

The new line (also referred to as line ending, end of line (EOL), line feed, or line break) escape sequence is an ASCII code that’s noted as /n with the decimal value of 10, it’s something that’s commonly used, text editors are inserting this character every time we press the Enter button on our keyboards.
Here’s a simple message with a line break:

Code:
print("Hello, this is line 1\nAnd this is line 2");
That will simply output:

Code:
Hello, this is line 1
And this is line 2
Multiple line brakes are achievable of course;

Code:
print("H\n\n\ne\n\n\nl\nl\n\no");
Code:
H


e


l
l

o
This works differently when dealing with files, however, depending on your operating system, like for instance, in windows, a line break is typically a CR (carriage return) + LF (line feed), you can learn more about the differences here.

The “Carriage return” escape sequence - \r

The carriage return is an ASCII code that’s often associated with the line feed, but it can serve as its own thing by itself, it simply moves the carriage to the beginning of the current line, equivalent of a specific case we discussed using multiple backspaces (\b) escape sequence, let’s look at the following example, without using this escape sequence, this is the normal output we would get:

Code:
print("Hello");
Code:
Hello
     ^
The arrow represents the position of the cursor, which is placed after the last visible character of the string, again, that’s the normal expected behavior, now let’s add the carriage return into the mix:

Code:
print("Hello\r");
Code:
Hello
^
The cursor is shifted to the beginning of the line, selecting the first character “H”, now inserting anything will change “H” to whatever we input, and then move to the next character while remaining on the insert mode:

Code:
print("Hello\rBo");
Code:
Bollo
  ^
As we’ve seen on the line feed section, line breaks work differently across different operating systems, windows, for instance, use a carriage return followed by a line feed to perform a line break, just like the classic typewriters.

The “Horizontal tab” escape sequence - \t

Tabulation is something we use every day, from text/code indentation, to table display, that tabulator key that lays at the very side of your keyboard really is a time saver, it was such a pain and so much time consuming to excessively use many spaces, but this one cuts the cake easily, not only is it usefully practically, it really is strongly present in the field of programming, it’s noted as \t, people would argue on how many spaces a tab is worth, most would say it’s worth 4 spaces, but there are who say it’s worth 8 spaces, someone demonic creature would even prefer spaces to tabs, but that's another talk on inself, let as observe this simple example:

Code:
print("Hello\tWorld");
Code:
Hello    World
Here is another one with multiple tabulations:

Code:
print("Hello\t\t\t\t\tWorld");
Code:
Hello                    World

The “Vertical tab” escape sequence - \v

During the old typewriter era, this had a more popular use, it was used to move to the next line vertically, but now, this is no longer the case, it doesn’t have any noticeable usage nowadays, and that includes modern printers and even programming languages, and pawn is no exception.

The “Backslash” escape sequence - \

As we’ve seen, the backslash is regarded as the escape character, so whenever the program spots it, it thinks of it as a starting point of some escape sequence, it doesn’t look at it as an independent character, and thus, will either give a compilation error (if it wasn’t followed by a valid character), or will not print it, in pawn’s case, the compilator will raise an error (error 027: invalid character constant).
Luckily, we can solve this problem by escaping out backslash, and that’s done by prefixing yet another backslash to it:

Code:
print("Hello \\ World");
Code:
Hello \ World
The output will disregard the first backslash, and print the second, as the first is escaping the second and tricking the program into viewing it as a raw character.
A backslash can only escape one character at a time, so doing the following will raise a compilation error;

Code:
print("Hello \\\ World");
Think of it as pairs of backslashes, everyone is escaping the one after, and thus, it should always result in an even number of backslashes;

Code:
print("Hello \\\\\\ \\ World");
Code:
Hello \\\ \ World
As you surely noticed, escape sequences are never printed, they only serve as instructions that express certain events, if we want to force them into being printed, we can escape their escape character (\), then the program will not look at them as escape sequence:

Code:
print("This is the escape sequence responsible for tabulation: \\t");
The first backslash escapes the second, and then it gets printed, then the t character is left alone, and thus regarded as an independent character:

Code:
This is the escape sequence responsible for tabulation: \t

The “Single quote” escape sequence - \’

This is hardly present when writing pawn code, I myself haven’t found myself using this in any coding situation, in other languages that treat text between single quotation marks as a string make great use of this to limit the confusion that happens when nesting single quotation marks into each other, it really makes no difference in pawn, here’s a simple example;

Code:
print("Single quote '");
// or
print("Single quote \'");
Either way, the output will be the same:

Code:
Single quote: '
The only use I can think of concerning this is setting a variable the character “'”, so obviously doing the following will cause a compilation error;

Code:
new chr = ''';
Simply because the compiler will regard the first pair of single quotes as one entity, and the second as an unclosed quotation sequence, so to fix that, we will have to escape the middle one;

Code:
new chr = ''\';

The “Double quote” escape sequence - \”

Unlike the single quotation mark, this one can cause problems when it comes to nesting them together, pawn treats anything between double quotations as a string, so what if you want to input a double quotation mark in your string, that will confuse the program, it wouldn’t know what each quotation mark is for, let’s take this as an example for instance:

Code:
print("Hello "world");
As soon as the compilator spots the first quotation marks, it will treat everything that comes after as part of one string, and end up the process as soon as it hits another quotation mark, and thus, the compiler will pick up “Hello “ as a string and will view World” as some none-sense filling up the holes of your code.
To solve this, we need to escape the double quotation mark we want to print:

Code:
print("Hello \"world");
Now, the compiler will treat the second quotation mark as an escape sequence as it’s prefixed by an escape character (\):

Code:
Hello "world
Let’s add another quotation mark just for the heck of it:

Code:
print("Hello \"world\"");
Code:
Hello "world"
It couldn’t be simpler.

Throughout this section, we’ve seen how we can represent escape sequences by prefixing the escape character (\) to a certain character, but that’s just one way to note those values, among other ways, we will take a look on two others;

Escape sequences with character code (decimal code) - \ddd;

It doesn’t change anything about the escape sequences, it’s just a different way to express them, using decimal ASCII codes, for instance, if you want to print A, but note it decimally, you can type it’s decimal ASCII code like the following:

Code:
print("\65;");
Code:
A
This doesn’t concern only alphanumeric characters, but also other ones, like the audible beep (\a), with its decimal value of 7, can be represented according to this notation as \7;

The semicolon mark is optional and can be dropped, but it’s always better to go with the original approach, its purpose is to give the escape sequence an explicit termination symbol when it is used in a string constant.

Escape sequences with character code (decimal code) - \xhhh;

Similar to the decimal ASCII notation, we can also use the hexadecimal format, the character A, can either be written as \65; or \x41;, The semi-colon can be omitted if you want, this applies both here and on the decimal notation.

Code:
print("\x41;");
Code:
A
You can find all of those values by simply googling “ASCII table”, and what’s cool about it is that it’s free.

✧ Custom escape character

f you noticed, I’ve kept calling repeating the “escape character” multiple times throughout the last section where I could have referred to it simply as “the backslash”, or even shorted, (\), the reason for that is because the escape character is not an absolute constant character, but rather, it can be changed preferably, you can have it as @, ^, $ and so on, by default it’s a backslash, but how it stays is only determined by you.

n order to change it, we use the pre-processor directive “pragma”, this particular directive accepts different parameters, for each their specific task, and there is one that's responsible on setting the escape character which we will be focusing on, it's ctrlchar.

Code:
#pragma ctrlchar '$'

main()
{
	print("Hello $n World");
	print("This is a backslash: \");
	print("The his a dollar sign: $$");
}
Code:
Hello 
 World
This is a backslash: \
This is a dollar sign: $
As you can see the line feed is noted as $n instead of \n now, and the backslash is no longer regarded as the escape character, and consequently, the dollar sign requires being escaped by another dollar sign.

You can’t, however, change this to (-), but anything else is an acceptable practice, but it’s never ever accepted ethically, just how silly is this “#pragma ctrlchar ‘6’”, huh? Absolute mad lad.

This portion here has absolutely nothing to do with escape sequences, but it is used in formatting textdraws and gametext, it’s better to put it here than anywhere else;

~u~Up arrow (gray)
~d~Down arrow (gray)
~<~Left arrow (gray)
~>~Right arrow (gray)
]Displays a * symbol (only in text style 3, 4, and 5)
~k~keyboard key mapping (e.g. ~k~~VEHICLE_TURRETLEFT~ and ~k~~PED_FIREWEAPON~). Look here for a list of keys
✦ Format specifier

✧ Description

Placeholders or specifiers are characters escaped by a percent sign (%), the indicate the relative position and the output type of certain parameters, they serve as their name suggests “Placeholders”, they save a place for data that will later replace them inside the string, there are different types of specifiers, and they even follow a specific formula;

%[flags][width][.precision]type

The attributes between brackets are all optional and are up to you-the-user to either keep them or not, what really defines a specifier the wide known format of %type, the type part is replaced by a character to represent a certain output type; (integer, float… etc).

Placeholders are only used on functions that accept parameters, thus functions like print will have no effect, an alternative to it is the more advanced printf.

Let us look at the different output types that can be used:

Specifier Meaning
%i Integer (whole number)
%d Integer (whole number)
%s String
%f Floating-point number (Float: tag)
%c ASCII character
%x Hexadecimal number
%b Binary number
%% Literal '%'
%q Escape a text for SQLite. (Added in 0.3.7 R2)

The integer specifiers - %i and %d

Let’s wrap the both together, in pawn, these two specifiers do the same exact thing, both output integers, even though %i stands for integer and %d stands for decimal, they are a synonym to the same thing.

In other languages, however, the difference lays not in the output, but rather the input with functions like scanf, where %d scans an integer as a signed decimal, and %i defaults to decimal but also allows hexadecimal (if preceded by 0x) and octal (if preceded by 0).

The usages of these two specifiers go as follows:

Code:
printf("%d is here", 2018);
printf("%d + %i = %i", 5, 6, 5 + 6);
Code:
2018 is here
5 + 6 = 11
The output also supports pre-defined constants, variables, and functions too.

Code:
#define CURRENT_YEAR 2018
new age = 19;

printf("It’s %d", CURRENT_YEAR);
printf("He is %d years old", age);
printf("Seconds since midnight 1st January 1970: %d", gettime());
Code:
It's 2018
He is 19 years old
Seconds since midnight 1st January 1970: 1518628594
As you can see, any value we pass in the parameters of the printf function is being replaced by its respective placeholder, and remember, order matters, your placeholders should follow the same order as your parameters in the call, and always use the correct specifier type, not doing so, will not result in an error, but it may output in some unwanted results, but in some cases, those unwanted results are what we want.

What do you think will happen if we tried to print a float or a string using an integer specifier? Let’s find out;

Code:
printf("%d", 1.12);
printf("%d", "Hello");
printf("%d", 'H');
printf("%d", true);
Code:
1066359849
72
72
1
How odd, totally unexpected, but not necessarily useless, this exact behavior is taken advantage of in so many situations.

First of all, let’s see why did 1.12 output 1066359849, well, that‘s something called undefined behavior, you can learn more about this here.

Trying to output a string using an integer specifier will give its first character’s ASCII code, in this case, the character H’s code, 72, the same happens to the output of a single character. And finally, outputting a Boolean will give 1 if it’s true, and 0 if it’s false.

Strings are arrays in themselves, so outputting an array here will give the value of the first slot in that array, how it’s going to be output depends on which type it is (integer, float, character, boolean).

The string specifiers - %s

This specifier, as it stands for string, is responsible for outputting strings (obviously):

Code:
printf("Hello, %s!", "World");
Code:
Hello, world!
Let’s also output non-string values using this too:

Code:
printf("%s", 103);
printf("%s", true);
printf("%s", 'H');
printf("%s", 1.12);
Code:
g

H
)
The number 103 was treated as the ASCII code for g, and thus g was printed, same goes for the strange symbol below it, the character with the value true, a.k.a 1 was printed, more simply, the character H was printed as it is, but hey, what happened to the floating number 1.12? remember the undefined behavior? Yeah, 1.12 resulted in a huge integer, which kept overflowing (its value divided by 255) times, until it resulted in a number between 0 and 254, in this case, 40, which is the ASCII code of the character (.

Again, just like the integer specifier, this accepts pre-defined constants, variables, and functions:

Code:
#define NAME "Max"
new message[] = “Hello there!”;

printf("His name is %s", NAME);
printf("Hey, %s", message);
printf("%s work", #Great);
Code:
His name is Max
Hey, Hello there!
Great work

The float specifiers - %f

This specifier -short for float-, as its name suggests, it outputs floating numbers, on earlier sections, we tried to output floating numbers using the integer specifier, and then we got that undefined behavior, but now, that we know about this specifier, we can safely output floats with no problems;

Code:
printf("%f", 1.235);
printf("%f", 5);
printf("%f", ‘h’);
Code:
1.235000
0.000000
0.000000
The 1.235 floating number got output just fine, with the addition of some padding, however, the rest of all output 0.000000, basically 0, that’s because the %f specifier will only output floating numbers, in other words, numbers that have no fixed number of digits before and after the decimal point; that is, the decimal point can float.

To fix that issue, we simply add the fractional part:

Code:
printf("%f", 5.0);
printf("%f", ‘h’ + 0.0);
Code:
5.000000
104.000000
Although the %f is the most commonly used floating placeholder, the %h specifier does pretty much the same:

Code:
printf("%h", 5.0);
Code:
5.000000

The character specifiers - %c

This specifier, short for character, works like the string placeholder, but it only outputs a single character, let’s observe the following example:

Code:
printf("%c", 'A');
printf("%c", "A");
printf("%c", "Hello");
printf("%c", 105);
printf("%c", 1.2);
printf("%c", true);
Code:
A
A
H
i
s
As you can see, passing a string will output only the first character and passing a number will output the character whose ASCII code matches that number (Booleans are converted to 0 and 1 respectively).

The hexadecimal specifiers - %x

The following specifier outputs the value we pass as a hexadecimal number, simply put, a conversation of numbers from a given base to base 16.

Code:
printf("%x", 6);
printf("%x", 10);
printf("%x", 255);
Code:
6
A
FF
Just like the cases we saw on earlier sections, passing values other than integers will convert them to their respective integer values, and output them as hexadecimal numbers;

Code:
printf("%x", 1.5);
printf("%x", ‘Z’);
printf("%x", “Hello”);
printf("%x", true);
Code:
3FC00000
5A
48
1
The first value “1.5”, will result in an undefined behavior upon its conversion to an integer (1069547520), then the resulting integer will be output as a hexadecimal (3FC00000),
The “Z” character, will have its ASCII value (90) converted to hexadecimal (5A).
The string “Hello” will only have its first character (H) with the ASCII value of (72) converted to hexadecimal (48).
And “true” outputs (1) as a hexadecimal, which is converts to (1), (false will output 0).

The binary specifiers - %b

The following specifier, short for “binary” is used to print passed values as binary numbers, passing characters will convert its ASCII code into binary, and so is the case for strings where only the first character is regarded, Booleans are regarded as true and false respectively, float numbers fall under the case of undefined behavior, as for integers and hexadecimal, they are converted to binary and output.

Code:
printf(%b", 0b0011);
printf(%b", 2);
printf(%b", 2.0);
printf(%b", 0xE2);
printf(%b", ‘T’);
printf(%b", “Hello”);
printf(%b", true);
Code:
11
10
1000000000000000000000000000000
11100010
1010100
1001000
1

The literal %

Much like the default escaping character (\), the compiler views (%) as a special character, and thus treats the sequence as a placeholder, as long as there is a character after the (%) it’s regarded as a specifier even if it’s not valid, let’s observe these two cases;

Code:
printf("%");
printf("Hello %");
printf("% World");
printf("Hello % World");
Code:
%
Hello %
 World
Hello  World
As you can see, having (%) alone as an individual sequence will have it output, but not the same happens when it’s followed by space or any other character, thus it results in outputting a space character.
To trespass this problem, we escape it using another percent sign as follows;

Code:
printf("This is a percent sign %%, we just had to escape it!");
Code:
This is a percent sign %, we just had to escape it!
Of course, this only concerns functions that support formatting, such as printf and format, for example, trying to output a percent sign using the print function will not require you to escape it.

The %q specifier

This one doesn’t hold any big importance in our main topic, it’ widely used to escape sensitive strings when working with SQLite, and trust me, nobody wants to fall under the Bobby table case.

Back when we introduced the placeholders, we reference a specific formula concerning them, as a reminder, here it is;

%[flags][width][.precision]type


So far, we have only talked about the % sign and the type filed, the others are optional, but each one is effective on different cases, you can include them to better control how your values are treated when they are output.

The width filed

This one is responsible for specifying the minimum character output, it can be omitted if needed, you just have to type its value as a numeric integer, let’s look at some examples;

Code:
printf("%3d", 5555);
printf("%3d", 555);
printf("%3d", 55);
printf("%3d", 5);
Code:
5555
555
 55
  5
We instructed the specifier to lock the output to 3 characters or more, at first, outputting 4 and 3 characters number long went fine, but the characters shorter than 3 characters were left padded with spaces to even the output width. There is also the ability to have dynamic width values, for that, we use the asterisk sign (*).

Code:
printf("%*d", 5, 55);
Code:
     55
First, we pass the width’s value which was 5, then the value we want to output (55), so the placeholder outputs a minimum of 5 characters, that’s 5 minus 2, which gives us 3 spaces of padding.

The flags field

This one works really well with the width field, as the width specifies the minimum characters to outputs, this one pads the emptiness left behind with whatever you tell it to. In case there were to spaces left behind, there won’t be any pad.

Code:
printf("%3d", 55);
printf("%5x", 15);
printf("%2f", 1.5)
Code:
055
0000F
01.500000
The first number 55, is short on one character because of the width of the decimal parameter, so it’s padded by one 0. As for 15, it’s converted to its respective hexadecimal value F, and padded with 4 0’s to validate the width of its placeholder. Notice how only the number before the decimal point was padded. The use of dynamic width values remains here too, we just have to include the asterisk, pass a value, and watch the magic happen;

Code:
printf("%0*d", 5, 55);
Code:
00055

The precision field

The Precision field usually specifies a maximum limit on the output, depending on the particular formatting type. For floating point numeric types, it specifies the number of digits to the right of the decimal point that the output should be rounded. For the string type, it limits the number of characters that should be output, after which the string is truncated.

Code:
printf("%.2f", 1.5);
printf("%.*f", 10, 1.5);
printf("%.5s", "Hello world!");
printf("%.*s", 7, "Hello world!");
Code:
1.50
1.5000000000
Hello
Hello w
As you can see, dynamic precision values can be used both with the float and the string placeholders.

A really cool trick we can pull off thanks to the precision field is get substrings, now, now, there are plenty of methods we can use to do that, and that without regarding the native strfind function, and let’s not forget the amazing functions we got at Slice’s strlib include.

Let’s see how we can get the same result using only the precision field.

Code:
substring(const source[], start = 0, length = -1) // The default parameters are just for the heck of it.
{
	new output[256];

	format(output, sizeof(output), "%.*s", length, source[start]);
	return output;
}
Let’s try to decipher this chunk of code, we simply pass the source string, (the string we are going to extract from), a starting position (the slot we are going to start extracting at), and the length of the characters we want to extract.

Our return value will be formatted according to the following placeholder “%.*s”, we are including the precision field, and using it to determine a dynamic value that’s going to be the length of extracted characters, then we provide a starting point for the extraction by adding source[start] which skips starting from the first slot to the slot number start that we passed in the function’s parameters.

Let’s call the function and see how it goes from here:

Code:
new message1[] = "Hello!", message2[] = "I want an apple!";

print(substring(.source = message1, .start = 1, .length = 3));
print(substring(.source = message2, .start = 7, .length = 8));
Code:
ell
an apple
Simple right? Trivia bonus, passing a negative value as the extraction length will result in outputting all the characters in your source string starting from the start slot. In the other hand, passing 0 as the extraction length returns a null value.

Let’a take a look on these cases:

Code:
new message3[] = "Arrays start at 1, says the Lua developer!";

print(substring(message3)); // start = 0 by default, length = -1 by default
print(substring(message3, .length = 6)); // start = 0 by default, length = 6
print(substring(message3, 7, 10)); // start = 7, length = 10
print(substring(message3, strlen(message3) - 14)); // start = 28, length = -1 by default
print(substring(message3, strlen(message3) - 14, 3)); // start = 28, length = 3
Code:
Arrays start at 1, says the Lua developer!
Arrays
start at 1
Lua developer!
Lua

✧ Usage

Putting all what we’ve seen so far to action, we can format our strings pretty match in anyway, so far we’ve worked in mainly in the console, utilizing the print and printf functions to output our data, well, mainly printf that is, thanks to its native support for formatting strings on the go, hence the f on the function’s name.

But in the real world, most people don’t like looking at terminals, they are just too scary, and complicated to the average user, and as you all know, client messages show up on the game’s screen, and not the console, however, those cannot be formatted on the go, they are more like a print function one might say, to bypass this limitation, we utilize and other very effective function, called format, we won’t go deeper on its definition, as we have already gone through explaining it on earlier parts, (refer to this), but, here is a reminder of its syntax;

Code:
format(output[], len, const format[], {Float,_}: ...}
Let’s take a look at these examples;

Example 1: Player name – Assuming there is some play on the server with the id of 9 called Player1:

Code:
// MAX_PLAYER_NAME is a predefined constant with the value of 24, we add 1 to take into account the null terminator, thanks to Pottus for pointing that out.
new playerName[MAX_PLAYER_NAME + 1], output[128], playerid = 9;


GetPlayerName(playerid, playerName, MAX_PLAYER_NAME);
format(output, sizeof(output), "[Info]: the player with the id of %d is called {FFFF00}%s.", playerid, playerName);SendClientMessageToAll(0, output);
Code:
[Info]: the player with the id of 9 is called Player1.
Simply enough, we just get the player name and start formatting out the string, the %d placeholder is responsible on displaying the playerid variables, which holds the value of 9, the %s placeholder displays the playerName string that has the player name in it thanks to the GetPlayerName function.

We then show the formatted string to everyone on the server using the SendClientMessageToAll function, notice that the 0 value on its first parameter indicating the color black, which is going to be the message’s color, the embedded hex number {FFFF00} is what resulted in the player name to be yellow.

Example 2: In-game Clock – Displaying the current time in game:

Code:
new output[128], hours, minutes, seconds;

gettime(hours, minutes, seconds);
format(output, sizeof(output), "It's %02d:%02d %s", hours > 12 ? hours - 12 : hours, minutes, hours < 12 ? ("AM") : ("PM"));
SendClientMessageToAll(0, output);
Again, we just utilized the gettime function to store the hours, minutes and seconds on their variables respectively, then put them all together into a nicely formatted string, we took advantage of the width field (%02d) to pad the values between 0 and 9 with another zero to evade outputs like (“It’s 5:9 PM”), as you can see.

Code:
It’s 06 :17 PM
Example 3: Death message - Outputting a message when a player dies, having the players names colored in their respective colors:

Code:
public OnPlayerDeath(playerid, killerid, reason)
{
    // MAX_PLAYER_NAME is a predefined constant with the value of 24, we add 1 to take into account the null terminator, thanks to Pottus for pointing that out.
    new message[144], playerName[MAX_PLAYER_NAME + 1], killerName[MAX_PLAYER_NAME + 1];
    
    GetPlayerName(playerid, playerName, MAX_PLAYER_NAME);
    GetPlayerName(killerid, killerName, MAX_PLAYER_NAME);

    format(message, sizeof(message), "{%06x}%s {000000}killed {%06x}%s", GetPlayerColor(killerid) >>> 8, killerName, GetPlayerColor(playerid) >>> 8, playerName);
    SendClientMessageToAll(0, message);
    
    return 1;
}
Given the following list of connected players:

IDPlayer
0Compton
1Dark
5Player1
6Bartolomew
11unban_pls

Say, playerid 0 killed playerid 6, the formatted messages should be “{FF0000}Compton {000000}killed {0000FF}Bartolomew”, which will send the following client message to everybody on the server:

Code:
Compton killed Bartolomew
I apologize if I had you confused by using bitwise logical shift, it was simply used here in order to turn the decimal number returned by the GetPlayerColor function into a hexadecimal number representing a color, the shit itself is utilized to omit the alpha space, for more about this, I highly recommend checking out this tutorial by Kyosaur.

✧ Custom specifiers

Working with the formatting specifiers we've gone through so far is sufficient, you can literally do all sort of stuff with those magnificent tools, but nothing is stopping us from asking for me, how greedy of us. All thanks to Slice after being influenced by sscanf, he came up with an amazing include, formatex, which added several new specifiers to use, which really eased a lot of every-day pawn stuff. But that wasn't it, you can also create your own specifiers to suit your needs, and as cool as it might sound, the process is very easy.

Just for testing purposes, let's make something silly, something as basic as giving a string as an input, and return it on the form of a link (https://www.string.com);

Code:
FormatSpecifier<'n'>(output[], const param[]) {
	format(output, sizeof(output), "https://www.%s.com", param);
}
As simple as that, and thus, the mighty %n specifier (short for Newton because it's very cool and rocket science complicated ) was born, let's test this champ out:

Code:
printf("%n", "samp");
This outputs:

Code:
https://www.samp.com
Don't let this example deceive you, this can be very effective and complete in any way, there are better examples at the main release page, please go check it out, and reward the author with some crisp reputation.
✦ External links

✧ Similar tutorials
✧ Related includes/plugins
✧ References
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Last edited by Eoussama; 14/06/2018 at 03:05 PM. Reason: Few text formatting changes and misconception fixes, thanks to Pottus.
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Old 29/05/2018, 01:52 PM   #2
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Default Re: Beginner to Intermediate guide - String formatting

Nice it's pretty clear that you have put a lot of effort in creating this tutorial.Good job
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Old 29/05/2018, 03:27 PM   #3
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Default Re: Beginner to Intermediate guide - String formatting

wtf that's awesome, teach me how to write tutorials like that, good job!
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Old 29/05/2018, 03:50 PM   #4
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Default Re: Beginner to Intermediate guide - String formatting

This is incredibly incredibly incredibly AWESOME!

There should be a PDF for this xd IT'S SO HUGE
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Old 29/05/2018, 03:57 PM   #5
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Default Re: Beginner to Intermediate guide - String formatting

Quote:
Originally Posted by SyS View Post
Nice it's pretty clear that you have put a lot of effort in creating this tutorial.Good job
Quote:
Originally Posted by RogueDrifter View Post
wtf that's awesome, teach me how to write tutorials like that, good job!
Quote:
Originally Posted by RxErT View Post
This is incredibly incredibly incredibly AWESOME!

There should be a PDF for this xd IT'S SO HUGE

Eoussama.pdf

*thank me later*
Thanks, I appreciate the time you took to check it out.

@RxErT I was hesitant whether or not I should forward a download link for the .docx file of this tutorial, mainly because it's not complete and slightly outdated, think of it as a draft/prototype for the making of this tutorial:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/wclwfbxbgs...orial.rar?dl=0
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Old 29/05/2018, 03:57 PM   #6
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Default Re: Beginner to Intermediate guide - String formatting

Code:
ew playerName[MAX_PLAYER_NAME], output[128], playerid = 9;


GetPlayerName(playerid, playerName, MAX_PLAYER_NAME);
format(output, sizeof(output), "[Info]: the player with the id of %d is called {FFFF00}%s.", playerid, playerName);SendClientMessageToAll(0, output);
Just going to point out that when defining strings with a size of MAX_PLAYER_NAME it should be MAX_PLAYER_NAME+1 to take in account the null terminator if the player name is indeed the maximum.
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Old 29/05/2018, 04:07 PM   #7
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Default Re: Beginner to Intermediate guide - String formatting

Wow nice nice nice nice you got my rep
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Old 29/05/2018, 04:09 PM   #8
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Default Re: Beginner to Intermediate guide - String formatting

Quote:
Originally Posted by XXpro View Post
Wow nice nice nice nice you got my rep
Thanks, glad it helped.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pottus View Post
Code:
ew playerName[MAX_PLAYER_NAME], output[128], playerid = 9;

GetPlayerName(playerid, playerName, MAX_PLAYER_NAME);
format(output, sizeof(output), "[Info]: the player with the id of %d is called {FFFF00}%s.", playerid, playerName);SendClientMessageToAll(0, output);
Just going to point out that when defining strings with a size of MAX_PLAYER_NAME it should be MAX_PLAYER_NAME+1 to take in account the null terminator if the player name is indeed the maximum.
Thank you very much, fixed.
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Old 31/05/2018, 07:46 PM   #9
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Default Re: Beginner to Intermediate guide - String formatting

Amazing! +rep
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