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The OpenType Font File

An OpenType font file contains data, in table format, that comprises either a TrueType or a PostScript outline font. Rasterizers use combinations of data from the tables contained in the font to render the TrueType or PostScript glyph outlines. Some of this supporting data is used no matter which outline format is used; some of the supporting data is specific to either TrueType or PostScript.


OpenType fonts may have the extension .OTF or .TTF, depending on the kind of outlines in the font and the creator's desire for compatibility on systems without native OpenType support.

  • In all cases, fonts with only CFF data (no TrueType outlines) always have an .OTF extension.
  • Fonts containing TrueType outlines may have either .OTF or .TTF, depending on the desire for backward compatibility on older systems or with previous versions of the font.
  • Collection fonts that use TrueType outlines should have a .TTC extension, regarless of whether layout tables are present or not. Collection fonts that use CFF or CFF2 outlines should have an .OTC extension.

Data Types

The following data types are used in the OpenType font file. All OpenType fonts use Motorola-style byte ordering (Big Endian):

Data TypeDescription
uint88-bit unsigned integer.
int88-bit signed integer.
uint1616-bit unsigned integer.
int1616-bit signed integer.
uint2424-bit unsigned integer.
uint3232-bit unsigned integer.
int3232-bit signed integer.
Fixed32-bit signed fixed-point number (16.16)
FWORDint16 that describes a quantity in font design units.
UFWORDuint16 that describes a quantity in font design units.
F2DOT1416-bit signed fixed number with the low 14 bits of fraction (2.14).
LONGDATETIMEDate represented in number of seconds since 12:00 midnight, January 1, 1904. The value is represented as a signed 64-bit integer.
TagArray of four uint8s (length = 32 bits) used to identify a script, language system, feature, or baseline
Offset16Short offset to a table, same as uint16, NULL offset = 0x0000
Offset32Long offset to a table, same as uint32, NULL offset = 0x00000000

The F2DOT14 format consists of a signed, 2's complement integer and an unsigned fraction. To compute the actual value, take the integer and add the fraction. Examples of 2.14 values are:

Decimal ValueHex ValueIntegerFraction

Version Numbers

Most tables have version numbers, and the version number for the entire font is contained in the Table Directory. Note that there are five different version number types, each with its own numbering scheme.

  • A single uint16 field. This is used in a number of tables, usually with versions starting at zero (0).
  • Separate, uint16 major and minor version fields. This is used in a number of tables, usually with versions starting at 1.0.
  • A Fixed field for major/minor version numbers. This is used in the maxppost and vhea tables.
  • A uint32 field with enumerated values.
  • A uint32 field with a numeric value. This is used only in the DSIG table.

When a Fixed number is used as a version, the upper 16 bits comprise a major version number, and the lower 16 bits a minor version. Tables with non-zero minor version numbers always specify the literal value of the version number since the normal representation of Fixed numbers is not necessarily followed. For example, the version number of 'maxp' table version 0.5 is 0x00005000, and that of 'vhea' table version 1.1 is 0x00011000.

The Table Directory uses a uint32 field with an enumeration of defined values that represent four-character tags; see the section below, “Organization of an OpenType Font”, for details.

Implementations reading tables must include code to check version numbers so that, if and when the format and therefore the version number changes, older implementations will handle newer versions gracefully.

Minor version number changes always imply format changes that are compatible extensions. When a single uint16 number is used to indicate version, it should be treated as though it were a minor version number, assuming that format changes are compatible extensions. If an implementation understands a major version number, then it can safely proceed reading the table. If the minor version is greater than the latest version recognized by the implementation, then the extension fields will be undetectable to the implementation.

Note that some field values that were undefined or reserved in an earlier revision may be assigned meanings in a minor version change. Implementations should never make assumptions regarding reserved or unassigned values or bits in bit fields, and can ignore them if encountered. When writing font data, tools should always write zero for reserved fields or bits. Validators should warn of any non-zero values for fields or bits that are not defined for the given version against which data is being validated.

If the major version is not recognized, the implementation must not read the table as it can make no assumptions regarding interpretation of the binary data. The implementation should treat the table as missing.

Organization of an OpenType Font

A key characteristic of the OpenType format is the TrueType sfnt “wrapper”, which provides organization for a collection of tables in a general and extensible manner.

The OpenType font starts with the Offset Table. If the font file contains only one font, the Offset Table will begin at byte 0 of the file. If the font file is an OpenType Font Collection file (see below), the beginning point of the Offset Table for each font is indicated in the TTCHeader.

Offset Table
uint32sfntVersion0x00010000 or 0x4F54544F ('OTTO') — see below.
uint16numTablesNumber of tables.
uint16searchRange(Maximum power of 2 <= numTables) x 16.
uint16entrySelectorLog2(maximum power of 2 <= numTables).
uint16rangeShiftNumTables x 16-searchRange.

OpenType fonts that contain TrueType outlines should use the value of 0x00010000 for the sfntVersion. OpenType fonts containing CFF data (version 1 or 2) should use the tag 'OTTO' for sfntVersion.

NOTE: The Apple specification for TrueType fonts allows for 'true' and 'typ1' for sfnt version. These version tags should not be used for fonts which contain OpenType tables.

The Offset Table is followed immediately by the Table Record entries. Entries in the Table Record must be sorted in ascending order by tag. Offset values in the Table Record are measured from the start of the font file.

Table Record
uint32tag4 -byte identifier.
uint32checkSumCheckSum for this table.
Offset32offsetOffset from beginning of TrueType font file.
uint32lengthLength of this table.

The Table Record makes it possible for a given font to contain only those tables it actually needs. As a result there is no standard value for numTables.

Tags are the names given to tables in the OpenType font file. All tag names consist of four characters. Names with less than four letters are allowed if followed by the necessary trailing spaces. All tag names defined within a font (e.g., table names, feature tags, language tags) must be built from printing characters represented by ASCII values 32-126.

Calculating Checksums

Table checksums are the unsigned sum of the uint32 units of a given table. In C, the following function can be used to determine a checksum:

uint32CalcTableChecksum(uint32 *Table, uint32 Length){uint32 Sum = 0L;uint32 *Endptr = Table+((Length+3) & ~3) / sizeof(uint32);while (Table < EndPtr)    Sum += *Table++;return Sum;}

Note: This function implies that the length of a table must be a multiple of four bytes. In fact, a font is not considered structurally well-formed without the correct padding. All tables must begin on four-byte boundries, and any remaining space between tables is padded with zeros. The length of all tables should be recorded in the table record with their actual length (not their padded length).

To calculate the checkSum for the 'head' table which itself includes the checkSumAdjustment entry for the entire font, do the following:

  1. Set the checkSumAdjustment to 0.
  2. Calculate the checksum for all the tables including the 'head' table and enter that value into the table directory.
  3. Calculate the checksum for the entire font.
  4. Subtract that value from the hex value B1B0AFBA.
  5. Store the result in checkSumAdjustment.

The checkSum for the head table which includes the checkSumAdjustment entry for the entire font is now incorrect. That is not a problem. Do not change it. An application attempting to verify that the 'head' table has not changed should calculate the checkSum for that table by not including the checkSumAdjustment value, and compare the result with the entry in the table directory.  

Font Collections

An OpenType Font Collection (formerly known as TrueType Collection) is a means of delivering multiple OpenType fonts in a single file structure. The format for font collections allows font tables that are identical between two or more fonts to be shared. Font collections containing outline glyph data (TrueType, CFF, CFF2 or SVG) are most useful when the fonts to be delivered together share many glyphs in common. By allowing multiple fonts to share glyph sets and other common font tables, font collections can result in a significant saving of file space.

For example, a group of Japanese fonts may each have their own designs for the kana glyphs, but share identical designs for the kanji. With ordinary OpenType font files, the only way to include the common kanji glyphs is to copy their glyph data into each font. Since the kanji represent much more data than the kana, this results in a great deal of wasteful duplication of glyph data. Font collections were defined to solve this problem.

Note: Even though the original definition of a Font Collection (as part of the TrueType specification) was intended to be used with fonts containing TrueType outlines, and this constraint was maintained in earlier OpenType versions, this is no longer a constraint in OpenType. Font collection files may contain various types of outlines (or a mix of them), regardless of whether or not fonts have layout tables present.

Note: A variable font using OpenType Font Variations mechanisms is functionally equivalent to multiple non-variable fonts. Variable fonts do not need to be contained within a collection file. A collection file can include one or even multiple variable fonts, however, and may even combine variable and non-variable fonts.

The Font Collection File Structure

A font collection file consists of a single TTC Header table, one or more Offset Tables with Table Directories, and a number of OpenType tables. The TTC Header must be located at the beginning of the TTC file.

The TTC file must contain a complete Offset Table and Table Directory for each font. A TTC file Table Directory has exactly the same format as a TTF file Table Directory. The table offsets in all Table Directories within a TTC file are measured from the beginning of the TTC file.

Each OpenType table in a TTC file is referenced through the Offset Table and Table Directory of each font which uses that table. Some of the OpenType tables must appear multiple times, once for each font included in the TTC; while other tables may be shared by multiple fonts in the TTC.

As an example, consider a TTC file which combines two Japanese fonts (Font1 and Font2). The fonts have different kana designs (Kana1 and Kana2) but use the same design for kanji. The TTC file contains a single 'glyf' table which includes both designs of kana together with the kanji; both fonts' Table Directories point to this 'glyf' table. But each font's Table Directory points to a different 'cmap' table, which identifies the glyph set to use. Font1's 'cmap' table points to the Kana1 region of the 'loca' and 'glyf' tables for kana glyphs, and to the kanji region for the kanji. Font2's 'cmap' table points to the Kana2 region of the 'loca' and 'glyf' tables for kana glyphs, and to the same kanji region for the kanji.

The tables that should have a unique copy per font are those that are used by the system in identifying the font and its character mapping, including 'cmap', 'name', and 'OS/2'. The tables that should be shared by fonts in the TTC are those that define glyph and instruction data or use glyph indices to access data: 'glyf', 'loca', 'hmtx', 'hdmx', 'LTSH', 'cvt ', 'fpgm', 'prep', 'EBLC', 'EBDT', 'EBSC', 'maxp', and so on. In practice, any tables which have identical data for two or more fonts may be shared.

A tool is available from Microsoft to help build .TTC files. The process involves paying close attention the issue of glyph renumbering in a font and the side effects that can result, in the 'cmap' table and elsewhere. The fonts to be merged must also have compatible TrueType instructions-that is, their preprograms, function definitions, and control values must not conflict.

Collection files containing TrueType glyph outlnes should use the filename suffix .TTC. Collection files containing CFF or CFF2 outlines should use the file extension .OTC.

TTC Header

There are two versions of the TTC Header: Version 1.0 has been used for TTC files without digital signatures. Version 2.0 can be used for TTC files with or without digital signatures -- if there's no signature, then the last three fields of the version 2.0 header are left null.

If a digital signature is used, the DSIG table for the file must be the last table in the TTC file. Signatures in a TTC file are expected to be Format 1 signatures.

The purpose of the TTC Header table is to locate the different Offset Tables within a TTC file. The TTC Header is located at the beginning of the TTC file (offset = 0). It consists of an identification tag, a version number, a count of the number of OpenType fonts in the file, and an array of offsets to each Offset Table.

TTC Header Version 1.0
TAGttcTagFont Collection ID string: 'ttcf' (used for used for fonts with CFF or CFF2 outlines as well as TrueType outlines)
uint16majorVersionMajor version of the TTC Header, = 1.
uint16minorVersionMinor version of the TTC Header, = 0.
uint32numFontsNumber of fonts in TTC
Offset32offsetTable[numFonts]Array of offsets to the OffsetTable for each font from the beginning of the file
TTC Header Version 2.0
TAGttcTagFont Collection ID string: 'ttcf'
uint16majorVersionMajor version of the TTC Header, = 2.
uint16minorVersionMinor version of the TTC Header, = 0.
uint32numFontsNumber of fonts in TTC
Offset32offsetTable[numFonts]Array of offsets to the OffsetTable for each font from the beginning of the file
uint32dsigTagTag indicating that a DSIG table exists, 0x44534947 ('DSIG') (null if no signature)
uint32dsigLengthThe length (in bytes) of the DSIG table (null if no signature)
uint32dsigOffsetThe offset (in bytes) of the DSIG table from the beginning of the TTC file (null if no signature)

Font Tables

The TrueType rasterizer has a much easier time traversing tables if they are padded so that each table begins on a 4-byte boundary. Also, the algorithm for calculating table checksums assumes that tables are 32-bit aligned. For this reason, all tables must be 32-bit aligned and padded with zeroes.

OpenType Tables

Whether TrueType or PostScript outlines are used in an OpenType font, the following tables are required for the font to function correctly:

Required Tables

cmapCharacter to glyph mapping
headFont header
hheaHorizontal header
hmtxHorizontal metrics
maxpMaximum profile
nameNaming table
OS/2OS/2 and Windows specific metrics
postPostScript information

For OpenType fonts based on TrueType outlines, the following tables are used:

Tables Related to TrueType Outlines

cvtControl Value Table (optional table)
fpgmFont program (optional table)
glyfGlyph data
locaIndex to location
prepCVT Program (optional table)
gaspGrid-fitting/Scan-conversion (optional table)

The PostScript font extensions define a new set of tables containing data specific to PostScript fonts that are used instead of the tables listed above.

Tables Related to PostScript Outlines

CFFCompact Font Format 1.0
CFF2Compact Font Format 2.0
VORGVertical Origin (optional table)

It is strongly recommended that CFF OpenType fonts that are used for vertical writing include a Vertical Origin ('VORG') table. Multiple Master support in OpenType, has been discontinued as of version 1.3 of the specification. The 'MMSD' 'MMFX' tables have hence been removed.

Table related to SVG outlines

SVGThe SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) table

Tables Related to Bitmap Glyphs

EBDTEmbedded bitmap data
EBLCEmbedded bitmap location data
EBSCEmbedded bitmap scaling data
CBDTColor bitmap data
CBLCColor bitmap location data
sbixStandard bitmap graphics

OpenType fonts may also contain bitmaps of glyphs, in addition to outlines. Hand-tuned bitmaps are especially useful in OpenType fonts for representing complex glyphs at very small sizes. If a bitmap for a particular size is provided in a font, it will be used by the system instead of the outline when rendering the glyph. 

There are also several optional tables that support vertical layout as well as other advanced typographic functions:

Advanced Typographic Tables

BASEBaseline data
GDEFGlyph definition data
GPOSGlyph positioning data
GSUBGlyph substitution data
JSTFJustification data
MATHMath layout data

For information on common table formats, please see OpenType Layout Common Table Formats .

Tables used for OpenType Font Variations

avarAxis variations

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