How Culture Affects Strings in Visual Basic

This Help page discusses how Visual Basic uses culture information to perform string conversions and comparisons.

When to Use Culture-Specific Strings

Typically, you should use culture-specific strings for all data presented to and read from users, and use culture-invariant strings for your application's internal data.

For example, if your application asks users to enter a date as a string, it should expect users to format the strings according to their culture, and the application should convert the string appropriately. If your application then presents that date in its user interface, it should present it in the user's culture.

However, if the application uploads the date to a central server, it should format the string according to one specific culture, to prevent confusion between potentially different date formats.

Culture-Sensitive Functions

All of the Visual Basic string-conversion functions (except for the Str and Val functions) use the application's culture information to make sure that the conversions and comparisons are appropriate for the culture of the application's user.

The key to successfully using string-conversion functions in applications that run on computers with different culture settings is to understand which functions use a specific culture setting, and which use the current culture setting. Notice that the application's culture settings are, by default, inherited from the culture settings of the operating system. For more information, see Asc, AscW, Chr, ChrW, Format, Hex, Oct, and Type Conversion Functions.

The Str (converts numbers to strings) and Val (converts strings to numbers) functions do not use the application's culture information when converting between strings and numbers. Instead, they recognize only the period (.) as a valid decimal separator. The culturally-aware analogues of these functions are:

  • Conversions that use the current culture. The CStr and Format functions convert a number to a string, and the CDbl and CInt functions convert a string to a number.

  • Conversions that use a specific culture. Each number object has a ToString(IFormatProvider) method that converts a number to a string, and a Parse(String, IFormatProvider) method that converts a string to a number. For example, the Double type provides the ToString(IFormatProvider) and Parse(String, IFormatProvider) methods.

For more information, see Str and Val.

Using a Specific Culture

Imagine that you are developing an application that sends a date (formatted as a string) to a Web service. In this case, your application must use a specific culture for the string conversion. To illustrate why, consider the result of using the date's ToString() method: If your application uses that method to format the date July 4, 2005, it returns "7/4/2005 12:00:00 AM" when run with the United States English (en-US) culture, but it returns "04.07.2005 00:00:00" when run with the German (de-DE) culture.

When you need to perform a string conversion in a specific culture format, you should use the CultureInfo class that is built into the .NET Framework. You can create a new CultureInfo object for a specific culture by passing the culture's name to the CultureInfo constructor. The supported culture names are listed in the CultureInfo class Help page.

Alternatively, you can get an instance of the invariant culture from the CultureInfo.InvariantCulture property. The invariant culture is based on the English culture, but there are some differences. For example, the invariant culture specifies a 24-hour clock instead of a 12-hour clock.

To convert a date to the culture's string, pass the CultureInfo object to the date object's ToString(IFormatProvider) method. For example, the following code displays "07/04/2005 00:00:00", regardless of the application's culture settings.

Dim d As Date = #7/4/2005#


Date literals are always interpreted according to the English culture.

Comparing Strings

There are two important situations where string comparisons are needed:

  • Sorting data for display to the user. Use operations based on the current culture so the strings sort appropriately.

  • Determining if two application-internal strings exactly match (typically for security purposes). Use operations that disregard the current culture.

You can perform both types of comparisons with the Visual Basic StrComp function. Specify the optional Compare argument to control the type of comparison: Text for most input and output Binary for determining exact matches.

The StrComp function returns an integer that indicates the relationship between the two compared strings based on the sorting order. A positive value for the result indicates that the first string is greater than the second string. A negative result indicates the first string is smaller, and zero indicates equality between the strings.

' Defines variables.
Dim testStr1 As String = "ABCD"
Dim testStr2 As String = "abcd"
Dim testComp As Integer
' The two strings sort equally. Returns 0.
testComp = StrComp(testStr1, testStr2, CompareMethod.Text)
' testStr1 sorts before testStr2. Returns -1.
testComp = StrComp(testStr1, testStr2, CompareMethod.Binary)
' testStr2 sorts after testStr1. Returns 1.
testComp = StrComp(testStr2, testStr1, CompareMethod.Binary)

You can also use the .NET Framework partner of the StrComp function, the String.Compare method. This is a static, overloaded method of the base string class. The following example illustrates how this method is used:

Dim myString As String = "Alphabetical"
Dim secondString As String = "Order"
Dim result As Integer
result = String.Compare(myString, secondString)

For finer control over how the comparisons are performed, you can use additional overloads of the Compare method. With the String.Compare method, you can use the comparisonType argument to specify which type of comparison to use.

Value for comparisonType argument Type of comparison When to use
Ordinal Comparison based on strings' component bytes. Use this value when comparing: case-sensitive identifiers, security-related settings, or other non-linguistic identifiers where the bytes must match exactly.
OrdinalIgnoreCase Comparison based on strings' component bytes.

OrdinalIgnoreCase uses the invariant culture information to determine when two characters differ only in capitalization.
Use this value when comparing: case-insensitive identifiers, security-related settings, and data stored in Windows.
CurrentCulture or CurrentCultureIgnoreCase Comparison based on the strings' interpretation in the current culture. Use these values when comparing: data that is displayed to the user, most user input, and other data that requires linguistic interpretation.
InvariantCulture or InvariantCultureIgnoreCase Comparison based on the strings' interpretation in the invariant culture.

This is different than the Ordinal and OrdinalIgnoreCase, because the invariant culture treats characters outside its accepted range as equivalent invariant characters.
Use these values only when comparing persisting data or displaying linguistically-relevant data that requires a fixed sort order.

Security Considerations

If your application makes security decisions based on the result of a comparison or case-change operation, then the operation should use the String.Compare method, and pass Ordinal or OrdinalIgnoreCase for the comparisonType argument.

See also