Open Standards examples

A standard is a set of rules on which people agree. Information about those conventions are gathered in a document, called a specification. Different groups and companies then use the specification as a guide book for designing systems that support the standard, and can communicate with each other.

The purpose a specification is to make it possible for implementers to build different software to handle the same data, and still get exactly the same result.

For example: Jane writes a sentence in English. John, who speaks English, wants to read it.

If John is to understand Jane's sentence, it must respect rules of the English language:

  • Each word must be separated by a space
  • Words must be ordered from left to right on the page
  • Sentences must appear beneath one another

Without these rules, Janes's sentence would look to John like a random collection of letters, and he wouldn't understand Janes' intended meaning.

Technological standards serve the same purpose; they describe ways to consistently organise information so that it can be understood and used by multiple independent applications. Standards which are used for information storage are called 'format', and those for transmissing it are called' protocols'.

Looking at real-world standards in use today helps illustrate this point.

By fixing the rules that apps use, and making them available to everyone, Open Standards provide cooperation and interoperability. On the contrary, proprietary standards keep technology secret and incompatible.

What Open Standards mean to you

Open Standards ensure that you can:

  • Collaborate and communicate with others, regardless of which software they are using
  • Upgrade or replace your apps and still be able to open and edit your old files
  • Choose which phone / tablet / computer you want to use without worrying about compatibility

Open Standards ensure that society has:

  • More competitive software and tech products
  • More efficient governmental systems and services
  • More accessible high-end software for innovation and experimentation
  • Long-term way to archive information, independently of software vendors

Examples of Open Standards

"Open Standard" have a tremendous impact on the technology we use daily. Each action done on a computer (opening a web-page, looking at a picture, listening to music or writing a text) relies on one or more standards. Bellow, we will have a look at two widely used Open Standards: a file format and a protocol, to understand why they are so important.

Examples of file formats

A file format is a standard way to encode digital information for storage. Most users know formats through extensions of files they share or store on their computer: .pdf, .png, .odt, .txt ect.


PNG, or Portable Network Graphics, is a file format for images. It is is widely used by images on websites. PNG images must be displayed in the same way by image editors, image viewers, web browsers, and many other sorts of applications. But the way those images are stored or transmitted is as files containing samples in binary form and metadata.

For this reason, PNG's specifications give many information to make sense of the numbers:

It explains the way data is represented in a PNG file

  • in which order should the bytes be read and written?
  • how are the colours represented? Here, by grayscale or mixes of red, green and blue (RGB), that have a set correspondence in binary numbers
  • it explains the file structure : where to find what information in the file? It concerns for instance colours, metadata, physical pixel dimensions, transparency information...
  • it explains how to handle compression and decompression of the data
  • it gives advice and answers frequently asked questions.

Thanks to those informations, anyone can:

  • write a software that can open .png images
  • implement PNG support in an existing support
  • transform an image in an other format in PNG
  • share PNG images without forcing people we share it with to use the same software we use

When several processes, software or computers want to communicate, they also have to agree on a set of standardized rules. It is called a protocol.

Data protocol examples

Protocols are sets of formal rules describing how to transmit or exchange data, inside or between computers.

IP (Internet Protocol)

IP is an Open Standard that played a key role is enabling the networked world we live in. By agreeing to use it to transmit packages of data across network boundaries, the first computer network operators built the internet, the network of networks. Today's internet is still based on this technology.

It specifies that each data packet has to include the address it is heading to, and the address it was sent from. These addresses are stored separately to the data itself like the label on a parcel containing a gift. The IP protocol tells computers how to differentiate between the address on the packet and it's contents, among other useful details.

The success of the Internet owes a lot to Open Standards. Researchers, students, companies all decided to use it and build infrastructure around it. If you are browsing the web right now, it is thanks to Open Standards!

To ensure interoperability and wide access to technologies and, we must insist on Open Standards.

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