Unicode Frequently Asked Questions

Standards Developing Organizations

Q: What is an SDO?

SDO is short for a Standards Developing Organization—any organization which is active in the development of standards.

Q: What are the other SDOs besides the Unicode Consortium which are active in creating standards for characters and the related arena of internationalization?

There are many. In the international arena there are a number of organizations responsible for standards, including non-treaty international organizations such as ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), and treaty-based organizations such as the ITU (International Telecommunications Union).

On the national level, each nation participating in standardization has its own national body responsible for its standards and for cooperating with ISO internationally. Some of these include ANSI (U.S.), DIN (Germany), BSI (U.K.), AFNOR (France), NSAI (Ireland), JISC (Japan), BIS (India), KATS (RoK), and SAC (China). A complete list, including contact information, is available on the ISO website at ISO Members.

Then there are a number of industrial consortia or other organizations which also participate in standardization. Those most important in the area of IT standards interacting with the Unicode Standard include the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force).

Q: What names do these organization use for their standards?

The terminology varies by organization. The most important terms you will tend to run into are:

Q: What about terminology for early drafts of standards?

The terminology for early drafts varies even more, because each SDO has its own procedures for document review and approval. For details on ISO standards and amendments, see ISO abbreviations. For details on W3C recommendations, see W3C abbreviations. For details on IETF RFCs and internet drafts, see IETF abbreviations.

Q: Can you clarify the various ballot stages for ISO standards documents?

Sure. The ISO balloting process is rather complex, and there are different terms and abbreviations for different types of documents, at each stage of balloting. The most important of these are summarized in the table below:

Ballot Type: Committee Enquiry Approval
Ballot Period: 8 weeks 20 weeks 8 weeks
Standard: CD DIS FDIS
Amendment: CDAM DAM FDAM

An ordinary standard (or amendment to a standard) goes through the three ballot stages: committee draft ballot > enquiry ballot > approval ballot. The default ballot period for a committee draft ballot or an approval ballot is 8 weeks, but can be extended to 12 weeks or 16 weeks, if necessary. An enquiry ballot involves an 8 week period for translation, followed by a 12 week ballot.

Including stages that precede the balloting of the CD and the final approved International Standard, the full sequence is: NP > WD > CD > DIS > FDIS > IS.

ISO Technical Reports and Corrigenda have a more abbreviated process, with fewer ballot steps.

Q: How do SDOs do their work?

Most SDOs tend to parcel out their standardization work to committees or subcommittees that focus on particular standards in a particular area. Those committees develop draft documents, which are then subject to review and approval, either by a formal balloting process or some other specified means of reaching consensus.

Q: Where can I find details about the procedures used by other SDOs?

ISO and JTC1 publish their procedures in documents called Directives. The ISO Directives and JTC1 Supplement are the most relevant to character encoding and internationalization standards. For the IETF, see RFC 2026 The Internet Standards Process and the updated informal guide,the The IETF process: an informal guide. For the W3C, see the World Wide Web Consortium Process Document.

Q: What committees does the Unicode Consortium work with in ISO?

JTC1 (Joint Technical Committee 1) is the ISO committee responsible for information technology standards. SC2 (Subcommittee 2) of JTC 1 is the subcommittee responsible for character encoding and collation. SC2 has a working group, WG2, which includes among its projects ISO/IEC 10646, the International Standard which is maintained in synchronization with the Unicode Standard.

Q: How is that work with ISO coordinated?

The Unicode Consortium has a direct liaison relationship with SC2 and WG2. Separately, there is a formal ISO balloting process, in which the various national bodies participate. The Unicode Consortium is a member of L2, the committee of INCITS (InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards), which the U.S. national body, ANSI, has designated as responsible for U.S. positions on balloting for International Standards. The Unicode Technical Committee co-hosts the L2 committee meetings, to assist in this coordination effort. Other Unicode Consortium members also participate in other national bodies' review, feedback and balloting on SC2 standards.

Q: What committees does the Unicode Consortium work with in W3C?

The W3C divides its work up into areas called W3C Activities. Each W3C Activity is then associated with one or more working groups and/or interest groups. The Unicode Consortium is most significantly concerned with the Internationalization Activity, although also participating in activities related to XML, HTML, Math, and Security, among others. Unicode Consortium members may also be formal members of the W3C, and individuals participate in the various working groups of the relevant W3C Activities.

Q: What committees does the Unicode Consortium work with in IETF?

The IETF does not have permanent committees, but instead charters working groups to work on the development of particular RFCs on a designated topic related to internet standards. Membership in IETF working groups is open to whomever wishes to participate, and the working group is terminated once its particular document has been completed and published. Unicode Consortium members have participated in various working groups over time. Of recent interest have been working groups in the IETF Applications and Real-Time Area: idnabis (Internationalized Domain Names in Applications (Revised)) and ltru (Language Tag Registry Update) [both no longer active].

Q: What other organizations are developing related specifications?

While not a traditional SDO, ICANN has been developing specifications for Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), including the development of DNS Root Zone Label Generation Rules (RZ-LGR) and Reference Label Generation Rules. The process involves local committees called Generation Panels open to volunteers, as well as a team of paid experts that reviews and integrates the resulting proposals after an open public comment process. The specifications generally consist of a collection of files with one per script or language. [AF]