De facto standard

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A de facto standard is a custom or convention that has achieved a dominant position by public acceptance or market forces (for example, by early entrance to the market). De facto is a Latin phrase that means in fact (literally by or from fact) in the sense of "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established", as opposed to de jure.

The term de facto standard is used in contrast with obligatory standards (also known as "de jure standards"); or to express the dominant voluntary standard, when there is more than one standard available for the same use.

In social sciences, a voluntary standard that is also a de facto standard is a typical solution to a coordination problem.[1] The choice of a de facto standard tends to be stable in situations in which all parties can realize mutual gains, but only by making mutually consistent decisions. In contrast, an enforced "de jure standard" is a solution to the prisoner's problem.[1]


A selection of well-known and illustrative examples of de facto and de jure standards are:

  • with consolidation by tradition of use:
    • The driver's seat side in a given country starts as a user/industry preference, turning to a local tradition, then a traffic code local norm.
    • The QWERTY system was one of several options for the layout of letters on typewriter (and later keyboard) keys. It was developed to prevent adjacent keys from jamming on early and later mechanical typewriters, often attributed to the typist's speed.[2] It became a de facto standard because it was used on the most commercially successful early typewriters.
    • The ASCII text character set, standardized in 1963 is still in use. Document files containing ASCII usually have the TXT extension.
    • The MP3 audio format started as an alternative to CD WAV (lossless format) for Internet music distribution, then replaced it — it is now supported by the vast majority of music players, audio transport, audio storage and noncommercial media. WAV and MP3 are also "de jure ISO formats".
  • with consolidation by uniqueness and efficiency:
    • HTML (computer file format) started as "de facto" (1993-1995) and became the "de jure" standard (1995–present day).
    • PDF (computer file format) was first created in 1993 by Adobe. Adobe internal standards were part of its software quality systems, but they were neither published nor coordinated by a standards body. With the Acrobat Reader program available for free, and continued support of the format, PDF eventually became the de facto standard for printable documents. In 2005, PDF/A became a de jure standard as ISO 19005-1:2005.[3] In 2008 Adobe's PDF 1.7 became ISO 32000-1:2008.[4][5]

Examples of long-time de facto but never de jure standards (for computer file formats):

  • AutoCAD DXF: a de facto ASCII format for import and export of CAD drawings and fragments in the 1980s and 1990s. In the 2000s, XML based standards emerged as de facto standards.
  • Microsoft Word DOC (over all other old PC word processors): one of the best known de facto standards. Due to the market dominance of Word, it is supported by all office applications that intend to compete with it, typically by reverse engineering the undocumented file format. Microsoft has repeatedly internally changed the file specification between versions of Word to suit their own needs, while continuing to reuse the same file extension identifier for different versions.

Other examples:

Standards battles

There are many examples of de facto consolidation (of a standard) by market forces and competition, in a two-sided market, after a dispute. Examples:

Examples of standards that are "in dispute" for turns de facto:

See also


  1. ^ a b Ullmann-Margalit, Edna (1977). The Emergence of Norms. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-824411-8. 
  2. ^ QWERTY
  3. ^ "ISO 19005-1:2005 - Document management -- Electronic document file format for long-term preservation -- Part 1: Use of PDF 1.4 (PDF/A-1)". Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  4. ^ "ISO 32000-1:2008 - Document management -- Portable document format -- Part 1: PDF 1.7". Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  5. ^ "Adobe - Release PDF for Industry Standardization FAQ". Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  6. ^ Zussman, John Unger (1982-08-23). "Let's keep those systems open". InfoWorld. p. 29. Retrieved 29 January 2015. 
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