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Standards and Codes

An introduction to codes and standards: what they are, where they come from, how to get them.

Standards are Complicated!

Finding standards can be complicated and confusing. There are thousands of standards from a mind-boggling array of sources. You'll encounter cryptic numbering systems and frequent changes.

Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about standards. I worked in industry for many years and have a lot of experience with standards.

See my contact information on the left side of this page.

Paul Hottinger
Engineering Librarian

About Standards

What are standards?

From ANSI's educational website Why Standards Matter, Module 1, Lesson 1:
A standard is "a recognized unit of comparison by which the correctness of others can be determined." Another definition is "a set of characteristics or qualities that describes features of a product, process, or service."

Who produces standards?

Professional associations (e.g. ASME, IEEE, and SAE), trade organizations, and governments create and produce standards. Standards are produced nationally and internationally. In the United States, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) coordinates many standards producing organizations.

International standards are produced by organizations such as the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission. Engineers frequently encounter standards from other countries such as Germany (DIN), Japan (JIS), or the UK (BSI).

Codes and Regulations

When standards are adopted by a governing body they become part of the regulatory code of that body. These standards (regulations or code) are no longer voluntary and must be adhered to by the affected parties. For example the Code of Federal Regulations is the codification of standards accepted and made into law by the U.S. government.

Engineers frequently encounter building codes. See the Building Codes tab of this guide for more information. provides a thorough explanation of the difference between standards and codes/regulations: