1. What is UBL?
UBL, the Universal Business Language, is the product of an international effort to define a royalty-free library of standard electronic XML business documents such as purchase orders and invoices. Developed in an open and accountable OASIS Technical Committee with participation from a variety of industry data standards organizations, UBL is designed to plug directly into existing business, legal, auditing, and records management practices, eliminating the re-keying of data in existing fax- and paper-based supply chains and providing an entry point into electronic business for small and medium-sized businesses.
2. Where did UBL come from?
The UBL initiative originated in efforts beginning in mid-1999 to create a set of standard XML "office documents" within OASIS. The work of the OASIS OfficeDoc TC under the leadership of Murray Altheim of Sun Microsystems was set aside when OASIS and UN/CEFACT began collaboration on ebXML in December 1999. Interest in the creation of a standard XML syntax for basic commercial documents revived again in May 2000 with the decision in ebXML to omit a standard XML "payload" syntax from the initial set of ebXML deliverables. The working group that came to be known as UBL began in April 2001 as a discussion group sponsored by CommerceNet and was established as an OASIS Technical Committee in November 2001.
Rather than starting from scratch, the Committee proposed using the xCBL 3.0 business document library (from CommerceOne and SAP) as the basis for creating a new business document library. xCBL 3.0 was a synthesis of existing XML business document libraries incoporating the semantics of EDI messages based on UN/EDIFACT and ANSI X12 standards.
The UBL document library was to be based on the ebXML CCTS methodology and thus complete the total ebXML framework of standards for electronic business. This resulted in a complete refactoring of xCBL that radically changed the original markup but retained the already widely field-tested semantics of the original document set.
3. Where does UBL stand at this point?
UBL 1.0 was released as an OASIS Standard on 8 November 2004 following three years of open development and public review. UBL 2.0, which expanded the scope of UBL to include the commercial collaborations of international trade, was approved in November 2006.
The current version, UBL 2.1, was approved as an OASIS Standard in November 2013. It extends the functionality of UBL 2.0 to include support for collaborative planning, forecasting, and replenishment; vendor managed inventory; utility billing; tendering; and intermodal freight management.
UBL 2.1 is fully backward compatible with UBL 2.0. It is the intention of the UBL Technical Committee to stabilize on UBL 2 for the foreseeable future so that subsequent releases of UBL will not affect the validity of any UBL 2.0 (and later) documents. This means future releases of UBL will focus on further extensions to the functionality and will not require changes to existing UBL implementations.
4. Is UBL a "true" global standard for electronic business?
This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer because there is no common understanding of what constitutes a "true" standard. Perhaps the most practical explanation comes from a recent article published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
"When it comes to international standardization, good practices are measured against the World Trade Organization (WTO) Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement Committee Decision, which states that the global relevance of a standard is determined by how it was developed, not where. More specifically, the Decision states that the development of international standards must rely upon a number of principles, including openness, impartiality, consensus, transparency, and coherence, among others. In other words, the global relevance of a standard cannot and should not be measured by which organization developed it. The degree to which a standard is used in the global marketplace is, in ANSI’s view, the best measure of an international standard."
Using this description we believe UBL qualifies as an international standard in compliance with the World Trade Organization (WTO) Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement Committee Decision.
The strength of UBL (as with any standard) is that:
- it is an open global standard (from a recognized standards consortium)
- it exists (the technology works)
- it is stable (it has good governance)
- it is proven to meet business requirements (it has market adoption)
UBL has been developed within OASIS (a global standards development consortium), and UBL 2.1 has recently been approved by the ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (Information Technology) for publication as an ISO standard - ISO/IEC 19845:2015. This will ensure that UBL is both recognized in public sector policies and will also provide additional layers of governance for the long-term sustainability of UBL.
In this way UBL is following a typical evolutionary path for effective global standards.
 ANSI Supports Continued Dialogue on Standards for EU-U.S. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, New York October 11, 2013
5. How can I get the UBL 2.1 package, and what's in it?
The UBL 2.1 specification is accessible from OASIS in HTML, PDF and XML formats. The entire specification can also be downloaded as a single zip archive from
The UBL 2.1 release package contains an overview of the following common business processes:
- Freight Billing
- Utility Billing
- Payment Notification
- Report State of Accounts
- Collaborative Planning, Forecasting, and Replenishment
- Vendor Managed Inventory
- International Freight Management
- Freight Status Reporting
- Certification of Origin of Goods
- Intermodal Freight Management
- Application Response
- Attached Document
- vAwarded Notification
- Bill of Lading
- Call for Tenders
- Catalogue Deletion
- Catalogue Item Specification Update
- Catalogue Pricing Update
- Catalogue Request
- Certificate of Origin
- Contract Award Notice
- Contract Notice
- Credit Note
- Debit Note
- Despatch Advice
- Document Status
- Document Status Request
- Exception Criteria
- Exception Notification
- Forecast Revision
- Forwarding Instructions
- Freight Invoice
- Fulfilment Cancellation
- Goods Item Itinerary
- Guarantee Certificate
- Instruction for Returns
- Inventory Report
- Item Information Request
- Order Cancellation
- Order Change
- Order Response
- Order Response Simple
- Packing List
- Prior Information Notice
- Product Activity
- Receipt Advice
- Remittance Advice
- Request for Quotation
- Retail Event
- Self Billed Credit Note
- Self Billed Invoice
- Stock Availability Report
- Tender Receipt
- Tenderer Qualification
- Tenderer Qualification Response
- Trade Item Location Profile
- Transport Execution Plan
- Transport Execution Plan Request
- Transport Progress Status
- Transport Progress Status Request
- Transport Service Description
- Transport Service Description Request
- Transportation Status
- Transportation Status Request
- Unawarded Notification
- Utility Statement
More precisely, the UBL TC operates in the OASIS Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) mode known as "Royalty Free on Limited Terms," which "requires all Obligated Parties to license their Essential Claims using the RF licensing elements described in Sections 10.2.1 and 10.2.3" of the OASIS IPR Policy.
7. Where can I discuss UBL with other users?
For general discussions and exchanges of ideas there is a web site and wiki for the UBL user community at
A publicly subscribable OASIS ubl-dev list provides a free forum for specific questions regarding UBL. The ubl-dev archive is located at
Subscriptions to ubl-dev can be made through the OASIS list manager at
8. Who owns UBL?
UBL is owned by OASIS, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the open development of public XML standards. UBL is maintained by a OASIS Universal Business Language Technical Committee made up of XML and business experts.
9. Is the UBL effort still open to participation?
Yes! Anyone interested in the further development of UBL should join OASIS and sign up for the UBL TC. OASIS memberships are available at
10. Can UBL be customized to meet specific business requirements?
In many small-business environments, standard forms can satisfy business requirements well enough to be used without modification. The existence of standard paper forms such as the UN Layout Key proves this. In these environments, UBL can work right out of the box.
Customization is an activity undertaken by implementers of UBL to apply additional business rules and information requirements to documents conforming to the standard UBL schema. UBL does not attempt a complete solution to this problem but instead takes a pragmatic approach that allows satisfactory solutions in the great majority of real-world cases.
For example, each UBL schema contains an optional extension area in which trading partners may, by agreement, include any data not already covered by the predefined UBL data structure. Maintaining this extension area and coordinating its use is, of course, the responsibility of the trading partners. But this simple strategy allows nearly unlimited flexibility in individual trading relationships without requiring modification of the standard UBL schemas.
Implementers of UBL typically use customization techniques to apply extensions, restrictions, and other business rules to their documents. To assist in developing these, the UBL Guidelines for Customization are available at
11. Has UBL been successful in real-world implementations?
Since UBL is publicly available and royalty-free, it is impossible to track implementations with any accuracy. However, over the past 10 years a number of UBL user communities have made themselves known to the UBL Technical Committee. Some of these are listed below. Many of these stakeholder communities have also contributed to the ongoing development of UBL.
From this we can confidently state that UBL has seen significant large-scale, real-world adoption in public procurement programmes, initially in Europe and now in other regions across the public and private sector.
The first example of this was from Denmark. Since February 2005, use of the UBL Invoice standard has been mandated by law for all public-sector business in Denmark. Several million UBL invoices are currently exchanged in Denmark every month. The Danish Ministry of Finance estimates savings to the government of 100 million euros annually from use of this one document type. The introduction of their wider-ranging OIOUBL initiative in 2010 affected almost all 440,000 businesses in Denmark and established Denmark as a world leader in electronic invoicing best practice.
In 2008, the PEPPOL (Pan European eProcurement Online) initiative scaled UBL adoption across 11 countries: Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. By March 2014, the OpenPEPPOL association, set up to ensure long term sustainability of PEPPOL, had one hundred member organisations from the public and private sector from 18 European countries, including Russia and the USA. In April 2014, the UK National Health Service, the world's largest publicly funded health service and the world’s 5th largest employer, announced that PEPPOL standards (including UBL) would be the basis of its new eProcurement strategy.
Government adoption in this way has a stimulating effect on adoption in other communities because government procurement touches on both commercial and policy issues. In most economies it is the largest procurement activity. This means standards introduced for public procurement have traction that encourages adoption by other parts of the economy.
The current implementations of UBL known to the UBL Technical Committee are...
Public Procurement initiatives:
- PEPPOL (Pan-European)
- OIOUBL (Denmark)
- EHF (Norway)
- Svefaktura (Sweden)
- E-Invoicing (Iceland)
- ePrior (European Commission)
- E-Fatura (Turkey)
- Factura Electronica (Peru)
- E-Invoicing (Croatia)
- National Health Service (UK)
- Textile, Clothing and Footwear (eBiz-TCF)
- eInvoicing (Tradeshift, Accountis/Fundtech, B2BRouter, SimplerInvoicing)
- Logistics Services (Freightgate, Electra)
- ePurchasing (Ozedi)
- Online Retailing (Wehkamp)
- Industry Groups (European eInvoice Service Providers Association)
- eFreight (European Commission, DG MOVE)
- DTTN (Port of Hong Kong)
- Certificate of Origin (CrimsonLogic, Singapore)
- Electronic Freight Management (US Dept of Transport)
12. What is the UBL semantic data model?
Since its inception UBL has taken a data model approach to designing standardized business documents that can be expressed in XML. In fact, all UBL document types are made up of components from a common data model known as the Common Library.
Using this semantic data model to describe the UBL Common Library has proven beneficial in several ways:
- Business experts can work on the semantics of UBL business processes and their data requirements without needing to know XML technology. This methodology is based on principles of business data analysis and document engineering and uses the ebXML Core Component Technical Specification (ISO 15000-5) for its notation.
- The common data model ensures that the common semantics of the components are not lost when they are re-used in different contexts. This means a UBL Address is always the same component wherever it appears.
- It is possible to automatically generate from the UBL data models not only XML representations of document types such as XML Schema and RelaxNG but also non-XML representations such as ASN.1. This effectively "future-proofs" UBL from changes in notations and syntaxes.
- Because the UBL semantic data model is similar to a relational data model, some user communities also use this data model for their own internal standard data structures. Why re-invent common data structures from scratch when UBL has already designed a useful starting point?
For more details see the Appendix C of the OASIS UBL 2.1 specification, "The UBL 2.1 Data Model".
Having a foundation based on a common semantic data model provides long term sustainability for the growing number of communities who are implementing solutions based on UBL.
13. Can I use UBL in other contexts?
Yes. Many communities have successfully built their own XML schemas using UBL as a starting point. Some of these have subsequently been submitted to the UBL Technical Committee as candidates for inclusion in the official UBL standard.
Others have used UBL's Naming and Design Rules to create completely new messages in domains such as healthcare, education, and customs.
14. How does UBL facilitate international trade?
One of the challenges with international trade in the digital era is trust. When businesses seek to develop or improve their international supply chains, their primary consideration is trust in the complete trade system — trust in the security, reliability, and authenticity of the processes and partners they are dealing with. Fundamental to establishing this trust are standards. Using standards creates certainty… and certainty enables trust.
UBL's contribution to ensuring trust in international trade lies in the definition of a standard set of XML documents that provide the world with standards for the electronic versions of traditional business documents designed in a way that recognizes established commercial and legal practices.
Exchanging standard UBL documents ensures that the structures and semantics of the information being exchanged are consistent and interoperable with trading partners.
15. Can I use UBL in a Single Window environment?
The regulatory Single Window concept has been implemented in many countries around the world as a major platform for collaboration and information exchange among different government agencies involved in international trade. Recognized as effective trade facilitation measures in the recent Bali Ministerial Declaration and WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, regulatory Single Window systems are increasingly being adopted by developed and developing countries.
However, international trade transactions require a number of different business processes (not just regulatory exchanges with government agencies), and the information used in these processes needs to be aligned.
European projects such as PEPPOL and e-Freight have demonstrated that UBL is a suitable standard for implementing the commercial, transport, and freight logistic information exchanges required by processes that complement the use of regulatory Single Windows.
16. What is the relationship of UBL to ebXML?
The impetus to begin the UBL TC came from the desire of a number of ebXML participants to define a standard XML payload format for ebXML — that is, an XML counterpart to traditional EDI standards such as ANSI X12 and UN/EDIFACT. The ebXML suite of specifications, many of them now standardized as ISO 15000, provides a complete, next-generation XML-based infrastructure that enables EDI functionality over the free Internet.
UBL provides a standard data format for the messages to be exchanged in such an infrastructure. However, UBL is designed to be "agnostic" with respect to the infrastructure, and UBL messages can be used in a very wide range of functional contexts, from complex service-oriented architectures and cloud services to the simple exchange of documents via email.
What is the relationship of UBL to ebXML Core Components?
UBL was the first published data format specification produced based on UN/CEFACT's ebXML Core Components Technical Specification (CCTS) Version 2.01.
The UBL library consists of ebXML CCTS Business Information Entities (BIEs). UBL XML schemas are defined through the application of UBL Naming and Design Rules (NDRs) to an underlying data model mapped to the Core Component types.
For more information please see the UBL Committee Note on "UBL Conformance to ebXML CCTS ".
17. How does UBL support the European electronic invoicing Directive?
The European Directive on electronic invoicing in public procurement is a law enacted by the European parliament obliging public authorities in all EU member states to receive electronic invoices. One aspect of this law is that a common European standard for the semantic data model of the core elements of an electronic invoice (the "European standard on electronic invoicing") will be developed over the next few years. When this is published, public sector contracting authorities will be obliged to receive and process electronic invoices formatted using a listed set of syntaxes that comply with the European semantic standard.
The work of the CEN BII Workshop will be a key foundation for the European standard for electronic invoicing, and we expect that UBL will be one of the syntaxes identified.
Will UBL be the standard European invoice format?
Yes and no. There will not be a standard format or syntax for European invoices. The European standard on electronic invoicing will not dictate what syntax or format is to be used, only the semantics of the required information.
However, the semantic model of the CEN BII Post-award Profile will be a key foundation of the European semantics, and as the combination of BII semantics and UBL format/syntax has been widely adopted in Europe, the expectation is that the established BII user community will be supported by the standard.
While there will not be a European standard for invoice syntax, the UBL Technical Committee expect that market forces will determine that UBL syntax is the most effective implementation of the European standard on electronic invoicing.
Is the Directive asking for yet another standard?
No. Fortunately this work is already well established, and the formal standardization can be seen as the next stage in the natural evolution of standards. The obligation in the Directive is simply for invoices to contain core information elements. Defining what is required as core information for electronic invoicing is not a new piece of work. These requirements will be based on existing standardization activities by groups such as the CEN BII Workshop and specifically the semantic data model used in the BII Profiles for post-award processes.
What will a standard European electronic invoice look like?
The UBL Technical Committee expect that various subsets of the UBL Invoice will be compliant to the new standard. Valid subsets will contain the core elements of information (the semantics) defined by the European standard on electronic invoicing.
Should I delay my electronic invoicing programme until the European semantic standard has been published?
Not at all. This is an unnecessary delay and counter to the intention of the Directive. The work of the CEN BII Workshop will be a key foundation on which to develop the European standard for electronic invoicing, and UBL will be one of the syntaxes identified. Therefore, the current CEN BII Post-award Profile offers a suitable placeholder for the eventual European standard and so can be implemented with some confidence that this will comply with the Directive.
18. Can I use digital signatures to electronically sign UBL documents?
The UBL 2.1 UBL digital signature extension is the first "committee specified extension", and it incorporates the use of the W3C digital signature XML structure. This extension can also be used with UBL 2.0 documents.
The supported digital signature mechanism includes specific provisions to use extensions supporting XAdES, XML Advanced Electronic Signatures (ETSI TS 101 903), when the electronic signing of UBL documents is necessary to satisfy legal and technical requirements.
In essence, support for digital signatures is straightforward. Digital signature users embed in the W3C digital signature structure (http://www.w3.org/TR/2002/REC-xmldsig-core-20020212/) all their information required for legal and technical compliance. The UBL extension point scaffolding suitably embeds this W3C structure in any UBL instance, providing full schema validation of the information and ensuring conformance to UBL.
As with all XML documents, electronic signature validation is done outside of schema validation. Examples of the use of digital signatures in UBL are found in these UBL sample documents:
ISO/IEC 19845:2015 is identical to OASIS Universal Business Language Version 2.1.
ISO/IEC 19845 is the work item of ISO/IEC JTC 1 to approve versions of UBL as an ISO/IEC Standard through their Publicly Available Specification (PAS) process. The 2015 revision is UBL 2.1. ISO/IEC JTC 1 is Joint Technical Committee 1 of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Its purpose as a technical committee is to develop, maintain, promote, and facilitate standards in the fields of information technology (IT) and Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
ISO/IEC standards can be significant for governmental policies and trade agreements and so ISO/IEC 19845 should allow for greater adoption of UBL in these environments.