Revision of UBL FAQ from Tue, 2014-05-20 20:55

1.    What is UBL?

2.    Where did UBL come from?

3.    Where does UBL stand at this point?

4.    How can I get the UBL 2.1 package, and what's in it?

5.    Where can I discuss UBL with other users?

6.    Who owns UBL?

7.    How much will it cost to use UBL?

8.    Can UBL be customized to meet specific business requirements

9.    Has UBL been successful in real-world implementations

10.    Can I use UBL in other contexts?

11.    Is the UBL effort still open to participation?

12.    How does UBL facilitate international trade?

13.    Can I use UBL in a Single Window environment?

14.    Is UBL a realglobal standard for electronic business?

15.    What is the relationship of UBL to ebXML?

16.    What is the relationship of UBL to ebXML Core Components?

17.    What is the relationship of UBL to UN/CEFACT?

18.    How does UBL support the European electronic invoicing Directive?

18.1.    Will UBL be the standard European invoice format?

18.2.    Isnt this yet another standard?

18.3.    What will a standard European electronic invoice look like?

18.4.    Should I delay my electronic invoicing programme until we see what the European semantic standard is?

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.

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, 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, was approved as an OASIS Standard in November 2013.

UBL 2.1 is fully backward compatible with UBL 2.0. It is the intention of the UBL Technical Committee to stabilize on the 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 will focus on further extensions to the functionality and will not require changes to existing UBL implementations.

4.     How can I get the UBL 2.1 package, and what's in it?

UBL 2.1 can be downloaded as a single zip archive from

The UBL 2.1 release package contains an overview of identified Business Processes:

·         Tendering

·         Catalogue

·         Quotation

·         Ordering

·         Fulfilment

·         Billing

·         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

And XML Schemas for the documents used in these processes:

·         Application Response

·         Attached Document

·         Awarded Notification

·         Bill of Lading

·         Call for Tenders

·         Catalogue

·         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

·         Forecast Revision

·         Forwarding Instructions

·         Freight Invoice

·         Fulfilment Cancellation

·         Goods Item Itinerary

·         Guarantee Certificate

·         Instruction for Returns

·         Inventory Report

·         Invoice

·         Item Information Request

·         Order

·         Order Cancellation

·         Order Change

·         Order Response

·         Order Response Simple

·         Packing List

·         Prior Information Notice

·         Product Activity

·         Quotation

·         Receipt Advice

·         Reminder

·         Remittance Advice

·         Request for Quotation

·         Retail Event

·         Self Billed Credit Note

·         Self Billed Invoice

·         Statement

·         Stock Availability Report

·         Tender

·         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

·         Waybill

5.     Where can I discuss UBL with other users?

For questions regarding UBL a publicly subscribable OASIS ubl-dev list provides a free forum for questions regarding UBL. The ubl-dev archive is located at:

Subscriptions to ubl-dev can be made through the OASIS list manager at:

For more general discussions and exchanges of ideas there is a web site and wiki for the UBL user community at

6.     Who owns UBL?

UBL is owned by OASIS, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the open development of public XML standards. UBL is maintained by an OASIS Technical Committee made up of XML and business experts.

7.     How much will it cost to use UBL?

The simple answer is that UBL is royalty-free. It can be used without charge by anyone.

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, a copy of which can be found at:

8.     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 an extremely pragmatic approach that should allow 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 very extensive 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:

9.     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.  In 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 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 listed below…

Public Procurement initiatives:

o       PEPPOL (Pan-European)

o       OIOUBL (Denmark)

o       EHF (Norway)

o       Svefaktura (Sweden)

o       E-Invoicing (Iceland)

o       ePrior (European Commission)

o       E-Fatura (Turkey)

o       Factura Electronica (Peru)

o       E-Invoicing (Croatia)

o       National Health Service (UK)

Trading Communities:

o       Textile, Clothing and Footwear (eBiz-TCF)

Service Providers:

o       eInvoicing (Tradeshift, Accountis, B2BRouter, SimplerInvoicing)

o       Logistics Services (Freightgate, Electra)

o       ePurchasing (Ozedi)

o       Online Retailing (Wehkamp)

o       Interoperability Services (European eInvoice Service Providers Association)

Freight Logistics and Transport initiatives:

o       eFreight (European Commission, DG MOVE)

o       DTTN (Port of Hong Kong)

o       CertOfOrigin (CrimsonLogic, Singapore)

o       Electronic Freight Management (US Dept of Transport)

10. Can I use UBL in other contexts?

Yes. Many communities have successfully built their own XML schema 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 the UBL’s Naming and Design Rules to create completely new messages in domains such as healthcare, education and customs.

11. 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 the following URL:

12. 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 is consistent and interoperable with trading partners.

13.  Can I use UBL in a Single Window environment?

The regulatory Single Window concept has been implemented in many developing 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) that need to be coordinated.

European projects such as PEPPOL and e-Freight have demonstrated that UBL is a suitable standard for implementing the commercial, transport and freight logistic documents required by processes that complement regulatory Single Windows.

14. Is UBL a ‘real’ global standard for electronic business?

Perhaps the clearest summary of what makes standards effective 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[1], 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.”[2]

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 consortia) and OASIS has recently submitted UBL 2.1 to the ISO-IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (Information Technology) for publication as an ISO standard.  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.

15. 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.

16. What is the relationship of UBL to ebXML Core Components?

UBL was the first published data format specification produced in full conformance with UN/CEFACT's ebXML Core Components Technical Specification (CCTS) Version 2.01 - ISO TS15000-5:2005.

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” at:

17. What is the relationship of UBL to UN/CEFACT?

The UBL Technical Committee is concerned about the perception of being in competition with UN/CEFACT for the development of XML standards.  This is a misrepresentation of the true situation.

UN/CEFACT is the subcommittee of the UN Economic Commission for Europe responsible to provide technology neutral recommendations and standards for electronic business for international trade facilitation.  The foundation of UN/CEFACT is maintenance of the UN/EDIFACT EDI standard.  As an intergovernmental body UN/CEFACT has a strong influence in public sector policy decisions and this sets UN/CEFACT apart from dedicated standards making bodies. Unfortunately, there is a belief (sometimes expressed by members of UN/CEFACT) that UN/CEFACT is the exclusive organization for creating standards for electronic business and that as part of the United Nations, UN/CEFACT holds a superior position to other standards making bodies.  It follows from this belief that any other electronic business standards development activities (for example, UBL) are in competition with UN/CEFACT’s work and should stop.  We do not believe this to be true or necessary.

In an environment where there is very little true standardization, UBL is the nearest the world has to a comprehensive set of open standards for XML documents used in the international supply chain.  And the increasing use of UBL has created a requirement to have ongoing support for current and future stakeholder communities.

The Memorandum of Understanding on eBusiness makes a clear statement on the role of the various standards bodies:

A.1 In the case of UN/EDIFACT messages or other messages using its functionality, syntax and/or directories, UN/CEFACT is responsible for the development and maintenance of these messages and the associated implementation guidelines.

A.2 Since the standardization of syntaxes for electronic business is broader than UN/EDIFACT, it is recognized that ISO and IEC are the more appropriate organizations for the development and maintenance of standardized syntaxes for electronic business.”

UBL has been developed within OASIS (a global standards development consortia) and OASIS has recently submitted UBL 2.1 to the ISO-IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (Information Technology) for publication as an ISO standard.

It is also worth noting that there is no set of standards equivalent to UBL from UN/CEFACT. However, there is some duplication by UN/CEFACT of few UBL standard documents.  In all cases the UN/CEFACT projects to develop these duplicate standards were launched after the publication of standards from UBL. Furthermore, apart from some specific agricultural industry messages there is little evidence of any real-world implementations using official UN/CEFACT XML standards.

The situation with UN/CEFACT XML today is that while governments and commercial organizations do not (and will not) criticize the work of UN/CEFACT, most do not use UN/CEFACT’s XML standards. Instead they seek effective solutions such as UBL, or create their own.  This has been the case in Europe since the responsible public sector agencies in Northern Europe joined forces to implement UBL standards in 2006.

Overall, it is difficult to see the benefits to users in UN/CEFACT publishing standards that compete with the UBL standards currently implemented and operational across many communities.

To this end, both OASIS and members of the UBL Technical Committee are continuing to work with UN/CEFACT management to establish strategies that will benefit all stakeholders involved in international trade.

18. 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 UBL will be one of the syntaxes identified.

18.1.                    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, we expect that market forces will determine that UBL syntax is the most effective implementation of the European standard on electronic invoicing.

18.2.                    Isn’t this yet another standard?

No, fortunately this work is already well established and the formal standardization can be seen as the next stage on the natural evolution of standards.  The obligation is for invoices to contain core information elements.  Defining what is required as core information 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 the semantic data model used in the BII Profiles for post-award processes.

18.3.                    What will a standard European electronic invoice look like?

We 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.  

18.4.                    Should I delay my electronic invoicing programme until we see what the European semantic standard is?

Not at all. This is unnecessary 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.



[1] G/TBT/ 1/REV. 10. “Decision of the Committee on Principles for the Development of International Standards, Guides and Recommendations with Relation to Articles 2, 5 and Annex 3 of the Agreement”

[2] ANSI Supports Continued Dialogue on Standards for EU-U.S. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, New York  October 11, 2013 ( Focus Areas: BPEL | DITA | ebXML | IDtrust | OpenDocument | SAML | UBL | UDDI
OASIS sites: OASIS | Cover Pages | | AMQP | CGM Open | eGov | Emergency | IDtrust | LegalXML | Open CSA | OSLC | WS-I