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Subject: Revised UBL TC FAQ

Hello UBL TC,

We need to revise the FAQ linked from the UBL TC web page, which
is now pathetically out of date, in time for the announcement of
UBL 1.0 as an OASIS Standard this coming Monday. I've prepared
the draft below based partly on the old language and partly on
more recent descriptions of the activity. Please let me know if
anything needs to be added or changed before I send this in to
OASIS Friday evening.



Q: What is UBL?

A: 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 commerce for small and medium-sized

Q: Where did UBL come from?

A: 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.

Q: Where does UBL stand at this point?

A: UBL 1.0 was released as an OASIS Standard on 8 November 2004
   following three years of open development and public review.

Q: How can I get the UBL 1.0 package, and what's in it?

A: UBL 1.0 can be downloaded as a single zip archive from


   The UBL 1.0 release package contains

    - An explanatory introduction

    - XML schemas for eight basic business documents: Order, Order
      Response, Order Response Simple, Order Change, Order
      Cancellation, Despatch Advice, Receipt Advice, and Invoice

    - A description of the generic order-to-invoice procurement
      process within which the UBL document types are designed to

    - A library of more than 400 reusable XML data elements from
      which the UBL document schemas are constructed, complete
      with definitions based on the ISO 15000 Core Components
      Technical Specification

    - A description of the UBL 1.0 development methodology

    - UML diagrams of the overall UBL data model and its
      constituent component packages (Address Package, Contract
      Package, Delivery Package, Document Reference Package,
      Hazardous Item Package, Item Package, Party Package, Payment
      Package, Procurement Package, Tax Package)

    - Document assembly diagrams showing the relationship between
      each of the UBL document types and its constituent

    - Excel and OpenOffice spreadsheets showing the data models of
      each of the UBL documents and the UBL component library

    - UBL Naming and Design Rules specifying the generation of UBL
      schemas from the UBL data models

    - UML class diagrams documenting each of the UBL schemas and
      each of the component packages

    - Formatting specifications for each of the UBL document types

    - Example Order, Order Response (Simple), Order Change, Order
      Cancellation, Despatch Advice, Receipt Advice, and Invoice
      instance documents demonstrating the use of UBL for buying
      office supplies

    - Example Order, Order Response, Despatch Advice, and Invoice
      instance documents demonstrating the use of UBL for buying
      building supplies

    - Example printouts of all the instance documents

    - Guidelines for customizing the UBL schemas

    - A specification for the publication of code list schemas

    - A UBL 1.0 ASN.1 specification for UBL documents in binary

   A publicly subscribable OASIS ubl-dev list provides a public
   forum for questions and comments regarding UBL.

Q: UBL 1.0 is amazingly advanced for a specification that's just
   been released. How did that happen?

A: An important and controversial early decision of the UBL TC was
   to base its work on an existing set of XML business schemas.
   Instead of starting from scratch, the UBL TC accepted the
   contribution by CommerceOne and SAP of an already widely
   deployed commercial XML business vocabulary, xCBL 3.0.

   The decision to begin with xCBL was based on four key
   considerations. First, xCBL 3.0 was a mature XML specification
   already used in a number of ecommerce marketplaces. Second,
   xCBL was based on a component library model, ensuring much
   better alignment among document types derived from the library
   than had been the case with older message standards in which
   the different document types were developed independently.
   Third, xCBL had been published under terms that allowed the
   free creation of derivative works. And fourth, CommerceOne and
   SAP were willing to back up their contribution with technical
   resources that supported much of UBL's early development.

   UBL has since evolved independently to the point where its
   origins in xCBL can no longer be recognized, but the decision
   to begin with an already successful specification gave UBL a
   three-year head start that it continues to enjoy today. At
   this point, UBL represents over six years of continuous
   development in the creation of a standard XML business syntax.

Q: Who owns UBL?

A: 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

Q: How much will it cost to use UBL?

A: UBL is royalty-free. It can be used without charge by anyone.

Q: UBL claims to be "universal," but its definitions of business
   terms are all written in English. How can people who don't
   speak English understand UBL documents?

A: Most people will interact with UBL documents using software
   that automatically presents the relevant information through a
   localized interface, so the important question here is how UBL
   can be made usable for software designers and business
   analysts. To meet their needs, UBL Localization Subcommittees
   have translated the UBL definitions and business terms into
   Chinese (Simplified), Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. Drafts of
   the translations are currently undergoing public review and are
   expected to be made available for general use at the start of
   2005. The four translations already completed in draft form
   will make UBL understandable by over two-thirds of the world's
   current online population. Representatives of regional
   electronic commerce organizations and national ministries of
   trade are expected to form similar UBL localization
   subcommittees for other major language communities.

Q: In what ways does UBL support an incremental transition from
   paper-based trade to electronic trade?

A: UBL is a strongly document-centric approach to electronic
   commerce that focuses on standardizing business data in a way
   that maps easily to traditional paper forms. The primary
   international standard for the paper forms of traditional
   documents is the UN Layout Key, which for more than 40 years
   has served as the model for paper documents used in
   international trade. A mapping of all the UBL documents to
   their equivalent UN Layout Keys is provided as part of the UBL
   1.0 release. Free XSL-FO stylesheets are available from Crane
   Softwrights (http://cranesoftwrights.com/) to convert UBL
   documents to their Layout Key equivalents in HTML and PDF form
   using commercially available XSL-FO formatters, and free Java
   software based on the Crane library is available from Ambrosoft
   (http://ambrosoft.com/) to directly transform any UBL document
   into HTML files conformant to the UN Layout Key. Thus, UBL is a
   standard, machine-processable business data format from which
   at any moment you can automatically generate an internationally
   standardized paper representation.

Q: How does UBL address the legal aspects of paperless trade?

A: A key objective of UBL from the beginning has been to provide
   the world with standards for the electronic versions of
   traditional business documents designed in a way that
   recognizes established commercial and legal
   practices. Implementing international paperless trade will
   require extensive cooperation among nations to institute
   uniform legal codes governing the substitution of electronic
   documents for their paper equivalents. UBL's contribution to
   this effort lies in the definition of a standard set of XML
   forms and close cooperation with the organizations working
   toward the establishment of an international ecommerce

   Since December 2001, UBL has been on the standing agenda of the
   ISO IEC ITU UN/ECE eBusiness MoU Management Group, of which
   OASIS is a nonvoting member. This group manages relationships
   regarding electronic business standards among the organizations
   referenced by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
   (GATT). OASIS is also a Class A Liaison to ISO TC 154, which is
   responsible for the international standardization of electronic
   document syntaxes such as EDIFACT. It is the intention of the
   UBL TC to request the submission of UBL to ISO subsequent to
   its approval as an OASIS Standard.

Q: What is the relationship of UBL to ebXML?

A: 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 X12 and EDIFACT. As described further at
   ebxml.org, 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 (SOAs) to the simple exchange of documents via

Q: What is the relationship of UBL to ebXML Core Components?

A: UBL is the first true standards body implementation of the
   ebXML Core Components Technical Specification (CCTS 2.01, aka
   ISO 15000-5). 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.
   UBL is currently working in conjunction with UN/CEFACT TBG17 to
   map UBL to the eventual standard Core Component library and
   with UN/CEFACT ATG and OAGI to develop a single International
   Standard for XML representation of ebXML Core Component Types
   and Unqualified Datatypes.

Q: What is the relationship of UBL to UN/CEFACT?

A: UN/CEFACT is the international agency responsible for trade
   facilitation and EDI standards. Together, UN/CEFACT and OASIS
   developed ebXML. UBL is designed to support the goals of
   UN/CEFACT, which in August 2003 stated that "UN/CEFACT will
   support only one document-centric approach to XML content, and
   its desire is that UBL will be the foundation for that
   approach."  OASIS and UN/CEFACT are currently engaged in
   negotiations that may result in the transfer of UBL from OASIS
   to UN/CEFACT. If this occurs, UBL will become the standard
   document-centric XML syntax for UN/CEFACT, putting it at the
   XML delivery end of the extensive UN/CEFACT definition process
   for business data standards.

Q: What differentiates UBL from apparently similar efforts such as
   RosettaNet and OAGIS?

A: There are some similarities between UBL and other XML business
   data initiatives, but taken together, UBL's attributes make it

    - UBL does not attempt in its first release to reproduce the
      functionality of existing EDI message sets or even of the
      xCBL specification with which it began. Instead of the
      40-50 document types in these older standards, UBL in its
      first release focuses on simple procurement and contains
      just eight basic document types (in addition to the
      component library upon which they are based). It is
      explicitly an 80/20 solution that emphasizes a fit with
      small-business practices and inexpensive generic software.

    - UBL was developed in a completely open, publicly visible,
      vendor-neutral, royalty-free standards process that allows
      input from the entire user community -- not just big
      corporate players who can afford to pay hefty consortium fees.
      You don't have to sign a non-disclosure agreement to work
      with or talk about UBL!

    - Many of the currently available XML business vocabularies
      are optimized to support the business requirements of
      specific vertical industries. UBL is designed to work
      across domains, making it ideally suited to the needs of
      users such as governments that must impose a standard format
      upon trading partners in multiple industries.

    - UBL is the first standard to be based on the ebXML Core
      Components Technical Specification (ISO 15000-5). The
      alternative offerings have barely begun this process.

    - UBL is also completely up-to-date with regard to schema
      technology and library design. The UBL schema Naming and
      Design Rules, developed by a world-class group of XML schema
      experts, are being widely adopted and copied by other XML
      definition efforts. And the component library approach to
      document definition puts UBL miles ahead of older efforts in
      which the various document types were defined in isolation.

    - To reduce the job of ecommerce standardization to manageable
      proportions, UBL strongly differentiates the data
      standardization problem from the process standardization
      problem. UBL focuses on the standardization of business data
      as the first step toward global ecommerce integration,
      leaving the standardization of business processes to user
      communities and assuming that process definition will be
      addressed in a separate layer of the stack. A side benefit
      of this approach is to make UBL usable with the widest
      possible range of process definition technologies.

    - To provide a bridge between traditional paper-based
      workflows and electronic commerce, UBL is strongly
      document-centric, preserving transparency for human users
      and easily mapping to processes based on the exchange of
      legally binding instruments. To put it another way, UBL is
      focused on the "public space" between enterprises rather
      than the "private space" within enterprises, and it is
      therefore better tuned for open-ended B2B exchanges than
      are schema libraries designed for internal application

   To sum up, UBL does not seek to compete with any existing XML
   business vocabularies but rather to meet a set of needs that
   are not being adequately met by any of them.

Q: How does UBL cope with the need for customization to meet
   different business requirements?

A: 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.

   It is true, however, that different industries have different
   data requirements, and this has led in the past to the
   proliferation of variants even in such tightly controlled
   standards as X12, EDIFACT, and RosettaNet.

   UBL has both short-term and long-term strategies for dealing
   with the need to create variations of basic data structures
   tuned for different business contexts.

   The short-term (UBL 1.0) strategy is to provide guidelines for
   the manual extension of the generic UBL data models. A document
   detailing the methods that can be used to develop
   UBL-compatible custom schemas is included in the UBL 1.0
   release package. It is expected that industry data exchange
   standards organizations will use these guidelines to create
   their own versions of the UBL documents according to their
   expert understanding of the needs of each industry. The
   contribution of UBL at this stage will be to radically reduce
   the cost of document creation and to maximize code reuse to the
   fullest extent practical.

   The long-term (post-1.0) strategy is to create a technology for
   the automatic creation of specific document types based on the
   particular business context in which they are to be used. UBL
   intends to build on the ebXML identification of key context
   drivers (business process, industry, regulatory environment,
   etc.) in developing this context methodology.

Q: What's next for UBL?

A: UBL 1.1, scheduled for release at the end of 2005, will include

    - Resolution of a number of issues raised during the
      development of UBL 1.0 that were judged safely deferrable to

    - Refinements and clarifications of the UBL data definitions
      arising from the translation work

    - Additions to the UBL library identified by the UBL
      localization subcommittees as required to accommodate
      regional business practices

    - Consideration of proposed additions to the UBL document set
      submitted by qualified organizations (Example: Certificate
      of Origin)

Q: Is the UBL effort still open to participation?

A: Yes, and the transition to UBL 1.1 provides a perfect
   opportunity to become involved. Anyone interested in
   participating in the further development of UBL should join
   OASIS and sign up for the UBL TC. OASIS memberships are
   available at the following URL:


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