ISO 8583 :: Introduction

ISO 8583 provides a framework for creating protocols for the exchange of financial transaction messages. Typically, these are messages that involve transactions originating from cards of some sort or the other, be they credit or debit cards. It's important to realize that 8583 itself is not a protocol, just as XML isn't a file format. XML can be considered a description of how to specify file formats for structured data according to a set of rules. ISO 8583 is a metaprotocol providing a set of rules for the definition of financial transaction protocols.

As such, a variety of ISO 8583 protocols exist, a famous example being Visa's BASE I protocol for transaction authorization. There's proprietary protocols POS terminals use to communicate with their hosts, and scores of other standards defined by equipment manufacturers, software vendors, banks or national standardization bodies. Chances are, if you swipe a plastic card through a machine, be it POS Terminal or ATM, the transaction will be transported by an 8583 family protocol somewhere en route to the bank. So remember, if a vendor promises you their product speaks ISO, make sure they speak the ISO 8583 flavor that you're looking for.

Back to the standard, unlike RFCs, ECMA standards, or a number of other standardization documents, the ISO 8583 standard is NOT freely available and there is no place on the Internet where it can be downloaded. This applies to most international standards published by ISO, by the way.

The standard can be purchased from ISO directly or in some cases from your country's standardization organization, e.g. ANSI in the US or DIN in Germany. Wherever you buy them, they'll end up costing around $150 for a PDF document.

The standard, officially titled "Financial transaction card originated messages -- Interchange message specifications" is comprised of three parts:

For implementation issues, Part 1 is most likely what you are looking for. Implementations based on older version of the standard from 1987 or 1993 are still widely in use, but to my knowledge, these versions are no longer available for sale by ISO. The currently available 2003 edition of the standard is sufficient for implementation purposes, though.


Further Reading

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