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Ruby becoming an ISO Standard

The Ruby language is going through the process of becoming an ISO Standard (it has been assigned the document number ISO/IEC 30170).

There are two ways of creating an ISO Standard, a document that has been accepted by another standards’ body can be fast tracked to be accepted as-is by ISO or a committee can be set up to write the document. In the case of Ruby a standard was created under the auspices of JISC (Japanese Industrial Standards Committee) and this has now been submitted to ISO for fast tracking.

The fast track process involves balloting the 18 P-members of SC22 (the ISO committee responsible for programming languages), asking for a YES/NO/ABSTAIN vote on the submitted document becoming an ISO Standard. NO votes have to be accompanied by a list of things that need to be addressed for the vote to change to YES.

In most cases the fast tracking of a document goes through unnoticed (Microsoft’s Office Open XML being a recent high profile exception). The more conscientious P-members attempt to locate national experts who can provide worthwhile advice on the country’s response, while the others usually vote YES out of politeness.

Once an ISO Standard is published future revisions are supposed to be created using the ISO process (i.e., a committee attended by interested parties from P-member countries proposes changes, discusses and when necessary votes on them). When the C# ECMA Standard was fast tracked through ISO in 2005 Microsoft did not start working with an ISO committee but fast tracked a revised C# ECMA Standard through ISO; the UK spotted this behavior and flagged it. We will have to wait and see where work on any future revisions takes place.

Why would any group want to make the effort to create an ISO Standard? The Ruby language designers reasons appear to be “improve the compatibility between different Ruby implementations” (experience shows that compatibility is driven by customer demand not ISO Standards) and government procurement in Japan (skip to last comment).

Prior to the formal standards work the Rubyspec project aimed to create an executable specification. As far as I can see this is akin to some of the tools I wrote about a few months ago.

IST/5, the committee at British Standards responsible for language standards is looking for UK people (people in other countries have to contact their national standards’ body) interested in getting involved with the Ruby ISO Standard’s work. I am a member of IST/5 and if you email me I will pass your contact details along to the chairman.

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