What is ANSI? - Standards & Regulations

Instructor: Lonny Meinecke

Lonny teaches psychology classes at King University, and has a bachelor's degree in IT and a doctorate in psychology.

In this lesson, we will explain what ANSI stands for. We will also talk about ANSI standards and regulations to get an idea of what ANSI does for us in the computer world.

What Does ANSI Stand For?

The acronym ANSI stands for American National Standards Institute, an organization that has been around for about a century. What is ANSI? Think of it as a large number of expert volunteers getting together as committees under an umbrella term. They come together to establish a set of common guidelines (expectations) for just about anything we depend on, so people can smoothly conduct business and communicate with one another. ANSI doesn't actually make the standards, but it is an umbrella under which standards are made. Another famous standards organization is the W3C, or World Wide Web Consortium, which you may have heard of.

You might ask, for which kinds of businesses does ANSI oversee guidelines? ANSI provides standards for many sectors, from construction to cattle to computers. These standards and their regulation allow us all to have a common set of expectations, so we can get stuff done rather than negotiating meanings all the time. Yes, it's officially voluntary (ANSI provides guidelines, not regulations), but the standards ANSI establishes are so crucial they might as well be rules. In a way, this method of doing business is self-regulating, since we all win in the end.

What Do We Mean by Standards?

A standard, in this sense, means a common set of expectations or guidelines carefully scrutinized and approved by a regulating agency. For example, the character sets that your computer uses are based on ANSI standards. That's because they are stored as numbers, not characters. Somebody has to decide which number corresponds with which symbol.

Consider this to help you see why ANSI standards matter so much: When I was young, character sets on different computer systems often used entirely different codes for the same symbols. This could get really confusing, especially when you tried to send information between computers. Luckily, the standard set is pretty much set in stone and includes the alphabet, numbers, and some common symbols. Here is a picture of the original ANSI standard set of characters:

Standard ASCII character set
ASCII standard

Keep in mind, however, that ANSI regulates a whole lot more than just character sets. ANSI has standards for programming languages, too (you may have heard of ANSI C). In any case, a standard for computers means a reliable expectation. By constantly establishing common expectations, standards allow business to prosper.

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