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This International Standard is based on ISO 8879. It deals with negotiated interchange and is designed to be as open and flexible as possible in order to cover all types and forms of terminological entry structures that occur in terminological databases and specialized dictionaries, as well as among various applications, operating systems, and hardware platforms. ISO 12200 is primarily designed for use with terminological data that can be stored, read, retrieved and manipulated by a computer. It is not limited to any specific software or hardware configurations.

The primary purpose of this International Standard is to provide guidance for programmers and analysts in designing export and import software for data interchange between terminology databases. The Document Type Definition (DTD) specified in this International Standard permits partial validation of interchange files using a general-purpose SGML parser (i.e., confirmation that the document conforms to the structure specified by the DTD).

This International Standard can also be used for the creation of conversion routines to accommodate data encoded according to ISO 6156. It is recommended that this International Standard be used in conjunction with ISO 12620.

This International Standard does not specify the structure and function of individual databases.