Using Country Codes in NIEM 4

Status of this document

The NIEM community is in the process of updating the NIEM schemas and related resources for the NIEM 4.0 release. This document reflects the current thinking on how NIEM 4 will be updated to best express and convey identification of countries, using standard country codes. This document should be considered a draft, subject to comment and revision. Comments are welcome, and should be submitted via a Github issue.


The NIEM 4 release will incorporate updates to the way several code lists are distributed, and how they are used. The NIEM Code Lists Specification was published in June 2016. It provides:

  • Methods for leveraging the spreadsheet CSV (comma-separated values) and Genericode XML formats for conveying and distributing code lists.
  • Methods for using code lists in XML Schemas to support their use in exchanged messages.
  • XML Schema components and methods for run-time exchange of code values.

This document describes how NIEM 4 will be updated to integrate these code list methodologies for the use and exchange of country codes using public standard country code lists, specifically GENC (Geopolitical Entities, Names, and Codes) and ISO 3166-1.

This approach has several parts. The NIEM 4 release will include:

  • CSV versions of country code lists for GENC and ISO 3166-1.
  • XML Schema components that may be used in messages for identifying countries using code values from code lists.
  • XML Schema annotations and XML Catalogs that tie the message components to the code lists.


There are two authoritative sources for country codes incorporated into the NIEM 4 release: GENC and ISO 3166-1. Both of these, and other representations, use the same type, nc:CountryType, to get country codes into XML Schemas and messages.

The following diagram shows type nc:CountryType, which carries representations of country across NIEM exchanges. This type uses NIEM’s Representation pattern, as specified in the NIEM Naming and Design Rules. This pattern is also used by nc:Date and nc:EntityType.

Core XML schema for country

In the above diagram, the type nc:CountryType is used by nc:LocationType and nc:DocumentType. nc:CountryType has an element nc:CountryRepresentation, which is place that holds one of a number of ways to identify a country.

In NIEM 4.0, the following representations of country are explicitly represented:

  • Text
  • ISO 3166-1:
    • 2-character
    • 3-character
    • Numeric
  • GENC (latest version, 3-3)
    • 2-character
    • 3-character
    • Numeric

In addition to these representations, other representations may be used with NIEM 4, either by additional substitutions for nc:CountryRepresentation, or by providing additional code list URIs with cli:CodeType.

An IEPD (information exchange package definition), which specifies a message, may include one or more of these representations to convey countries. Which representations are used is determined by the community of interest developing the message specification.

The following sections show how these representations of country identifiers are built and expressed in NIEM 4.

Text representation of country

Representing country by a text value is the simplest method, but provides minimal interoperability, as sender and receiver must somehow agree on what any given value means.

An element nc:CountryText carries a text string that identifies a country. It is one of the representations for a country.

Text representation of country

nc:CountryText is defined in XML Schema as an element of type nc:TextType, which is substitutable for nc:CountryRepresentation using substitutionGroup.

<xs:element name="CountryText" type="nc:TextType" substitutionGroup="nc:CountryRepresentation">

A text representation of the United States of America may appear in an XML message:

    <nc:CountryText>United States of America</nc:CountryText>

ISO 3166-1 country code

ISO represents country codes via the ISO 3166-1 standard, which incorporates 3 different representations for each country:

  • 2 character (Alpha-2)
  • 3 character (Alpha-3)
  • Numeric

Each of these is represented in NIEM 4 via an element, which is of a type that encodes the available code values using xs:enumeration, as is done in NIEM 3 for most codes, including for ISO 3166-1. The following pattern will be used for each of ISO 3166-1’s encodings; this example just shows the Alpha-2 encoding.

ISO 3166-1 Alpha-2

Although this example shows only the Alpha-2 encoding, this pattern will be followed for ISO-3166-1’s Alpha-2 encoding, its Alpha-3 encoding, and its Numeric encoding.

First, a diagram showing Alpha2 code, represented by element iso_3166:CountryAlpha2Code, which is of a type based on a simpleType enumeration of the valid values for ISO 3166 at the time the codes were obtained.

ISO 3166-1 2-character representation of country

An XML message instance using these components appears as follows:


Alternative and rationale

An encoding similar to the way we represent GENC, below, was considered for representing ISO 3166-1 in NIEM 4, but was rejected because of issues specific to ISO 3166-1, which include:

  1. ISO does not publish URIs identifying the ISO 3166 code lists. NIEM would have to invent NIEM-specific URIs for ISO’s code lists, and NIEM prefers not to do so.
  2. ISO does not publicly publish identifiers for specific versions of the ISO 3166 code lists. It is unclear how exchange developers and implementers would distinguish between versions of ISO 3166.
  3. NIEM 3 used simple type enumerations for ISO 3166-1 code lists, and no issues have been submitted that indicate a problem with that representation.

GENC codes

The following pattern is used to represent the GENC codes in NIEM. This includes the representations of country codes shown below, but is also extended for Geopolitical subdivisions (e.g., states) described by GENC. All versions of GENC use code lists as described by The NIEM Code Lists Specification.

This is made more convenient by:

  1. GENC provides an identifying URI for every version of every code list
  2. GENC provides machine-readable forms of their code lists
  3. GENC documents describe messages that use the code list URI along with code values.

GENC 3-character country code

GENC encodings of country codes use the generic code type cli:CodeType described by The NIEM Code Lists Specification. This allows for run-time-specified code list URIs. A GENC website identifies the following URIs that identify encodings of the current GENC Geopolitical entities code list:

  • Version 3-3, 2-character encoding:
  • Version 3-3, 3-character encoding:
  • Version 3-3, numeric encoding:

These encodings incorporate not only the code list (the list of entities) but particular encodings of codes for the code list (2-character, 3-character, numeric). As a result, for binding to the code list, a different code list URI is used for each encoding, and the column name is not used. A sample instance, using a 3-character encoding for the United States of America, appears as follows:

    <nc:CountryCode cli:codeListURI=""

This uses the generic code type cli:CodeType, provided as part of the NIEM Code Lists Specification, described by the following diagram:

GENC 3-character representation of country

Here we see that nc:CountryCode uses the generic cli:CodeType, requiring it to have a code list URI and optional column name and constraining indicator.

The code list for GENC Geopolitical entities, 3-character encoding, is provided as a CSV file as follows:

char3 code   name short name   full name
AFG AFGHANISTAN   Afghanistan Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
XQZ AKROTIRI Akrotiri Akrotiri
ALB ALBANIA Albania Republic of Albania

This CSV code list file is provided in a sub-directory of the NIEM release, along with CSVs for the other encodings of the Geopolitical Entities code list, as well as the Geopolitical Subdivisions code list. These CSV code list files are identified by XML catalog documents provided as part of the NIEM release.

Users and exchange developers who must (1) update to newer versions of GENC code lists, or (2) incorporate exchanges using older versions of GENC code lists, or (3) use code lists other than GENC, in alignment with local exchange requirements, may do so by using other code list URIs, and may optionally incorporate new code list files as CSV files or Genericode files in an XML catalog used with their exchange, as described by the NIEM Code Lists Specification.