Interface Description Language

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Interface Description Language

(IDL) A language designed by Nestor, Lamb and Wulf of CMU in 1981 for describing the data structures passed between parts of an application, to provide a language-independent intermediate representation.

It forms part of Richard Snodgrass <>'s Scorpion environment development system.

Not to be confused with any of the other IDLs.

Mailing list:

["The Interface Description Language: Definition and Use," by Richard Snodgrass, Computer Science Press, 1989, ISBN 0-7167-8198-0].

[SIGPLAN Notices 22(11) (Nov 1987) special issue].
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (


(1) (Interface Definition Language, Interface Description Language) A language used to describe the interface to a software component or routine in a manner that is not dependent on a particular programming language or operating system. Because an IDL is independent of language and machine, it enables communications between applications running in different operating environments. For example, the Web Services Description Language (WSDL) discloses the interface for routines that provide Web services. Likewise, the CORBA system, a service oriented architecture (SOA) that predates Web services, uses an IDL. See WSDL and CORBA.

(2) (Interactive Data Language) An interpreted programming language from ITT Visual Information Solutions, Boulder, CO (, formerly Research Systems, Inc., that runs on Windows, Mac and various Unix platforms. It is used to write image processing and visualization applications. Well known products written in IDL include Research Systems' own ENVI software and the RiverTools application from Rivix, LLC.

A Scientific and Aerospace Influence
Initially created for NASA astronomers by David Stern, founder of RSI in 1977, IDL provides high-level commands for accessing images, performing data analyses and displaying 3D objects. IDL includes a complete development environment and also comes as an ActiveX control so that its routines can be accessed from user interfaces written in other languages such as Visual Basic. IDL On the Net, or ION, is a family of products that lets applications be shared across a network. IDL VM (Virtual Machine) is a free runtime utility that allows distribution of compiled IDL code applets.

In 2000, Eastman Kodak acquired RSI as a wholly owned subsidiary, then sold it to ITT Corporation in 2004, along with its Remote Sensing Systems division.
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References in periodicals archive ?
Simply stated, Web Services use XML-related technologies such as SOAP as the communication protocol; WSDL as the interface description language; and UDDI for registering and searching services.
More recent RPC mechanisms, such as NCS [3] and HRPC [6], automate the generation of code that maps the representations of data types within a program from one machine to another via an intermediate interface description language such as HP/Apollo's NIDL [3] or Xerox's Courier [38].
The subject is Internet-based application components that use the standard interface description languages. The fifth year of the ICWS program features papers on specifications and enhancements, services discovery and integration, security, services modeling, applications and solutions, and semantics in Web services.

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