Introducing the vCard standard
The vCard format is the ubiquitous standard for contact exchange and management, used by over 2.5 billion devices today ranging from mobile devices to the largest cloud-scale systems.
vCard has gone through multiple iterations, with version 4.0 the latest:
- Version 2.1: vCard, The Electronic Business Card, September 1996
- Version 3.0: RFC 2425, A MIME Content-Type for Directory Information, September 1998
- Version 3.0: RFC 2426, vCard MIME Directory Profile, September 1998
- Version 4.0: RFC 6350, vCard Format Specification, August 2011
A brief history
Originally called “The Electronic Business Card”, vCard was first developed by the versit Consortium (in lowercase indeed) in 1990 as an interoperable data format to represent business cards in its suite of Personal Data Interchange technologies, giving it the iconic ‘vCard’ name (‘v’ for ‘Versit’ or ‘virtual’).
In 1996, the versit Consortium was disbanded and its intellectual property, including the vCard and vCalendar formats, were inherited by the Internet Mail Consortium (IMC).
When IMC ceased activities in 2002, its intellectual property was transferred out. IMC transferred the vCalendar format to IETF early on and offered the vCard format to CalConnect, which turned down the transfer due to our IP policy, eventually allowing the format to be inherited by IETF. Both formats were then managed under the IETF Calendaring and Scheduling Working Group (calsch) group.
Generally due to the lack of resources, development of these standards stalled and the future of these formats looked uncertain.
In 2003, Patricia Egen and Dave Thewlis, SHARE’s liaison to the IETF and Chief Standards Officer respectively, wanted to revitalize these standards and sought contact with users of the vCard and vCalendar standards.
Since the IETF was too busy anyway with other work and was more than happy to eject non-core responsibility, it was decided that the best way forward for interoperable contact and calendar exchange is a separate, formal entity composed by contact and calendaring developers and users, who are inherently incentivized to give time and effort to make interoperability a reality.
The resulting organization is the Calendar and Scheduling Consortium, otherwise known as CalConnect, where Dave Thewlis serves as its Executive Director. By the end of 2004, CalConnect was up and running.
All revisions and extensions to vCard standards since vCard 3.0, including vCard 4.0, vCard extensions and CardDAV, have been either initiated by of fully developed under CalConnect, and have all been published with an open license through IETF RFCs.
Who manages the vCard?
Since the inception of CalConnect, all vCard standards (after version 3.0) have been either initiated by or developed within the organization, and eventually published through IETF RFCs for open adoption.
Today, the CalConnect VCARD technical committee manages all aspects surrounding the vCard standard, with the goal of promoting interoperable information exchange across populations and industries. The VCARD technical committee works closely with IETF for publishing CalConnect vCard standards through the RFC process.
% ## Where the vCard is used % % Servers, clients % [TODO]
The vCard standard
vCard is a data format for exchanging electronic representations of contact information. Commonly attached to e-mails, vCards can also be exchanged through other communication channels, such as instant messages, text messages, or embedded in websites.
As of version 4.0, the vCard standard today is used to represent a variety of information that goes beyond electronic business cards and MIME Directory Profiles.
A vCard is generally used as an electronic contact card, representing a person, an organization or even a location. Usually a vCard would contain a name, contact details such as addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and URLs, as well as multimedia content about the subject.
vCards are often used in electronic contact or address book clients (described in the 20th century as Personal Information Management software,PIMs), such as the implementations on Apple’s macOS and iOS, Google’s Android, Microsoft’s Outlook and Mozilla’s Lightning. This type of software usually allows importing and exporting of vCards.
Other than simple client implementations, they are also used in customer relationship management software (CRM) to represent current and potential customer contacts, and as a data interchange format for personal information managers and calendaring software.
vCards can be used and exchanged as individual files, but are more often used in conjunction with server implementations in form of cloud-based systems. Apple’s iCloud Contacts and Google Contacts are cloud-based services that utilize the vCard data format together with CardDAV, a server/client protocol that helps centrally manage vCard data on a server.