Interoperability (pronounced IHN-tuhr-AHP-uhr-uh-BIHL-ih-tee) is the ability of a system or a product to work with other systems or products without special effort on the part of the customer. Interoperability becomes a quality of increasing importance for information technology products as the concept that "The network is the computer" becomes a reality. For this reason, the term is widely used in product marketing descriptions.
Products achieve interoperability with other products using either or both of two approaches:
- By adhering to published interface standards
- By making use of a "broker" of services that can convert one product's interface into another product's interface "on the fly"
A good example of the first approach is the set of standards that have been developed for the World Wide Web. These standards include TCP/IP, Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and HTML. The second kind of interoperability approach is exemplified by the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) and its Object Request Broker (ORB).
Compatibility is a related term. A product is compatible with a standard but interoperable with other products that meet the same standard (or achieve interoperability through a broker).