This snapshot, taken on
, shows web content acquired for preservation by The National Archives. External links, forms and search may not work in archived websites and contact details are likely to be out of date.
The UK Government Web Archive does not use cookies but some may be left in your browser from archived websites.
A brief introduction to the OpenURL standard with links to further information.


OpenURL provides a framework for context-sensitive linking.  An OpenURL is an ‘actionable’ URL that transports metadata about a resource to a link resolver.  This then resolves the metadata into specific targets appropriate for the user’s institutional affiliation and access rights.

What it is

OpenURL provides a framework for context-sensitive linking.  OpenURLs are most commonly used to direct users who click on citations to the ‘most appropriate’ copy from their institution’s point of view.  Instead of indicating where a resource can be found (like a normal URL), an OpenURL provides information about what the resource is so that a separate link resolver can direct users to an appropriate source in accordance with their institutional affiliation and access rights.  An OpenURL is therefore an ‘actionable’ URL that transports metadata about the resource.

How it Works

NISO developed the OpenURL standard and describes it in the following way:  

The OpenURL standard is a syntax to create web-transportable packages of metadata and/or identifiers about an information object. Such packages are at the core of context-sensitive or open link technology.  

The OpenURL is needed because conventional web links do not take into account the identity of the user: they take all users to the same target. This causes some problems. For example, when more than one institution provides access to copies of the same electronic article, the link from citation to full text should resolve to a copy that is accessible to the user. Since different users have access to different digital libraries, the link should resolve in a user-specific fashion. In order to do this, a link must be able to:  

  1. Package metadata and identifiers describing the information object.
  2. Send this package to a link-resolution server or resolver.  

If this resolver is aware of the user's context, it is able to take into account the identity of the user when resolving the metadata into specific targets.

OpenURL in the PALS Programmes

  • metadata+  – NeSC developed testbed machine services for metadata discovery and aggregation, including SRU for searching and OpenURL for linking.

Further Information