IGSN Technical Documentation of the IGSN

Organisation and Governance

The application and long-term utility of sample­ based data are critically dependent on the availability of information (metadata) about the samples, links to other data sets derived from individual samples, and access to the samples themselves. Major problems for achieving this include incomplete documentation of samples in publications, use of ambiguous sample names, and the lack of web-accessible catalogues that allow finding out about existing samples and their archiving location. Using persistent identifiers for physical samples, such as the International Generic Sample Number (IGSN), provides solutions. Read more on how to use IGSN as an investigator, author, data centre, publisher …

Through its strategic partnership with DataCite, the IGSN Organisation (IGSN e.V.) offers a system of unique persistent identifiers for samples. The objective of the IGSN e.V. is to implement and promote standard methods for locating, identifying, and citing physical samples with confidence. Each scientific community has different needs for how to reference physical sample materials, yet all communities benefit from the ability to identify samples in a globally unique and persistent way.

The use of persistent identifiers in digital data systems allows for building linkages between the digital representation of samples (sample profiles) in community-governed portals and their related data in the literature and in web­accessible digital data repositories. Read more on IGSN communities of practice

IGSN is not a database for samples. Discipline-specific databases are operated by the respective scientific communities, and IGSN IDs, as persistent identifiers, help to reference samples in discipline-specific sample catalogues. Read more on IGSN communities of practice

IGSN e.V. does not prescribe a naming scheme for samples. Communities are free to govern their IGSN namespaces according to their needs. Using IGSN ensures that samples can be uniquely identified. Read more on IGSN ID naming conventions

IGSN does not prescribe a standard metadata scheme. Metadata schemes in community databases are defined by the respective scientific communities to best serve their needs for sample discovery and reference. Read more on IGSN metadata


Samples and collections are embedded into specific user communities and organisations. The abilities to provide metadata may vary considerably between communities. At the same time, each community requires different metadata. At this level of detail, a “one size fits all” approach will not work.