De jure facto and de facto are commonly confused to mean the same thing. While they are often used in the same contexts, they are distinctly different concepts. De jure standards refer to standards that are established by law, while de facto standards are standards that are based on facts but not formally recognized. These terms can be applied to a wide range of contexts, but they are most often used to describe certain business, legal, or political situations.  

What Is the Difference Between De Facto and De Jure?

De facto and de jure are closely-connected concepts. De facto is a situation that is known to be true and factual but not formally sanctioned. De facto standards are standards in actuality that are widely adopted by an industry and its consumers. Such standards are also referred to as market-driven standards. They are established when a significant portion of an industry likes them enough to use them collectively. With approval from an official standards organization, market-driven standards can be formalized and turned into de jure standards.

De jure refers to a state of affairs that is officially sanctioned by law. De jure standards are approved by an official standards organization. Each standard is ratified through the organization's official procedures and given a stamp of approval. In Medieval Latin, de jure means “from law.” It does not only refer to enforced or legally protected standards but also standards that have been approved by a formal standards organization.

Applications of De Facto and De Jure

The terms “de facto” and “de jure” are most commonly used to relate the source of a political or business leader's authority, but they can also be used in many other situations. Many legal issues and international business matters also involve the use of these terms.

Examples of De Facto Standards

De facto standards can come in a variety of forms, including:

  • Controlled or uncontrolled standards
  • Open or closed standards
  • Standards owned by a few or many
  • Standards available to everybody or approved users only

Some examples of de facto standards include:

  • Microsoft's Windows operating system — Microsoft's Windows operating system and other commonly used Microsoft applications, such as Word and Excel, have long been the de facto standards for computer users.
  • QWERTY keyboard layout — The QWERTY layout is the standard keyboard layout in countries that use the Latin alphabet.
  • Breadcrumb trail — This website navigation tool is the de facto standard for internet users who wish to know the location of the current page with regard to the website's hierarchy.

Examples of De Jure Standards

Official standards organizations that establish de jure standards must follow well-documented processes. These processes may seem rigid and complicated, but they are nonetheless necessary to ensure quality, safety, repeatability, and other positive qualities. The organizations themselves may be required to undergo audits from time to time.

Formal standards organizations that create de jure standards allow all interested parties to take part in the development of standards. Consensus is an essential ingredient. Definitions of consensus and membership rules differ from one standards organization to another. For instance, most of the organizations require their members to pay a fee, which may vary significantly. Also, some organizations regard a simple majority as consensus, while others require an approval rating of 75 percent before passing a measure.

While it is important to achieve consensus, the process can be lengthy. This is especially so when there are members of the committee who do not want a standard to succeed. However, if a de jure standard is approved after undergoing the entire process, those who implement and stand to benefit from the standard will have a higher level of confidence that it will adequately serve their needs.

The following are a few examples of de jure standards:

  • Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) — Endorsed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), TCP/IP is the standard communication protocol used on the internet.
  • American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) — ASCII is the most common text file format used on the internet and in computers.
  • Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) — Accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), SCSI is a set of electronic interfaces that facilitate communication between personal computers and peripheral hardware.

If you need help understanding de jure and de facto standards, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.