Importance of IFC Explained

The Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) data model is intended to describe architectural, building and construction industry data. IFC is a standardized, digital description of the built asset industry. More specifically, the IFC schema is a standardized data model that codifies, in a logical way...

  • ... the identity and semantics (name, machine-readable unique identifier, object type or function).
  • ... the characteristics or attributes (such as material, color, and thermal properties).
  • ... and relationships (including locations, connections, and ownership).
  • ... of objects (like columns or slabs).
  • ... abstract concepts (performance, costing).
  • ... processes (installation, operations).
  • ... and people (owners, designers, contractors, suppliers, etc.).

IFC is a particular data format that has the purpose to allow the inter-exchange of an information model without loss or distortion of data. It’s an open file format, neutral, not controlled by individual software houses and created to facilitate interoperability between different operators. IFC is designed to process a building’s data model throughout its entire life cycle, from feasibility up to its realization and maintenance, passing through the various design and planning phases.

The schema specification can describe how a facility or installation is used, how it is constructed, and how it is operated. IFC can define physical components of buildings, manufactured products, mechanical/electrical systems, as well as more abstract structural analysis models, energy analysis models, cost breakdowns, work schedules, and much, much more.

It is a platform neutral, open file format specification that is not controlled by a single vendor or group of vendors. It is an object-based file format with a data model developed by buildingSMART (formerly the International Alliance for Interoperability, IAI) to facilitate interoperability in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry, and is a commonly used collaboration format in Building information modeling (BIM) based projects. The IFC model specification is open and available. It is registered by ISO and is an official International Standard ISO 16739-1:2018.


BIM (Building Information Modeling) is one of the most innovative and promising technologies in the construction sector. BIM can be defined as a process of planning, design, implementation and maintenance of a building that uses the information model of a building containing all the information regarding its entire life-cycle. If you have entered the BIM world through Revit (Autodesk) like most of the people, you may have thought that the entire flow and life cycle of your business project is only available within this software or in the Autodesk environment. Or, worse, you may have heard that “doing BIM” is having a 3D model in Revit (Is BIM the same as Revit?).

When you delve into the subject and learn what Building Information Modeling really is and all its scope, you realize that there are hundreds of different flows, with different software, and that each designer has their own preferences. A key aspect of BIM — its interoperability — is put to the test when multiple designers are working with files of different formats and need to exchange information quickly and accurately. After all, what should you do if Revit doesn’t read .pnl files, or Archicad doesn’t read .prj files, or Solibri doesn’t handle well the .nwd files? To face this type of problem, the transfer of information (geometric and non-geometric) is carried out with the help of a common extension, called IFC (Industry Foundation Classes).

IFC files could be saved as various formats depending on the size of the model, or what formats are supported by different software. Beyond the official formats (.ifc, .ifcxml, .ifczip) there are temporary and experimental formats too (.json, .hdf, .sqlite), which are currently candidates or unsupported.

The official formats are the following:

  • the most widely used in practice, based on the ISO standard for clear text representation of EXPRESS data model
  • gives better readability, but in general, it has 13% larger size than ifc file, based on ISO standard for representation of STEP in XML format
  • ifc data compressed in ZIP format, the size is comparable

The “buildingSMART International” has defined a certification process that guarantees that the correct import and export processes of IFC data are followed, ensuring compliance with standards. All IFC certified software are able to read, write and exchange information with other software solutions and according to data provided by buildingSMART, the IFC standard is currently supported byover 140 software platforms. You can learn more about the IFC standard at buildingSMART & ISO 16739-1:2018


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