A standards organization, standards body, standards developing organization (SDO), or standards setting organization (SSO) is an organization whose primary function is developing, coordinating, promulgating, revising, amending, reissuing, interpreting, or otherwise producing technical standards to address the needs of a group of affected adopters. Put another way, such an organization works to create uniformity across producers, consumers, government agencies, and other relevant parties regarding terminology, product specifications (e.g. size, including units of measure), protocols, and more. Its goals could include ensuring that Company A's external hard drive works on Company B's computer, your blood pressure measures the same with Company C's sphygmomanometer as it does with Company D's, or that all shirts that should not be ironed have the same icon (an iron crossed out with an X) on the label.
Most standards are voluntary in the sense that they are offered for adoption by people or industry without being mandated in law. Some standards become mandatory when they are adopted by regulators as legal requirements in particular domains, often for the purpose of safety or for consumer protection from deceitful practices.
The term formal standard refers specifically to a specification that has been approved by a standards setting organization. The term de jure standard refers to a standard mandated by legal requirements or refers generally to any formal standard. In contrast, the term de facto standard refers to a specification (or protocol or technology) that has achieved widespread use and acceptance – often without being approved by any standards organization (or receiving such approval only after it already has achieved widespread use). Examples of de facto standards that were not approved by any standards organizations (or at least not approved until after they were in widespread de facto use) include the Hayes command set developed by Hayes, Apple's TrueType font design and the PCL protocol used by Hewlett-Packard in the computer printers they produced.
Normally, the term standards organization is not used to refer to the individual parties participating within the standards developing organization in the capacity of founders, benefactors, stakeholders, members or contributors, who themselves may function as the standards organizations.