Vexillological symbols are used by vexillologists to indicate certain characteristics of national flags, such as where they are used, who uses them, and what they look like. The set of symbols described in this article are known as international flag identification symbols (IFIS), which were devised by Whitney Smith.
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National flag variants by use
Some countries use a single flag design to serve as the national flag in all contexts of use; others use multiple flags that serve as the national flag, depending on context (i.e., who is flying the national flag and where). The six basic contexts of use (and potential variants of a national flag) are:
- Civil flag – Flown by citizens on land.
- State flag – Flown on public buildings.
- War flag – Flown on military buildings.
- Civil ensign – Flown on private vessels (fishing craft, cruise ships, yachts, etc.).
- State ensign – Flown on unarmed government vessels.
- Naval ensign – Flown on warships.
In practice, a single design may be associated with multiple such usages; for example, a single design may serve a dual role as war flag and ensign. Even with such combinations, this framework is not complete: some countries define designs for usage contexts not expressible in this scheme such as air force ensigns (distinct from war flags or war ensigns, flown as the national flag at air bases; for example, see Royal Air Force Ensign) and civil air ensigns.
|Civil flag||National flag|
|State flag||National ensign|
|War flag||State and war flag, war ensign|
|Civil ensign||State flag, civil and war ensign|
|State ensign||Civil and state flags and ensigns|
|War ensign||State and war flags and ensigns|
|Civil and state flag||National flag, civil ensign|
|State and war flag||National flag, state ensign|
|Civil and state ensign||National flag, civil and state ensign|
|State and war ensign||National flag, state and war ensign|
|Civil flag and ensign||State and war flag, national ensign|
|State flag and ensign||Civil and state flag, national ensign|
|War flag and ensign||National flag and ensign|
|Civil and war ensign||Civil flag, war ensign|
|Civil flag, state ensign||Civil flag, state and war ensign|
|Civil flag, civil and war ensign||Civil flag, civil and state ensign|
|Civil flag, national ensign||Civil and war flag|
|Civil and war flag, war ensign||Civil and war flag, state ensign|
|Civil and war flag, state and war ensign||Civil and war flag, civil ensign|
|Civil and war flags and ensigns||Civil and war flag, civil and state ensign|
|Civil and war flag, national ensign||Civil and state flag, war ensign|
|Civil and state flag, state ensign||Civil and state flag, state and war ensign|
|Civil and state flag, civil ensign||Civil and state flag, civil and war ensign|
|State flag, war ensign||State flag, state and war ensign|
|State flag, civil ensign||State flag, state and civil ensign|
|State flag, national ensign||State flag and ensign, war flag|
|State and war flag, civil ensign||State and war flag, civil and war ensign|
|State and war flag, civil and state ensign||War flag, state ensign|
|War flag, state and war ensign||War flag, civil ensign|
|War flag, civil and war ensign||War flag, civil and state ensign|
|War flag, national ensign||National flag, war ensign|
|National flag, civil and war ensign||Other|
Other symbols are used to describe how a flag looks, such as whether it has a different design on each side, or if it is hung vertically, etc. These are the symbols in general use:
- Normal or de jure version of flag, or obverse side
- Design was proposed in the past, but never officially adopted
- Design is a reconstruction, based on past observations
- Reverse side of flag
- Design is an acceptable variant
- Alternative version of flag
- De facto version of flag
- Flag has different designs on its obverse side and its reverse side
- Obverse side meant to be hoisted with pole to the observer's right
- Design officially authorized to represent nation by government of that nation
- Design used in the past, but now abandoned (this symbol is not part of Smith's original set)
- Reverse side is mirror image of obverse side
- Reverse side is congruent to the obverse side
- Information on reverse side is not available
- Flag can be hung vertically by hoisting on a normal pole, then turning the pole 90°
- Flag can be hung vertically by rotating the design first
- Vertical hoist method of flag is unknown
- Design has no element which can be rotated
- Flags can only be hoisted vertically
- Flag is not authorized to represent the group or country
In April 2017, a preliminary proposal to encode vexillology symbols was submitted to the Unicode Consortium.
- Whitney Smith "The Flag Information Code" // The Flag Bulletin 21 (1982): 35
- Željko Heimer "The FAME: Symbols and Abbreviations"
- Joe McMillan "FIAV Flag Information Symbols" // Flags of the World
- Pandey, Anshuman: "Preliminary proposal to encode Vexillology Symbols in Unicode"