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Biometric Web Services

The biometric web services project combines biometrics and web services to

  • Enable multimodal biometric interoperability
  • Enhance mobile identification and remote authentication
The BWS project is sponsored by NIST, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security. 

Depictions of potential applications of biometric web services: mobile, enrollment, and screening.What are Web services?

"Web services" is a general term given to machine-to-machine communication using the same protocols that underlie the  web. The power of web services comes from their deep market penetration. Our computers, cellular phone, set-top boxes (i.e., digital video recorders, cable boxes)—even our alarm clocks—all natively understand these common protocols.
AVISIAN's Summer 2011 edition of re:ID, "Web services look to revolutionize biometrics", provides a non-technical introduction to biometric web services.

Why Web services and biometric sensors?

By using Web services as a means for interoperability, the capabilities and reach of biometrics is significantly improved. For example, Web services enable—

  • Wireless communication over commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) network equipment; for example the same sorts of wireless routers commonly found in homes today.
  • Worldwide connectivity. Any device that can visit a Web page can use the same underlying protocols to communicate with a biometric sensor. Unlike previous efforts, no platform-specific middleware (software) is necessary.
  • Secure communications between a sensor and a computer (client) using well-tested and widely implemented security protocols such as SSL. 


Furthermore, having a Web services-based biometric device interface helps to—

  • Enable seamless multimodal biometrics. By providing a uniform electronic interface to all biometric sensors, system components do not have to change their behavior if different modalities or sensors are used.
  • Improve biometric sensor acquisition. By providing a guaranteed level of interoperability, system owners could take advantage of improvements in biometric sensor technologies by swapping one conformant sensor with another.
  • Enable mobile biometrics. Accessing web technologies is not only limited to workstations and servers—modern cellular phones, tablets, and even gaming consoles all understand the language of the Web. Using Web services means improving the overall reach of biometrics.

What have we accomplished so far?

As of March 2012, the Biometric Web Services (BWS) project has a variety of both broad and targeted areas of focus.

  • WS-Biometric Devices. The WS-Biometric Devices (WS-BD) specification is a new command and control protocol for biometric sensors. It uses the language of the web; proprietary knowledge of sensors is no longer required. Desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone applications can access sensors just as easily as they can navigate to a website. The team is also working with the NIST Small Business Innovative Research program to help bring WS-BD enabled devices to market.
  • OASIS Biometric Identity Assurance Services (BIAS) Implementation. NIST has provided a reference implementation to providing an implementation of the OASIS Biometric Identity Assurance Services specification, and is available for download. The purpose of this activity is to help improve the quality of the BIAS specification, and provide a foundation for other implementations and statements of use. Download NIST's reference implementation here NIST BIAS Reference Implementation (10,559 KB).
  • NBIS Interoperability. To support our web services work, the Biometric Web Services team have developed an interoperability layer for the NIST NBIS software.
  • Prism. A code generation tool which creates reader/writer classes which can handle biometric file formats, such as EBTS. The file format is described in a simple table/tab-delimited file, which is then sent to Prism. The result is a set of classes which can be used to read/write/update biometric files. The Prism preview release can be downloaded here Prism - Preview Release (160 KB).
  • Discussion List. The list is an open and public forum for discussing the intersection of biometrics, web services, and service oriented architecture.
  • Participation in ANSI/INCITS M1 and ISO JTC 1 SC 37. Members of the Biometric Web Services project team provide technical guidance on various National and international standards related to web services and XML technologies.
  • User Interface Guidelines. The Biometric Web Services team works closely with the NIST Visualization and Usability Group (VUG) so that the applications that showcase the developed standards are not only efficient and effective, but also a foundation for modern biometric acquisition interaction patterns using touch and gesture technologies. The team has already completed one full round of user testing, which led to a major redesign. Ultimately, the user interfaces developed within this project will be released publicly along with accompanying source code.



In no case does product identification imply recommendation or endorsement by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, nor does it imply that the products and equipment identified are necessarily the best available for the purpose.

Project Staff

Greg Fiumara
Kristen Greene
Kayee Kwong
Kevin Mangold
Karen Marshall
Ross J. Micheals

Links (that open in a new window) to other NIST Biometrics activities | | | |



MailboxSubscribe to the Biometric Web Services Discussion List is an email list dedicated to an open and public discussion regarding biometrics, web services, service oriented architecture, and related technologies. There are no requirements to join and participate in the discussion; the list is open to all government, industry, and academic organizations as well as individuals. The list will also be used to announce developments at NIST regarding biometric web services projects.

To subscribe to the list, click this link, or, send an e-mail to with the words 'subscribe bws [YOUR NAME]' in the body (without the single quotes).


CameraWS-Biometric Devices Specification

17 May 2012—Along with the development of the recently released NIST Special Publication 500-288—Specification for WS-Biometric Devices, NIST has been continually developing a reference implementation. This implementation is written in Visual Basic .NET. Read the included README file for more information.

 ZIP 32x32 VB.NET Reference Implementation (864 KB)

15 March 2012—NIST Special Publication 500-288—Specification for WS-Biometric Devices (WS-BD) is officially published. WS-BD is a specification describing how to expose a biometric sensor to various clients via web services.

NIST welcomes feedback, comments, and questions on this document. Send your comments to the WS-BD team by emailing

 PDFNIST Special Publication 500-288 (843 KB)


Wrench_DoubleNBIS for Windows: NBIS.Net

The NIST Biometric Image Software (NBIS) distribution contains C source code for use with biometrics processing and analysis; NBIS.Net is a Microsoft.NET adapter for NBIS, providing an interface to the original NBIS source.

21 May 2012—NBIS.Net 4.1.0 has been updated to include interoperability to the BOZORTH3 minutiae matching algorithm.

PDFNBIS.Net 4.1.0 (4,888 KB)


BIASBiometric Identity Assurance
 Services (BIAS) News

22 May 2012—A ballot to approve the OASIS Biometric Identity Assurance Services (BIAS) SOAP Profile as an official OASIS Standard is currently underway. The OASIS BIAS Wiki provides an overview of the specification.

16 September 2011—NIST has completed a basic implementation of the OASIS Biometric Identity Assurance Services (BIAS) specification. With the addition of the Bozorth3 fingerprint minutiae matching algorithm, this release implements all of BIAS' major biometric capabilities (enroll/verify/identify). The provided source contains a cross-language solution: a standalone web service (VB.NET) and client (Adobe Flex).

 ZIP 32x32 BIAS Implementation - 16 September 2011 (10,559 KB)

NIST is particularly interested in testing interoperability with other implementors. The provided implementation is Class 2 conformant to the 6th Committee Draft of the specification.


MagicANSI/NIST Parser Generators: "Prism"

19 May 2011—Prism, a tool developed by NIST to facilitate programmatically reading and writing common biometric file formats, is now available as a Preview Release.

PDF "Prism" - 10 May 2011 Early Release  (160 KB)

Originally derived from the NIST Internal Report 6011, the file format as it stands today exists in many different forms. These forms all share similar characteristics but differ in its content and structure. For agencies and organizations to communicate this data to one another; this is pretty difficult without a myriad of parsing utilities. Prism helps facilitate programmatically reading, writing, and creating parsing utilities based off of a simple table which contains the metadata and structure of the particular format.


Ross J. Micheals
(301) 975-3234
ross.micheals (at)