ARK Alliance

Home of the Archival Resource Key (ARK)

ARK features

The availability of the features below is based on what system you’re using to resolve ARKs, so may vary whether you’re using an ARK service provider or running your own Noid installation. ARKs are designed to support all of the following:


Shoulders are short strings that extend your NAAN and allow you to create local namespaces below your NAAN. They divide your ARKs across autonomous projects or divisions, the which prevents independent assignment operations from creating duplicate ARKs. There is more to learn more about ARK shoulders and namespaces.


ARK metadata flexibility and the digital object lifecycle

ARK systems such as Noid and N2T can record and provide metadata about any resource with an ARK. That metadata becomes available via APIs, and can be seen when you add “?” to the end of an ARK URL. (See “Inflections” below)

ARK metadata is very flexible, with no initial required metadata, but with support for multiple metadata schemas. This flexibility is intentional: ARKs are designed to support a full digital object workflow, including the earliest stages before a resource is well-understood or described.

People need identifiers before they know exactly what object they refer to, or if they refer to anything worth keeping. An identifier that requires mature metadata cannot be created during early development since little is known about the object.

If you start with an ARK, you benefit from being able to keep the original identifier through to public release as the metadata matures. Many objects go through intensive development and revision phases, sometimes lasting years, during which they are too immature to meet most metadata requirements. Nonetheless every object needs some sort of identifier from conception to maturity.

Like the object itself, metadata elements need a flexible place to grow and mature over time:

Unlike Crossref and DataCite DOIs, which require specific metadata (eg, see the DataCite schema), ARKs do not constrain any of these activities. Moreover the resolver actually supports all of them.

Metadata schemas

If you use an ARK service such as EZID or ARKetype, or if ARKs are integrated with your repository platform, those services may define the metadata schemas you can use. Dublin Core, DataCite,, and Dublin Kernel are common metadata specifications to consider for use with ARKs.

Enhance here when you have answers to metadata questions

Choosing or creating a specification for your metadata depends on factors such as

ERC: Dublin Kernel metadata

You may see metadata for ARKs expressed with the labels “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, which may not correspond to a standard you use now.

ARKs were designed to identify anything, not just things that are, for example, publishable or purchasable. It is unnatural to model a fossil, tissue sample, vocabulary term, or Marie Curie as if each has an Author, Title, Publisher, Copyright, and Price. Instead, since 2001 an ARK typically has a four-element kernel of highly generic metadata (Dublin Kernel, inspired by Dublin Core (DC)), followed by any other metadata elements (name/value pairs) the provider wishes to provide.

Kernel metadata is structured as if in answer to the questions, who, what, when, and where regarding the expression of, or the “telling” of, an object:

Inflection: metadata and policy statement

Many ARK resolvers, including N2T, support two inflections: characters you can add to the end of an ARK URL to return additional information about the resource.

With inflection features, each ARK URL should be able to provide 3 things:

To see inflections in action, visit the following links:

The metadata returned is determined by the metadata schema and maintenance decisions you made when implementing ARKs.

The policy information returned is actually a URL that leads to a policy statement that some resolvers may allow you to configure. That policy statement should hold true for all objects you assign ARKs to.

As an example, the California Digital Library (CDL) assigns identifiers within the ARK domain under the NAAN 13030 and according to the following principles:

Institutions that generate ARKs may want to follow similar principles or develop their own assignment policies.

Deleting ARKs

Unlike other kinds of identifiers, ARKs can be deleted. If no one knows about an identifier but you, there’s no harm in deleting or withdrawing it. Stepping back, an identifier is actually an assertion that a given string of characters is associated with specific thing. The fewer people you tell, the easier it is to scrap that assertion. If you create a URL and share it only with your closest colleagues, that is much easier to withdraw than if the URL appeared for a month on a public website, from which it was harvested by internet search engines. In contrast, it is hard to delete DOIs and Handles because once registered and made resolvable, they are effectively released to the world.

ARKs behave like URLs in this respect. Providers are free to create and share ARKs narrowly, in which case they’re easy to delete.

Perhaps surprisingly, even if shared more broadly, ARKs should come with policy statements that tell you how much or how little commitment is made to them. ARKs were designed to articulate a variety of persistence statements, but they are certainly not alone among identifiers and objects that exhibit a variety of commitment “flavors”. This is why ARKs are known as high-functioning identifiers that are good at persistence rather than as “persistent identifiers”.

Finally, people make mistakes. ARKs, DOIs, Handles, PURLs, and URNs are sometimes broadcast in error and need to be withdrawn. When that happens, provider best practice is to make the withdrawn identifier resolve to a “tombstone” page that explains and perhaps apologizes for the inconvenience. Despite the rumors, persistent identifiers are never guaranteed.

Because ARKs can be deleted and don’t require metadata, you can create them very early in the object workflow, before you’re sure about the keeping the resource and before you’ve invested in describing it.