Skip to content
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology
ITS Joint Program Office
Search for ITS Standards

Stay Connected

Facebook    Twitter    ITS Newsletter

Deployment Resources


ITS Standards Fact Sheets

United States Department of Transportation logo AASHTO logo ITE logo NEMA logo
Print Ready Version

NTCIP 1203 - Object Definitions for Dynamic Message Signs (DMS)

This Fact Sheet was written on Sept 18, 2009. The status of the standard at the time was: Published in March 1997, version 2.35 approved in March 2007 and available for download from

This Fact Sheet was written on September 18, 2009. The status of the standard at the time was: Approved.

This Fact Sheet was last verified on September 18, 2009

 Check the ITS Standards Search to see if there has been subsequent development activity.


The National Transportation Communications for Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Protocol (NTCIP) is a family of standards that provides both the rules for communicating (called protocols) and the vocabulary (called objects) necessary to allow electronic traffic control equipment from different manufacturers to operate with each other as a system. The NTCIP is the first set of standards for the transportation industry that allows transportation systems to be built using a "mix and match" approach with equipment from different manufacturers. Therefore, NTCIP standards reduce the need for reliance on specific equipment vendors and customized one-of-a-kind software. To assure both manufacturer and user community support, NTCIP is a joint product of the National Electronics Manufacturers Association (NEMA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE). More information concerning the NTCIP family of standards and their related documents is available in the NTCIP 9001 - NTCIP Guide, available on-line at (

Human communications relies on a vocabulary of words, each defined with a fixed meaning and spelling that are understood by the members of the conversation group. Computers have a similar vocabulary, called "objects" in the NTCIP standards. These objects define all possible commands, responses and information that may be exchanged among microprocessor-controlled electronic equipment, traffic management systems (which could include central computers housed in a center or portable computers, e.g. laptops), and by extension, their human operators. The NTCIP groups these objects by subject material (e.g., dynamic message signs) and calls these groupings "object definitions." The objects defined in this standard allow an operator to configure, control, and monitor a dynamic message sign (DMS).

What are these standards for?

NTCIP 1203 - Object Definitions for Dynamic Message Signs (DMS), provides the vocabulary - commands, responses, and information - necessary for traffic management and operations personnel to advise and inform the vehicle operators of current highway conditions by using dynamic message signs.A dynamic message sign is any sign that can change the message presented to the viewer. Since dynamic message signs require multiple objects to operate (information object, paging object, flashing object, etc.), this standard also includes a message syntax, called MULTI (Mark-Up Language for Transportation Information), which allows objects to be grouped into a message object. The message object is analogous to a sentence in that both the message object and a sentence require a syntax, or ordering of the information objects (words), to be understood.

This standard contains object definitions to support the functionality of DMSs used for transportation and traffic control applications. The objects include commands to the signs, messages for display, and responses from the signs to the transportation management center, as well as "free text" objects that allow an operator to have stored or newly created messages displayed by the sign.

Who uses them?

NTCIP 1203 - Object Definitions for Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) should be used by transportation and traffic engineers involved with the design, specification, selection, procurement and installation, operation, and maintenance of dynamic message signs. ITS product hardware and software designers and application (computer program) developers should find this standard especially relevant to their efforts.

How are they used?

NTCIP 1203 - Object Definitions for Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) defines a vocabulary of "objects" used to assure that the management systems and electronic dynamic message signs "speak" a common language. A message must be understood by the device it was intended for, and equally important, it must not be misunderstood or misinterpreted by another device on the same network. Object definitions unambiguously define the content, terminology, value and format of commands, responses and information affecting communications with dynamic message signs.

NTCIP 1203 includes a Protocol Requirements List, which identifies user needs and functionalities, and relates them to requirements that must be fulfilled by the elements of the standard. The user should review the PRL to determine which functionalities are desired for a project. Those functionalities, as checked on the PRL, will identify which requirements must be fulfilled. The standard also includes a Requirements Traceability Matrix, which shows which objects in the standard fulfill the requirements identified in the PRL.

This standard must be used with one of the NTCIP communications profiles (NTCIP 2001, 21xx, 22xx, 23xx, etc.) which provide the communications channel for information transfer between devices. It must be used with the NTCIP Global Object Definitions (NTCIP 1201), which provides the glossary of common object definitions used by multiple NTCIP traffic control devices.


Communication between a traffic management system’s central computer and dynamic message signs is accomplished by using the objects defined in this standard, NTCIP 1203 - Object Definitions for Dynamic Message Signs (DMS). These objects define the information, commands and responses that must be understood by the devices at both ends of the communications channel. This standard defines objects across three major areas of operation: management of the DMS configuration, control of the DMS, and monitoring of its status. Version 2 of this standard was developed using an established systems engineering process and includes the concept of operations, functional requirements, interface specifications and a requirements traceability matrix.

Related documents

The following ITS standards and documents are related and should be considered when using this standard:

The following standards and documents, while not part of the ITS standards, should also be considered when using this standard:

How to obtain Standards
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
Institute of Transportation Engineers
Association of Electrical and Medical Imaging Equipment Manufacturers (NEMA), formerly known as National Electrical Manufacturers Association