Historically, a civil law is the group of legal ideas and systems ultimately derived from the Corpus Juris Civilis, but heavily overlaid by Napoleonic, Germanic, canonical, feudal, and local practices, as well as doctrinal strains such as natural law, codification, and legal positivism.
Conceptually, civil law proceeds from abstractions, formulates general principles, and distinguishes substantive rules from procedural rules. It holds case law secondary and subordinate to statutory law. Civil law is often paired with the inquisitorial system, but the terms are not synonymous.
There are key differences between a statute and a codal article. The most pronounced features of civil systems are their legal codes, with brief legal texts that typically avoid factually specific scenarios. The short articles in a civil law code deal in generalities and stand in contrast with statutory systems, which are often very long and very detailed.
The purpose of codification is to provide all citizens with manners and written collection of the laws which apply to them and which judges must follow. It is the most widespread system of law in the world, in force in various forms in about 150 countries. It draws heavily from Roman law, arguably the most intricate known legal system dating from before the modern era.
Where codes exist, the primary source of law is the law code, a systematic collection of interrelated articles, arranged by subject matter in some pre-specified order, that explain the principles of law, rights and entitlements, and how basic legal mechanisms work. Law codes are simply laws enacted by a legislature, even if they are in general much longer than other laws. Other major legal systems in the world include common law, Islamic law, Halakha, and canon law.