ISO 639-3 extends the ISO 639-2 alpha-3 codes with an aim to cover all known natural languages. The extended language coverage was based primarily on the language codes used in the Ethnologue (volumes 10-14) published by SIL International, which is now the registration authority for ISO 639-3. It provides an enumeration of languages as complete as possible, including living and extinct, ancient and constructed, major and minor, written and unwritten. However, it does not include reconstructed languages such as Proto-Indo-European.
ISO 639-3 is intended for use as metadata codes in a wide range of applications. It is widely used in computer and information systems, such as the Internet, in which many languages need to be supported. In archives and other information storage, they are used in cataloging systems, indicating what language a resource is in or about. The codes are also frequently used in the linguistic literature and elsewhere to compensate for the fact that language names may be obscure or ambiguous.
Because it provides comprehensive language coverage, giving equal opportunity for all languages, and because of its wide adoption in information technologies, ISO 639-3 provides an important technology component addressing the digital divide problem.
ISO 639-3 includes all languages in ISO 639-1 and all individual languages in ISO 639-2. ISO 639-1 and ISO 639-2 focused on major languages, most frequently represented in the total body of the world's literature. Since ISO 639-2 also includes language collections and Part 3 does not, ISO 639-3 is not a superset of ISO 639-2. Where B and T codes exist in ISO 639-2, ISO 639-3 uses the T-codes.