A digital object identifier (DOI) is a character string (a "digital identifier") used to uniquely identify an object such as an electronic document. Metadata about the object is stored in association with the DOI name and this metadata may include a location, such as a URL, where the object can be found. The DOI for a document is permanent, whereas its location and other metadata may change. Referring to an online document by its DOI provides more stable linking than simply referring to it by its URL, because if its URL changes, the publisher need only update the metadata for the DOI to link to the new URL.
Organizations that meet the contractual obligations of the DOI system and are willing to pay to become a member of the system can assign DOIs. The DOI system is implemented through a federation of registration agencies coordinated by the International DOI Foundation, which developed and controls the system. The DOI system has been developed and implemented in a range of publishing applications since 2000; by late April 2011 more than 50 million DOI names had been assigned by some 4,000 organizations. By April 2013 this number had grown to 85 million DOI names assigned through 9,500 organizations. The DOI system uses, but is not formally part of, the Handle System.