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agnostic

Agnostic, in an information technology (IT) context, refers to something that is generalized so that it is interoperable among various systems. The term can refer not only to software and hardware, but also to business processes or practices.

The word agnostic comes from the Greek a-, meaning without and gnōsis, meaning knowledge. In IT, that translates to the ability of something to function without “knowing” the underlying details of a system that it is working within.  As with interoperability, agnosticism is typically enabled by either compliance with widely-used standards or added elements (such as coding) that will enable one system to function in a variety of environments.

Some examples of agnosticism in IT:

  • Platform-agnostic software runs on any combination of operating system and underlying processor architecture. Such applications are sometimes referred to as “cross-platform.”
  • Device-agnostic software operates across various types of devices, including desktop computers, laptops, tablet PCs and smartphones.
  • Database-agnostic software functions with any vendor’s database management system (DBMS). Typical database-agnostic products include business analytics (BA) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.
  • Protocol-agnostic software is independent of communication protocols. It negotiates a protocol with its peer and begins communication.
  • Business process-agnostic software functions in different business environments. One example is a business process-agnostic business service that encapsulates logic associated with a specific business entity, such as "invoice" or "claim.”
  • Vendor-agnostic middleware can mediate between software from multiple vendors, rather than between two specific applications.  
  • Hardware-agnostic licensing is a per-device or per-user model, rather than having each license tied to a specific device or virtual machine (VM).

Thomas Henry Huxley coined the term agnostic in 1869 as part of his philosophy rejecting the validity of claims of spiritual knowledge, particularly in reference to the existence or non-existence of a deity or deities.

See also: portability, backward compatible, forward compatible, open, open source

This was last updated in January 2016

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