In the context of smart cards, an Application Protocol Data Unit (APDU) is the communication unit between a smart card reader and a smart card. The structure of the APDU is defined by ISO/IEC 7816-4 Organization, security and commands for interchange.

Command APDU
Field name Length (bytes) Description
CLA 1 Instruction class – indicates the type of command, e.g. interindustry or proprietary
INS 1 Instruction code – indicates the specific command, e.g. “write data”
P1-P2 2 Instruction parameters for the command, e.g. offset into file at which to write the data
Lc 0, 1 or 3 Encodes the number (Nc) of bytes of command data to follow

0 bytes denotes Nc=0
1 byte with a value from 1 to 255 denotes Nc with the same value
3 bytes, the first of which must be 0, denotes Nc in the range 1 to 65 535 (all three bytes may not be zero)

Command data Nc Nc bytes of data
Le 0, 1, 2 or 3 Encodes the maximum number (Ne) of response bytes expected

0 bytes denotes Ne=0
1 byte in the range 1 to 255 denotes that value of Ne, or 0 denotes Ne=256
2 bytes (if extended Lc was present in the command) in the range 1 to 65 535 denotes Ne of that value, or two zero bytes denotes 65 536
3 bytes (if Lc was not present in the command), the first of which must be 0, denote Ne in the same way as two-byte Le

Response APDU
Response data Nr (at most Ne) Response data
SW1-SW2
(Response trailer)
2 Command processing status, e.g. 90 00 (hexadecimal) indicates success

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Tags: ISO-7816
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