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Definition of OLE in Network Encyclopedia.

What is OLE?

OLE is a low-level object-oriented technology based on the Component Object Model (COM) that provides services to applications for creating compound documents.

How It Works

An OLE application can be one or both of the following:

  • An OLE server application, which is used to create objects that will be contained in compound documents. A server application can create OLE components that can be placed in documents created by OLE container applications.
  • An OLE container application, which is used to create the actual compound documents. A container application can create documents that can contain and display OLE components using OLE.

OLE container documents support in-place activation, which allows users to activate an embedded OLE component from within the container document. Activating the component changes the container application’s user interface to include features that allow users to directly edit the component from within the container document.


The meaning of the term “OLE” has changed since its first usage at Microsoft. Version 1 of Object Linking and Embedding (OLE), referred to as OLE 1, was created in 1991 and was Microsoft’s first mechanism for creating compound documents.

OLE 2, the second version of OLE, improved on OLE 1 and expanded the support for creating compound documents. OLE 2 was based on the model known as the Component Object Model (COM). Microsoft began to recognize that OLE 2 could be used to solve other software problems and that it could be applied to other areas of software development. Microsoft saw OLE 2 as an expandable architecture to create software and, as such, decided to drop the version number.

Microsoft also reduced the name from “Object Linking and Embedding (OLE)” to just “OLE,” which had no spell-out. At that time, OLE referred to any technology based on COM. In 1996, Microsoft introduced the name “ActiveX.” Initially, the name “ActiveX” referred to COM-based technologies related to the Internet, which overlapped with OLE.

Soon, OLE technologies were being referred to as “ActiveX technologies.” At that time, Microsoft decided to change the name “OLE” back to its original name, “object linking and embedding (OLE),” and once again use it to refer to technologies for creating compound documents and the linking and embedding of objects.

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