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The International Reference Ionosphere (IRI) is the international standard for the specification of ionospheric densities and temperatures. It was developed and is being improved-updated by a joint working group of the International Union of Radio Science (URSI) and the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). A new version of IRI is scheduled for release in the year 2000. This paper describes the most important changes compared to the current version of IRI: (1) an improved representation of the electron density in the region from the F peak down to the E peak including a better description of the F1 layer occurrence statistics and a more realistic description of the low-latitude bottomside thickness, (2) inclusion of a model for storm-time conditions, (3) inclusion of an ion drift model, (4) two new options for the electron density in the D region, and (5) an improved model for the topside electron temperatures. The outcome of the most recent IRI Workshops (Kühlungsborn, 1997, and Nagoya, 1998) will be reviewed, and the status of several ongoing task force activities (e.g., efforts to improve the representation of electron and ion densities in the topside ionosphere and the inclusion of a plasmaspheric extension) will be discussed. A few typical IRI applications will be highlighted in section 6.