What Does COTS Mean?

Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) is marketing lingo for turnkey software and hardware that can be purchased, leased or licensed by the general public.


COTS products can be used "out of the box" without modification. The term has its roots in the military.

The advantages of purchasing a COTS solution include the following:

  • Short timeline from acquisition to everyday use.
  • Maintenance contracts, if offered, are opt-in.
  • The manufacturer is responsible for updates to software and firmware.

Techopedia Explains COTS

The decision about whether to use a COTS product or build something custom should be based on the needs of the user and the cost-effectiveness of building a custom solution.

If a purchaser or third-party vendor customizes a COTS product, the manufacturer's warrantee becomes null and void, and it becomes the responsibility of the consumer to manage the software or hardware throughout the rest of its product lifecycle.

A COTS product that has been tailored to meet the needs of a specific group of people is referred to as a MOTS (modified-off-the-shelf) product.


Related Terms

Margaret Rouse

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.