A shipping container (or intermodal container), is a large standardized metal enclosure, majorly in box shape, that is designed to be used for the transportation of cargoes across different modes of goods transportation. This means that the container could be loaded across ocean vessels, rail carriages, road trucks etc. The shipping container has been identified as the major facilitating influence for the concept of globalization. In addition to its primary role as cargo conveyor, it also serves other function such as cargo protection.

The modern shipping container could be classified by the following criteria namely:

Size, shape and purpose (See World’s Top Container Shipping Companies).

The size configurations of modern shipping containers are 20 ft, 40 ft, 40 ft high-cube, 45 ft high-cube, 48 ft, 53 ft and 60 ft. The standard heights for the container is either 8 feet 6 inches (2.6 m) or 9 feet 6 inches (2.9 m). The latter types of containers are called High Cube/Hi-Cube containers. The item is usually constructed as a utility steel box.

The modern shipping container have different design types based on the use it is meant for. This include the standard, general purpose container, refrigerated containers and tanks in a frame containers.

The general purpose container is the most common boxlike containers used in transporting consolidated numbers of unitized break-bulk cargoes. Refrigerated containers are designed to be used in transporting perishable items such as meat, dairy products, fruits, vegetables etc. They are standard sized container boxes that have modular refrigerating units as part of the design. This is intended to keep items within its hold fresh during transit and storage. The tank in a frame containers are specialized tanks that are constructed to fit into a standard container sized frame with all the accessories such as corner castings with twist-lock mechanisms and forklift pockets at the base.

Although various types of containers were used in the transportation of cargoes in from the earlier 19th century, the modern iteration of the shipping container as known today started with trucking magnate Malcom McLean. In 1955, he bought Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company to create a container shipping corporation known as Sea-Land (See World’s Leading Container Ports). The first Sea-Land containers have the following dimensions: 35 ft (10.67 m) x 8 ft (2.44 m) x 8 ft 6 in (2.59 m). The Sea-Land model was the progenitor of the modern shipping container. It was designed to have the basic features that are being seen today in modern containers such as basic frame with eight corner castings, corrugated walls designed for strength with the aim of withstanding stacking loads and twist-lock mechanism that is embedded in the corner castings.

In 2010, it was established that shipping containers accounted for 60% of the total world’s seaborne trade (See World Trade, Sea Trade by Cargo Types).