Aims. Stellar absorption lines in the optical (e.g. the Lick system) have been extensively studied and constitute an important stellar population diagnostic for galaxies in the local universe and up to moderate redshifts. Proceeding towards higher look-back times, galaxies are younger and the ultraviolet becomes the relevant spectral region where the dominant stellar populations shine. A comprehensive study of ultraviolet absorption lines of stellar population models is however still lacking. With this in mind, we study absorption line indices in the far and mid-ultraviolet in order to determine age and metallicity indicators for UV-bright stellar populations in the local universe as well as at high redshift. Methods. We explore empirical and theoretical spectral libraries and use evolutionary population synthesis to compute synthetic line indices of stellar population models. From the empirical side, we exploit the IUE-low resolution library of stellar spectra and system of absorption lines, from which we derive analytical functions (fitting functions) describing the strength of stellar line indices as a function of gravity, temperature and metallicity. The fitting functions are entered into an evolutionary population synthesis code in order to compute the integrated line indices of stellar populations models. The same line indices are also directly evaluated on theoretical spectral energy distributions of stellar population models based on Kurucz high-resolution synthetic spectra, In order to select indices that can be used as age and/or metallicity indicators for distant galaxies and globular clusters, we compare the models to data of template globular clusters from the Magellanic Clouds with independently known ages and metallicities. Results. We provide synthetic line indices in the wavelength range ~ to ~ for stellar populations of various ages and metallicities.This adds several new indices to the already well-studied CIV and SiIV absorptions. Based on the comparison with globular cluster data, we select a set of 11 indices blueward of the 2000 rest-frame that allows us to recover well the ages and the metallicities of the clusters. These indices are ideal to study ages and metallicities of young galaxies at high redshift. We also provide the synthetic high-resolution stellar population SEDs.