United Nations/Electronic Data Interchange For Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/EDIFACT) is the international EDI
Electronic Data Interchange
Electronic data interchange is the structured transmission of data between organizations by electronic means. It is used to transfer electronic documents or business data from one computer system to another computer system, i.e...

Standardization is the process of developing and implementing technical standards.The goals of standardization can be to help with independence of single suppliers , compatibility, interoperability, safety, repeatability, or quality....

 developed under the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

. The work of maintenance and further development of this standard is done through the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT
UN/CEFACT is an organisation that makes international EDI Electronic Data Interchange standards for electronic trade documents in XML format.- UN/CEFACT History, A UN mission to support trade:...

) under the UN Economic Commission for Europe, in the Finance Domain working group UN CEFACT TBG5
UN/CEFACT TBG5 is the entity responsible for financial services under the United Nations Centre for Trade facilitation and Electronic Business, under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe ....

. EDIFACT has been adopted by the International Organization for Standardization
International Organization for Standardization
The International Organization for Standardization , widely known as ISO, is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. Founded on February 23, 1947, the organization promulgates worldwide proprietary, industrial and commercial...

 (ISO) as the ISO standard ISO 9735.

The EDIFACT standard provides:
  • a set of syntax rules to structure data
  • an interactive exchange protocol (I-EDI)
  • standard messages which allow multi-country and multi-industry exchange


See below for an example of an EDIFACT message used to answer to a product availability request:
UNA:+.? '

The UNA segment is optional. If present, it specifies the special characters that are to be used to interpret the remainder of the message. There are six characters following UNA in this order:
  • component data element separator (: in this sample)
  • data element separator (+ in this sample)
  • decimal notification (. in this sample)
  • release character (? in this sample)
  • reserved, must be a space
  • segment terminator (' in this sample)

The special characters in the sample UNA segment above are also the default values.

Component data element separator and data element separator are the "first level" and "second level" separators of data elements within a message segment. Referring to them as + and : for brevity, the + separates top-level or composite data elements, and : separates second-level data elements nested within composite data elements. Trailing empty (or null) data elements and their leading separators are omitted to reduce message size.

Decimal notification is used to separate the integer from the decimal part of non-integer numbers.

Release character (analogous to the \ in regular expressions) is used as a prefix to remove special meaning from the separator, segment termination, and release characters when they are used as plain text.

Segment terminator indicates the end of a message segment.

Note: The line breaks after each segment in this example have been added for readability. There are typically no line breaks in EDI data.

UNH+1+PAORES:93:1:IA'- This is the header segment which is required at the start of every message. This code specifies that the message name and version is PAORES 93 revision 1 and it was defined by the organisation IA (IATA).

IFT+3+NO MORE FLIGHTS' - This is an "Interactive Free Text" segment containing the text "NO MORE FLIGHTS".

UNT+13+1' - This is the tail segment. It indicated that the message sent contains 13 segments.


EDIFACT has a hierarchical structure where the top level is referred to as an interchange, and lower levels contain multiple messages which consist of segments, which in turn consist of composites. The final iteration is an element which is derived from the United Nations Trade Data Element Directory (UNTDED) and are normalised throughout the EDIFACT standard.

A group or segment can be mandatory (M) or conditional (C) and can be specified to repeat. For example, C99 indicates between 0 and 99 repetitions of a segment or group, while M99 signifies between 1 and 99 repetitions.

A group, like a message, is a sequence of segments or groups. The first segment or group beneath a group must be mandatory, and the group should be made conditional if the logic of the situation demands it.

Service String Advice UNA Conditional
+----- Interchange Header UNB Mandatory
| +--- Functional Group Header UNG Conditional
| | +- Message Header UNH Mandatory
| | | User Data Segments As required
| | +- Message Trailer UNT Mandatory
| +--- Functional Group Trailer UNE Conditional
+----- Interchange Trailer UNZ Mandatory

Current state of EDIFACT

There is an apparent battle between XML
Extensible Markup Language is a set of rules for encoding documents in machine-readable form. It is defined in the XML 1.0 Specification produced by the W3C, and several other related specifications, all gratis open standards....

 and EDIFACT. An equivalent XML message has a larger file size than an EDIFACT message, but it is easier for users to read (although this is not necessary because the contents are created to be read by computers). Another possible explanation is that compatibility is being favored over performance, since more tools exist to work with XML data than with EDIFACT. EDIFACT-messages can be as much as one tenth the size of XML-messages. That makes XML less attractive for very high volume applications.

An advantage of EDIFACT is the availability of agreed message-contents, which XML must leverage to develop its own similar agreed contents. RosettaNet
RosettaNet is a non-profit consortium aimed at establishing standard processes for the sharing of business information . RosettaNet is a consortium of major Computer and Consumer Electronics, Electronic Components, Semiconductor Manufacturing, Telecommunications and Logistics companies working to...

 is one of the emerging XML standards and is widely used in semiconductors and high tech industries.

Universal Business Language
Universal Business Language is a library of standard electronic XML business documents such as purchase orders and invoices. UBL was developed by an OASIS Technical Committee with participation from a variety of industry data standards organizations. UBL is designed to plug directly into existing...

 is another currently being adopted by Scandinavian governments as a legally required standard for sending invoices to governments, and was enforced in February 2005 that all invoices to the Danish government must be sent in an electronic format.

Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language, commonly known as e-business XML, or ebXML as it is typically referred to, is a family of XML based standards sponsored by OASIS and UN/CEFACT whose mission is to provide an open, XML-based infrastructure that enables the global use of...

 is another XML standard built by UN/CEFACT
UN/CEFACT is an organisation that makes international EDI Electronic Data Interchange standards for electronic trade documents in XML format.- UN/CEFACT History, A UN mission to support trade:...

 (along with EDIFACT), and is often seen as a standard best suited for small and medium enterprises.

However, EDIFACT is likely to remain the most widely used in high tech, civil aviation, retail and tourism industries, due to the amount of software that leverages the standard, and the need for integration between new systems and legacy systems.

Europe has a large EDIFACT installed base because it adopted the technology early, while the Asian region adopted B2B
Business-to-business describes commerce transactions between businesses, such as between a manufacturer and a wholesaler, or between a wholesaler and a retailer...

 in later implementations and is therefore using more XML standards.

EDIFACT will grow further in Europe's energy market where it is a current requirement.

See also

  • Electronic Data Interchange
    Electronic Data Interchange
    Electronic data interchange is the structured transmission of data between organizations by electronic means. It is used to transfer electronic documents or business data from one computer system to another computer system, i.e...

  • GS1
    Founded in 1977, GS1 is an international not-for-profit association dedicated to the development and implementation of global standards and solutions to improve the efficiency and visibility of supply and demand chains globally and across multiple sectors...

  • X12 EDIFACT Mapping
    X12 EDIFACT Mapping
    In 1979, the American National Standards Institute chartered the Accredited Standards Committee X12 to develop uniform standards for interindustry electronic exchange of business transactions-electronic data interchange...

  • ASC X12
    XML/EDIFACT is an Electronic Data Interchange format used in Business-to-business transactions. It allows EDIFACT message types to be used by XML systems....

External links

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