UN/EDIFACT: What is it?


UN/EDIFACT: What is it?

UN/EDIFACT stands for “Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport”. UN/EDIFACT is the most widely used EDI file format standard outside North America. It defines a globally ratified set of rules that enables the electronic exchange of commercial, administrative and transport documents in the context of cross-industry, inter-company business transactions between two or more business partners. These international guidelines for B2B messages are frequently used in many industries.

Why do I need UN/EDIFACT?

Especially for order processing, which has numerous interfaces to business partners, there are many opportunities to replace paper-based communication with electronic data interchange (EDI) using EDIFACT.

In addition to many other processes, the following can be converted into electronic form using UN/EDIFACT:

  • Request for quotation
  • Quotation issue
  • delivery call-off
  • order
  • delivery notification
  • Invoicing
  • Customs declaration, payment order or payment confirmation

The EDI file format standard UN/EDIFACT has been adopted unchanged in the ISO, CEN and DIN standards.

What is the aim of UN/EDIFACT?

The aim of EDIFACT is to optimise and standardise the flow of data between business partners (EDI standards).

This is achieved by defining standardised segments and elements. These describe, for example, the details of the electronic file or the various document types such as invoices, delivery notes or orders. This has created a standard for worldwide use.

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Overview of EDIFACT messages:

Each EDIFACT message is characterised by an internationally standardised and unique six-digit abbreviation. The most common EDIFACT formats include:

  • ORDERS – purchase order (order)
  • ORDRSP – order confirmation/response
  • DESADV – Despatch advice (delivery note)
  • INVOIC – Invoice
  • PRICAT – price list and article data
  • DELFOR – delivery call-off

The following table gives you a good overview of other important EDIFACT messages:

UN/EDIFACT: Structure and syntax of an EDIFACT message (EDIFACT file)

Elementary and structuring areas such as the syntax of EDIFACT are explained below. This selection was made deliberately, as the syntax can be used to illustrate the basic structure of an EDI standard. In principle, this can be transferred to other standards.

The UN/EDIFACT standard is very comprehensive; there are separate elements for almost every business transaction and every industry. Subgroups, the so-called subsets, have developed from this. For the retail industry, for example, this resulted in the EANCOM subset, which only contains the absolute mandatory fields of the EDIFACT standard and the industry-specific optional fields.

But what are the advantages of these subsets? By creating subsets, the messages are easier to handle and easier to understand.

Message syntax

Like a language, the EDIFACT rules are based on a character set to be used:

  • the vocabulary (data elements)
  • the grammar (syntax)

Based on the data elements, data element groups and segments of the syntax and the guidelines for the development of message types, globally applicable standardised messages are created. The syntax contains rules that can be used to structure messages exchanged between communication partners – regardless of the hardware and software used – in a standardised way that is equally easy to understand for all business partners or suppliers involved.

In addition, the syntax can be changed by the user if required. This allows the user to reduce the transmission files so that only the message content that is actually required is transmitted. EDIFACT is not a rigid standard. Business partners therefore have the option of specifying which content (e.g. “fields” or data fields) should be transmitted.

The segments and data elements are variable in length. In contrast to fixed-length data records, their content does not have to be filled with spaces or zeros. Only the segments, data element groups and data elements for which content is available in the current message are transmitted. This leads to significant savings in data transmission.

Selection of important UN/EDIFACT syntax elements

There are approximately 200 message formats, which include the following syntax elements:

  • Variable segment lengths
  • There are mandatory and optional segments
  • There are mandatory and optional composites and fields
  • EDIFACT segments are terminated with an apostrophe ‘.
  • Plus signs (+) are segment separators
  • Colons (:) are composite separators
  • Each EDIFACT subsets file begins with a UNB segment
  • At least one UNH segment and one UNT segment per file
  • Each EDIFACT file ends with a UNZ segment

Requirements for the use of EDIFACT

To use EDIFACT, your system – e.g. the ERP system – requires a corresponding EDI interface; this is offered in the form of an EDI module, for example.

Do you have any questions about UN / EDIFACT or do you need help with electronic data interchange? Please contact us without obligation – we look forward to hearing from you!

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