What is EDIFACT – History, Structure, & UseOn December 19, 2022 by Shivam Rawat
The growth of eCommerce has enabled many small businesses to reach a wider audience. With the help of trading partners, you can start selling in different regions around the world. To do this, you will need EDI to communicate with trading partners every time you process an order. There are different EDI standards for each region. In Europe, the most widely used EDI standard is EDIFACT, also known as UN/EDIFACT.
EDIFACT stands for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce, and Transport. It is a set of standards for businesses that follow the EDI framework of the United Nations. There are different EDIFACT standards in different regional zones across Europe maintained and updated under agreements between trading organizations.
When global trade started becoming prominent, a company working with multiple international trading partners required a format to communicate information in a standardized format that every trading partner could understand. In the late 1980s, CEFACT-UN (The United Nations Centre for Facilitation and Electronic Business) introduced EDIFACT to facilitate easy communication between countries and industries. Soon, EDI replaced paper and became the primary data exchange mode between companies.
EDIFACT was comprehensive for many businesses. Hence, subsets of EDIFACT also emerged in the market. These subsets had mandatory fields of EDIFACT and other industry-specific fields, further simplifying EDIFACT for more businesses and making it the most used EDI standard in Europe.
Structure of EDIFACT File
The design of EDIFACT consists of a character set, data elements, and syntax, which define the standardized message format that any computer can understand. Using the syntax, users can customize what data they want to send or receive. Instead of keeping non-required segments as ‘null’ in the file, EDIFACT can transfer only the data fed to it and not the entire structure. Thus, it saves systems from unnecessary overloading.
EDIFACT syntax consists of usable character sets and data elements. Character sets display the message content – printable characters and characters of 7-bit and 8-bit code used in data exchange. Data elements display information like the order number. They have a defined sequence/position in the segment. Segments are an overview of all data elements’ positions across the file. The segments in a file are also in the sequence defined in the EDIFACT specs.
When you send a message to your trading partner, like an invoice, it carries all the segments according to the specifications in the message header segment (UNH) and message end segment (UNT). As mentioned above, only the segments that have data are transferred, omitting empty segments and reducing data. You can also send multiple messages in the same group using UNG and end it with UNE.
The transmission file envelopes messages between the user data header segment (UNB) and the user data end segment (UNZ). It gives a clear understanding of what the file contains and to whom it belongs, especially while transferring files with minimal adjustments to multiple trading partners.
The segments of an EDIFACT will appear in this order – UNA, UNB, UNG, UNH, UNT, UNE, and UNZ.
Use of EDIFACT
EDIFACT is the most common EDI standard in all European industries, including automobile, logistics, transport, retail, healthcare, and manufacturing. Due to its common acceptance in France and Europe, more sectors like agriculture and public sectors have migrated to EDIFACT.
Today, EDIFACT is a complex language, considering we have other human-friendly languages like JSON that can be used for EDI. An API like ours can import a JSON file and convert it to an EDIFACT file based on any spec or standard. Check out how APIs are transforming EDI workflows with modern integration solutions.