Jul 2019
What is UN/EDIFACT standard?
(Last Updated On: January 24, 2024)

UN / EDIFACT Standard Overview

What is UN/EDIFACT standard?

United Nations/Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/EDIFACT) is the International EDI standard ISO 9735-1987, developed under the UN

The general standard is adopted by national and sectoral standards bodies to better reflect the needs of each industry.

At least twice a year, the standard is updated globally. The reason of this update is to create a new directory of data and messages, in addition to improving the usability of existing EDIFACT messages.

The UN/EDIFACT standard has been developed for trade and transport management. The concept of “trade” was interpreted in a broad sense (orders, deliveries, insurance, payment of goods, customs formalities). Currently, the use of UN/EDIFACT has expanded to include accounting, customs control, pensions, health care, social insurance, judicial practice, employment, statistics, construction, finance, insurance, manufacturing, tourism, trade, freight, and container transportation.

The UN/EDIFACT standard is developed and supported by two international organizations: United Nations Economic Commission for Europe — UN ECE and the International Organization for Standardization. – ISO


EDIFACT is predominant outside of North America. Due to its complexity, branch-specific subsets of EDIFACT have been developed. These subsets are subsets of EDIFACT and contain only the functions relevant to specific user groups, such as:

  • EANCOM consumer goods industry
  • ODETTE European automotive industry.
  • CEFIC chemical industry
  • EDICON standard used in the construction industry
  • RINET – the Insurance industry
  • HL7 standard is used in healthcare.
  • IATA air transportation
  • SWIFT banking
  • UIC 912 rail transport
  • EDIFICE electronics, software, and telecommunications industry. EDIFICE has played an important role in the implementation of RosettaNet standards in Europe. EDIFICE became the European RosettaNet User Group.

EDIFACT Messages: Structure and Syntax of the Standard

EDIFACT is a special, structured data language that describes all types of commercial activities, based on information logistics. Using elements and segments of standard informational messages, you can create a description of any document, generate its electronic form and transmit it in open telecommunication networks without fear of interception of private commercial information.

UN / EDIFACT Structure

Any document in UN / EDIFACT standard has a hierarchical structure. The entire electronic document is called a message. A message consists of data groups combined in some way, for example, a data group describing customs payments, a group of data describing the attributes of documents, etc. In turn, the group consists of typical data segments that describe document attributes in more details. The standard provides about 200 different types of segments from which messages are composed. The segments themselves also have a hierarchical structure and consist of data elements that can be simple (data field) and composite (usually 2-3 data fields).

The following is the structure of an EDIFACT transmission:

  • Service String Advice
  • Interchange Header
  • Functional Group Header
  • Message Header
  • User Data Segments
  • Message Trailer
  • Functional Group Trailer
  • Interchange Trailer

EDI Guide


UNA:+.? ‘
UNB+UNOB:2+ XYZCORPORATION:ZZ+COMPANYX:ZZ+190521:1604+906019++++++1′
CTA+OC+2010:G. Smith ‘
NAD+DP+++Consulting Inc St+ Begun + Laval++8003+CA’
IMD+A++::92:CCGT060204NS LT1110S’

Principles and Technologies of Application of the UN / EDIFACT Standard

The EDIFACT Standard has three types of reference books:

The first type is directories that are based on the ISO standards. It includes directories of currency codes, country codes, units of measurement, modes of transport, delivery conditions, and some others.

The second type of directories, are the ones included in the EDIFACT standard., by default

The third type of directories is developed by different organizations responsible for issuing codes. Here is the list of organizations 3055 Code list responsible agency code

There are four main components in EDIFACT that are subject to standardization, when preparing documents for exchange between business partners.

  • data elements
  • standard data segments
  • standard messages
  • syntax rules

Data elements are the smallest, non-dividing parts of information, for example, the document date, the name of the destination, the amount of tax. More than 600 data elements used in international trade and transport have been published in a special UNTDID directory.

EDIFACT Standard Principles

The UN / EDIFACT standard is based on the following principal:

1. Standardize data at the segment and element level. Any document intended for electronic exchange should consist of typical segments. This means that the segment of the supplier’s address or delivery address is described by the same elements, regardless of what kind of document it is – invoice, order, declaration, etc. The practice has shown that to describe almost any document, it is enough to have no more than 100 typical segments. The fields inside the segments are standardized the same way, and the ratio of fields to segments is one-to-many, i.e. the same field can be included in different segments.

2. Record the fields used in segments as code. It is assumed that the partners exchanging electronic documents have identical code tables (directories). The composition and content of the reference books is standardized at three levels – international, national and corporate.

3. The independence of standards from the language of communication. The peculiarity of the UN / EDIFACT standards is that more than 90% of the electronic message consists of different codes. Another feature is that only the content of the document is transmitted, without a form. The document form is restored when the message is decoded.

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EDIFACT Messages

The EDIFACT standard which provides a set of standard messages has greatly simplified international and multi-branch trade and the exchange of electronic business documents between countries and various industries.

The standard message UN / EDIFACT has a six-letter identifier that reflects the short name of the message, for example:

  • CUSDEC – CUStoms DEClaration
  • CUSRES –CUStoms RESponse

Some of the standard EDIFACT messages with X12 equivalent are listed in the table below.

X12 Transaction Number EDIFACT Transaction ID Transaction name
850 ORDERS Purchase order message
855 ORDRSP Purchase Order Acknowledgment
846 INVRPT Inventory Inquiry/Advice
856 DESADV Shipment Notification ASN
810 INVOIC Invoice
997 CONTRL Functional acknowledgment
860 ORDCHG Purchase Order Change – Buyer Initiated

Due to the independence from the language and the transfer of only the contents of the document, the restoration of the form of the document takes place on the receiving side in accordance with the rules that apply in this place.

Benefits of EDIFACT

EDIFACT benifits

EDIFACT has a competitive advantage that positively affects the efficiency of a company and improves business processes. The main advantages of EDIFACT:

Profitability – reducing the volume of papers to be processed leads to a decrease in personnel and administrative costs.

Efficiency – large volumes of commercial data can be transferred from one computer to another within minutes

Accuracy – the use of EDIFACT eliminates human errors that are inevitable when manually keying in data.

EDIFACT is a key component of a just-in-time strategy that ensures prompt customer satisfaction. EDIFACT in conjunction with the Internet allows real-time electronic transactions and accelerates the interaction between trading partners.

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