Data element

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In metadata, the term data element is an atomic unit of data that has precise meaning or precise semantics. A data element has:

  1. An identification such as a data element name
  2. A clear data element definition
  3. One or more representation terms
  4. Optional enumerated values Code (metadata)
  5. A list of synonyms to data elements in other metadata registries Synonym ring

Data elements usage can be discovered by inspection of software applications or application data files through a process of manual or automated Application Discovery and Understanding. Once data elements are discovered they can be registered in a metadata registry.

In telecommunication, the term data element has the following components:

  1. A named unit of data that, in some contexts, is considered indivisible and in other contexts may consist of data items.
  2. A named identifier of each of the entities and their attributes that are represented in a database.
  3. A basic unit of information built on standard structures having a unique meaning and distinct units or values.
  4. In electronic record-keeping, a combination of characters or bytes referring to one separate item of information, such as name, address, or age.

In the areas of databases and data systems more generally a data element is a concept forming part of a data model. As an element of data representation, a collection of data elements forms a data structure.[1]

In practice[edit]

In practice, data elements (fields, columns, attributes, etc.) are sometimes "overloaded", meaning a given data element will have multiple potential meanings. While a known bad practice, overloading is nevertheless a very real factor or barrier to understanding what a system is doing.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beynon-Davies P. (2004). Database Systems 3rd Edition. Palgrave, Basingstoke, UK
  • Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the General Services Administration document: "Federal Standard 1037C".
  • Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Defense document: "Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms".

External links[edit]