EDI Resource Center


What is EDIFACT?

EDIFACT has served as the default international EDI standard for several decades and is largely used throughout Europe. The acronym stands for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce, and Transport. It implements a set of standard messages that facilitate the exchange of electronic business documents between multiple countries and industries.

Benefits of EDIFACT

EDIFACT has become a common EDI standard because of its capacity to send all types of transaction sets in a single file with standardization, automatic input, and automatic processing. Its automated processes reduce the need for error-prone manual procedures.

These wide-ranging features increase efficiency when sending a larger volume of transactions. Companies can easily coordinate paperless data transfers with few restrictions regarding the industry or country receiving the communications.

Many companies benefit from EDIFACT EDI's comprehensive transaction sets, which offer an abundance of message types, including transactions regarding supplier collaboration, finance, order cycle, warehouse fulfillment, logistics management, material handling, as well as other categories for business communication.

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The comprehensive transaction sets within the EDIFACT standard were created for nearly every business transaction and industry. The breadth of communication possibilities led to the development of subsets (or substandards), which streamlines communications and allow companies to handle messages with greater ease and understanding.

Examples of industry-specific EDIFACT subset standards include:

  • CEFIC - Chemical industry
  • EANCOM - Consumer goods industry
  • Edi@Energy - Electricity and gas (only valid for Germany)
  • EDIBDB - Building materials industry
  • EDIFICE - Electronics, software and telecommunications industry
  • EDIFOR - Freight forwarding industry
  • EDIFURN - Furniture industry
  • EDIGAS - Gas Transmission and Trade
  • EDILEKTRO - Electrical industry / Electrical wholesale
  • EDILIBE - Booksellers
  • EDIPAP - Paper manufacturer / paper wholesaler / paper converting industry
  • EDITEC - Sanitary industry
  • EDITEX - Textile industry
  • EDITRANS - Transport economy
  • EDIWHEEL - Tire and wheel manufacturer (incl. misc. EDI)
  • ETIS - Telecommunication (only for invoice)
  • ODA/ODIF - General document formats
  • ODETTE - Automotive industry
  • RINET - Insurance industry

EDIFACT Transactions and Schemas

EDIFACT covers more than 10k specific business transactions, ranging from simple purchase orders and invoices to advanced shipping documentation, logistics information and industry-specific messages. Need a handy reference for specific EDIFACT transactions? Download our convenient EDIFACT schemas.

Download EDIFACT Schemas

What EDIFACT Covers

EDIFACT EDI is defined by its tightly woven structure that facilitates organization and efficiency. Here are some of its main features.

Syntax Rules to Structure Data

Syntax rules allow greater uniformity in message structure, ensuring an equally understandable message for all data receivers, regardless of the software or hardware they use. Additionally, a standardized structure allows users to include only required content to optimize file transfers.

Interactive Exchange Protocol (I-EDI)

Interactive Exchange Protocol allows companies to communicate with a dynamic and direct dialogue as they exchange messages relating a business transaction. The interactive exchange results in shorter response times and improved communications for both parties.

Standard Messages for Multi-Country and Multi-Industry Exchange

The advantage of standardized messaging remains one of EDIFACT EDI's most prominent features. Its uniform messages optimize data flow between businesses across industries and international borders while maintaining clear communication.

Data Element Directories

If Syntax represents the grammar of EDIFACT standard messages, then Data Elements are its vocabulary – the raw data of the transaction. Data elements function like a data field, representing information such as article numbers. They live within the segment and are identified by their position. Data element directories are updated and published every six months by the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe).

Guidelines for Electronic Interchange of Structured Data Between Computer Systems

According to the UNECE, EDIFACT EDI continues to be regulated by "a set of internationally agreed standards, directories, and guidelines for the electronic interchange of structured data, between independent computerized information systems." The regulations and published guidelines (UNTDID - United Nations Trade Data Interchange Directory) protects the uniform, universal nature of the EDIFACT standard from corruption and internal breakdown. 

Elements that Comprise EDIFACT

Data Segments

Data segments within EDIFACT are simply data organized into logical segments that form the message. 

There are two data segment types:

Service segments (starting with UN)
User-data segments (All other)

An interchange may include the following data segments:

Service Segments

  • UNA-Service String Advice
  • UNB-Interchange Header 
  • UNG-Functional Group Header
  • UNH-Message Header

User-Data Segments

  • UNT-Message Trailer 
  • UNE-Functional Group Trailer
  • UNZ-Interchange Trailer


A string of data segments comprises the EDIFACT message, and in real terms, the message is a single business document prepared for EDI transfer. While the service segments are necessary for standard form and transmission, the user-data segments contain the user-specific data – essentially, the information necessitating transfer. User-data segments include values such as amounts, quantities, addresses, and other specific information necessary to the message. 


The highest unit within an EDIFACT message is the Interchange. It's like an envelope for the message. It includes the message recipient, sender, number, date, etc. Its standardized form enables the electronic transfer of the message. 

Enveloping Data Pairs

Data pairs define the beginning and end of an envelope, whether it's a transaction set envelope for each related document, the group envelope housing multiple related documents, or the interchange envelope enclosing all required data for transfer to one sender. 

Each of these envelopes use specific data segments, like UNH and UNT (transact set envelopes) to indicate the start and end of an envelope. This highly organized format promotes the clear and orderly transmission of multiple transaction sets in one interchange.

EDIFACT Background

EDIFACT serves as a global standard for electronic data interchange (EDI). The United Nations originally developed EDIFACT in 1987 and continues to govern the EDI standard through the UN Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), which are a part of the UNTDID (UN Trade Data Interchange Directory).

Organizations heavily involved in international trade were the first to adopt the EDIFACT standard. Many of these were multinational corporations seeking to streamline their multi-country and multi-industry transactions. Eventually, other companies in their supply chain implemented EDIFACT EDI, including insurance, banking, and government organizations.

In the United States, one of the first companies to employ the EDIFACT standard was General Motors, who in turn directed its suppliers to follow suit. In time, U.S. standards organizations, namely ANSI, developed conversions that served to facilitate the transition to the new international EDI standard for many companies.