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The different EDI file types

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EDI files are the basis of your commercial exchanges. Upstream or downstream of the EDI platform, sending files is the basic principle of Electronic Data Interchange. Dematerializing your data is a highly effective way of simplifying your administrative tasks.


From simple flat files to standardized structured files, there are a multitude of electronic formats for exchanging your business documents. Let’s take a look at the main ones.



EDI files, simple formats : flat files



What is a flat file ?


Flat files are the most universal EDI file format for exchanging data.

This type of EDI file contains several records. The header lines are dedicated to information about the entire document. Detail lines are dedicated to the details of the business document, such as invoice or order lines.

The definition of the end-of-line character differs between Unix and Windows operating systems.

Tip : for correct file recognition between different operating systems, remember to perform a conversion when transferring the file.


Flat variable files


A variable-size flat file (ffv) is when data is separated from each other by a special character such as a semicolon, vertical line (|) or tab. The CSV format is the best-known example.

The specification document for a variable-size flat file describes each line type, with the sequence of data fields, their numeric (or alphanumeric) type and content.

Tip : be careful not to confuse CSV files with Excel spreadsheets (.xls). The latter is a proprietary format that is not a flat file. It is difficult to interpret by an EDI platform.


The fixed flat file


When each field has a predetermined number of characters, there’s no need to separate the data with a separator character. This is known as a fixed flat file (or pf). This is one of the two possible formats for iDocs in the SAP software package.

A fixed flat file must be accompanied by a complete description containing the position, length, type (numeric or alphanumeric) and content of each data field.


Tip: be careful not to use the separator character in the data of a variable-size flat file. For example, a comma placed in an address field would be interpreted as a separator and would delay the entire reading of the file.

The advantage of flat files is that they are easy to import and export, but they are also often small in size, lightening the load on computerized transactions. They are mainly used at the input or output stage of the information system.

Interface files for ERP software such as SAP, CEGID or SAGE are flat files.



Standardized structured EDI files



One of the formats that comes to mind when talking about EDI flows is XML: data is presented using tags and rules that can be customized.
rules that can be customized. XML tags provide a hierarchical structure for the data in a file, and are relatively simple yet extensible and configurable, so that any type of data can be described. Some organizations have proposed standards:

Factur-X is a new electronic invoice standard based on a readable PDF file attached to a file in XML format.

Tip : beware of the size of XML files, which can quickly become much larger than a comparable EDI file.

But how can we avoid talking about EDI standards when it comes to electronic exchanges ?


EDI standards and norms


These EDI standards enable documents to be exchanged in a common, standardized language, thus ensuring interoperability.


An EDI document contains data elements and descriptive codes written in the form of segments. These are grouped together in envelopes. The whole is formatted according to the syntax and vocabulary rules of the chosen EDI standard. EDI standards have been designed to take into account the needs of each industry.


The UN/EDIFACT standard


The UN/EDIFACT standard is widely used in Europe and covers a wide range of standardized messages for the exchange of commercial documents in many sectors, such as retail and industry.

EANCOM is a subset of EDIFACT, and GS1 is the standardization body.

The most widely used EDIFACT messages are ORDERS, DESADV and INVOIC.


What about ANSI ?


The ANSI ASC X12 standard is mainly used in the USA and Canada.

ANSI X12 includes message 850 for purchase orders, message 856 for delivery notes and message 810 for electronic invoices.


About the ODETTE standard


In addition, the ODETTE standard (DELINS, CALDEL, AVIEXP or INVOIC messages) had been developed to improve exchanges between partners in the automotive sector. In Europe, it has gradually been replaced by the UN/EDIFACT standard (DELFOR, DELJIT, DESADV or INVOIC messages).

In the European automotive industry, the ODETTE organization and national associations (GALIA, VDA, ODETTE SWEDEN, etc.) offer EDI recommendations based on standards or the UN/EDIFACT norm.

  • The DELJIT just-in-time delivery message, equivalent to the ODETTE CALDEL and 830 message in ANSI X12.
  • The DELFOR delivery forecast message, equivalent to the ODETTE DELINS message and 862 in ANSI X12.


GALIA, the automotive industry’s standards body


Other EDI standards include SWIFT (banking sector), TRADACOMS (specific to the UK) and
VDA (a standard format specific to the German automotive industry).

Flat files, XML, EDI… now you know all about the different types of file available for exchanging information electronically. It’s practical, both for automating your invoices (invoice dematerialization), for tracking documents sent electronically, and for managing your data flow.

All that remains to be done is to determine the appropriate input and output format for your EDI solution, based on the technology you’re using and the practices of your business sector.


Tenor has been helping its customers and partners to set up EDI files for over 30 years. Contact our experts to find out more.