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What is the EDIFACT standard ?


EDIFACT, the EDI toolbox


The EDIFACT standard is designed to secure and accelerate commercial exchanges. Companies communicate and exchange commercial documents in EDI format with suppliers and subcontractors in their supply chain. These may also include logisticians, distributors and their BtoB network. Information is transferred directly from the company’s IT system (ERP, PGI) to the IT systems of their industrial and commercial partners (Sales Management, Production Management, MES, TMS, WMS).

For this communication to work 24/7 and be efficient, each company’s information systems must communicate with each other according to strict, common rules. This is the purpose of the EDIFACT standard.



EDIFACT stands for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport. Translated into French as Échange de données informatisé pour l’administration, le commerce et le transport. This United Nations standard defines the interoperability rules for EDI messages, specifying content and syntax.

Source : Wikepedia

What does EDIFACT represent ?



Different EDI standards based on the EDIFACT standard have been developed, published and adopted for different industries and regions, taking into account the specific characteristics of each sector : EDI Automotive in France and Europe with GALIA and ODETTE, EDI EANCOM for EDI Retail with GS1.



Structure : EDIFACT, an EDI standard



An EDI standard defines the rules governing the information exchanged : specifying what information, in what format and where it should be placed in an EDI message. In this way, EDI transmission between companies becomes fully automated.


In the late 1980s and early 1990s, UN/CEFACT, whose principal mission is the facilitation of international trade, developed and published the EDIFACT (Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport) standard.


The EDIFACT standard is a set of syntax rules defining: a hierarchical and repetitive EDI message structure, an envelope identifying the sender and receiver in which messages are placed. What’s more, the EDIFACT offers a library of over 200 standard messages for the exchange of electronic business documents between companies. The best-known are ORDERS, DESADV, INVOIC, HANMOV, PROCAT, etc.

This publication quickly became a success: developed at international level, published and updated regularly, adopted by a very large number of industry and trade players, companies and standards bodies.



Sector organization toolbox



In fact, the EDIFACT standard has become the EDI toolbox of industry standards bodies such as GALIA, ODETTE and GS1, and of all private and public organizations wishing to set up electronic exchanges of their documents. They comply with the syntax rules of the EDIFACT standard, and adopt EDIFACT standard messages, enriching them according to their specific needs. GALIA and ODETTE have migrated Automotive EDI to the EDIFACT standard.

The result has been to move from proprietary regional and industry-specific standards to a standard common to all industries, endorsed by industry standards bodies and adopted by the vast majority of companies.


EDI service providers, independent of the IT departments of major companies, have thus contributed to the rapid deployment of EDI in small and medium-sized businesses, enabling them to work with major principals. Large companies’ ERP systems could easily and directly link documents with the sales management systems, TMS and WMS of their supply-chain and other sales networks. In the same way, large companies have accelerated the integration of new partners into their networks.



A basic standard for all business sectors



The strength of the EDIFACT standard lies in its adaptability to the specific needs of all industries. It is the most widely used standard in France and Europe :


  • Automotive EDI, where the work of GALIA and ODETTE has made a major contribution to EDIFACT’s success. As a result, they cover all exchanges between manufacturers, equipment suppliers and logistics providers.
  • The EDIFACT standard is also the basis for the EANCOM standards that define EDI for large-scale distribution. This concerns exchanges in the world of mass distribution: retailers, manufacturers and carriers.
  • Most sector-specific EDI standards have migrated to EDIFACT: the agricultural sector, the public sector, etc., enriching it with their own specific features.


EDIFACT has contributed to the dematerialization of commercial documents and the interoperability of information systems.



What future for the data exchange standard ?



Today, XML is becoming the new standard for structuring and exchanging information. Indeed, it is better suited to interacting with the new emerging technologies of the supply chain : the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence.

It is also more widely used than the EDIFACT standard in certain regions of the world (Pacific, Asia), and competes with EDIFACT in the rest of the world.



Format : A migration from EDIFACT to XML?



For the time being, the EDIFACT standard is still valid :

  • The EDIFACT standard is regularly updated to take account of new functional requirements, and thus regularly integrates new information and new sector-specific features.
  • The automotive and retail sectors have also made major investments in EDI using the EDIFACT standard, to the great satisfaction of all the players in their respective sectors. These productive investments are giving full satisfaction of use, and they wish to perpetuate them over time.


EDI standards EDIFACT and XML coexist : EDIFACT remains the standard for the dematerialization of commercial documents in business-to-business exchanges. However, for new projects involving new technologies and new partners, XML is often chosen.


For over 30 years, Tenor has been helping you to implement the EDIFACT standard in your electronic data interchange. Contact our EDI experts to identify your needs.