What is UN/EDIFACT Standard and Messages?

UN/EDIFACT (United Nations/Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce, and Transport is the international standard that was developed by the United Nations). Comprise a set of internationally agreed standards, directo­ries, and guidelines for the electronic interchange of structured data, between independent computerized information systems. The work of maintenance and further development of this standard is done through the United Nations Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) under the UN Economic Commission for Europe.

EDIFACT has served as the default international EDI standard for several decades and is largely used throughout Europe.

EDIFACT Message Structure

An EDIFACT message represents a single business document. – For example, an ORDRSP file represents a Purchase Order note. Each message has a six-letter identifier that shows the short name of the message.

Any document in the 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 detail. 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

Benefits of UN/EDIFACT

UN/EDIFACT allows real-time electronic transactions and accelerates the interactions between trading partners.

3 main benefits of UN/EDIFACT standards are,

  1. Accuracy – Eliminates human errors that are inevitable when manually entering the data
  2. Improve Cashflow – Reducing paper-based processing will in turn reduce your business administrative costs and save thousands of dollars for business
  3. Efficiency – Large volumes of data can be transferred within minutes thus improving overall operational efficiency

See below for an example of an EDIFACT message used to answer a flight ticket (FRA-JFK-MIA) availability request:

UNA:+.? '

















The UN/EDIFACT standard provides a set of syntax rules to structure, an interactive exchange protocol, and provides a set of standard messages which allow multi-country and multi-industry exchange of electronic business documents. EDIFACT is widely used across Europe, mainly since many companies adopted it very early on. EDIFACT has seen some adoption in the ASPAC region, however, there are currently more XML-based standards being used in this region today.

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