In metadata, the term data element is an atomic unit of data that has precise meaning or precise semantics. A data element has:
- An identification such as a data element name
- A clear data element definition
- One or more representation terms
- Optional enumerated values Code (metadata)
- 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:
- A named unit of data that, in some contexts, is considered indivisible and in other contexts may consist of data items.
- A named identifier of each of the entities and their attributes that are represented in a database.
- A basic unit of information built on standard structures having a unique meaning and distinct units or values.
- 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.
In practice, data elements (fields, columns, attributes, etc.) are sometimes "over loaded", 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.
- Beynon-Davies P. (2004). Database Systems 3rd Edition. Palgrave, Basingstoke, UK