Manage Learn to apply best practices and optimize your operations.

The XML Business Reporting Language

A look at the specific types of XML being developed for the financial industry.


XML Developer Tip
(Receive this column in your inbox,
click Edit your Profile to subscribe.)

The XML Business Reporting Language

In the realm of "interesting XML applications," business-related stuff always scores pretty high—not just with me, but in terms of how it attracts widespread application and use. This week's tip takes a look at the XML Business Reporting Language (XBRL), an effort initially started by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (aka AICPA), a professional accounting association that's been around since 1887. What drives XBRL is a desire to codify and exchange business information globally, so the AICPA's efforts quickly led to an international organization with worldwide roots known as XBRL International.

The organization currently divides the world up into 13 active jurisdictions (which can address regional or national issues, as well as facilitate international cooperation and data exchange). These include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, the U.K., the U.S., and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), plus four provisional members—namely, Spain, Hong Kong, Ireland, and Korea. Furthermore, the organization is focusing its efforts on a number of technical domains, including accounting and tax preparation, divided up into what are called supply chain communities (SCCs) including numerous officially recognized groups such as accountants, analysts, intermediaries, software and service providers, regulators, and investors or creditors, plus numerous other SCCs not yet officially recognized.

The real goal of the organization is to define XML vocabularies that fit beneath the general umbrella of XBRL. These include lots of efforts underway in the financial services industry, such as the following items related to financial transactions:

  • The financial information exchange markup language, or FIXML.
  • The interactive financial exchange forum, or IFX.
  • XML for market data, or MDDL.
  • The Open Financial Exchange initiative, or OFX.
  • The research information exchange markup language, or RIXML.

Likewise, OASIS and other open standards organizations are contributing to this growing set of vocabularies as well (see for example, the group's Universal Business Language, or UBL, or its electronic business eXtensible Markup language, or ebXML.

All in all, what's at work here is an attempt to rationalize and standardize how financial and business information is represented, captured, and exchanged. It's also attracting some powerful participants, including the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the UK Inland Revenue, and Australian banks (for lending information). Software vendors have also gotten behind the initiative, to the extent that all North American tax prep software vendors have pledged to support XBRL to move data into and out of their applications. Critical mass is clearly aggregating: be sure to check this initiative out and see how it might relate to your own business information needs.

For more information on this topic, see Dave Waldt's excellent article on XBRL at

Ed Tittel is a VP of Content Development & Delivery at CapStar LLC, an e-learning company based in Princeton, NJ. Ed runs a small team of content developers and project managers in Austin, TX, and writes regularly on XML and related vocabularies and applications. E-mail Ed at

Dig Deeper on Topics Archive

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.