What is XBRL ?

XBRL is a data-rich dialect of XML (Extensible Markup Language), the universally preferred language for transmitting information via the Internet. It was developed specifically to communicate information between businesses and other users of financial information, such as analysts, investors and regulators. XBRL provides a common, electronic format for business reporting. It does not change what is being reported. It only changes how it is reported

XBRL is a world-wide standard, developed by an international, non-profit-making consortium, XBRL International Inc. (XII). XII is made up of many hundred members, including government agencies, accounting firms, software companies, large and small corporations, academics and business reporting experts. XII has agreed the basic specifications which define how XBRL works.

XBRL tags

In XBRL, information is not treated as a static block of text or set of numbers.

Instead, information is broken down into unique items of data (eg total liabilities = 100). These data items are then assigned mark-up tags that make them computer-readable. For example, the tag <Liabilities>100</Liabilities> enables a computer to understand that the item is liabilities, and it has a value of 100.

Computers can treat information that has been tagged using XBRL ‘intelligently’; they can recognize, process, store, exchange and analyse it automatically using software.

Because XBRL tags are formed in a universally-accepted way, they can be read and processed by any computer that has XBRL software. XBRL tags are defined and organized using categorization schemes called taxonomies.

XBRL taxonomies

Different countries use different accounting standards. Reporting under each standard reflects differing definitions. The XBRL language uses different dictionaries, known as ‘taxonomies’, to define the specific tags used for each standard. Different dictionaries may be defined for different purposes and types of reporting. Taxonomies are the computer-readable ‘dictionaries’ of XBRL. Taxonomies provide definitions for XBRL tags, they provide information about the tags, and they organize the tags so that they have a meaningful structure.

As a result, taxonomies enable computers with XBRL software to:

  • understand what the tag is (eg whether it is a monetary item, a percentage or text);
  • what characteristics the tag has (eg if it has a negative value);
  • its relationship to other items (eg if it is part of a calculation).

This additional information is called meta-data. When information that has been tagged with XBRL is transmitted, the meta-data contained within the tags is also transmitted.

Taxonomies differ according to reporting purposes, the type of information being reported and reporting presentation requirements. Consequently, a company may use one taxonomy when reporting to a stock exchange, but use a different taxonomy when reporting to a securities regulator. Taxonomies are available for most of the major national accounting standards around the world.

How XBRL works?

XBRL is a member of the family of languages based on XML, or Extensible Markup Language, which is a standard for the electronic exchange of data between businesses and on the internet. Under XML, identifying tags are applied to items of data so that they can be processed efficiently by computer software.

XBRL is a powerful and flexible version of XML which has been defined specifically to meet the requirements of business and financial information. It enables unique identifying tags to be applied to items of financial data, such as ‘net profit’. However, these are more than simple identifiers. They provide a range of information about the item, such as whether it is a monetary item, percentage or fraction. XBRL allows labels in any language to be applied to items, as well as accounting references or other subsidiary information.

XBRL can show how items are related to one another. It can thus represent how they are calculated. It can also identify whether they fall into particular groupings for organisational or presentational purposes. Most importantly, XBRL is easily extensible, so companies and other organisations can adapt it to meet a variety of special requirements.

The rich and powerful structure of XBRL allows very efficient handling of business data by computer software. It supports all the standard tasks involved in compiling, storing and using business data. Such information can be converted into XBRL by suitable mapping processes or generated in XBRL by software. It can then be searched, selected, exchanged or analysed by computer, or published for ordinary viewing.

Benefits of XBRL

XBRL offers major benefits at all stages of business reporting and analysis. The benefits are seen in automation, cost saving, faster, more reliable and more accurate handling of data, improved analysis and in better quality of information and decision-making. All types of organisations can use XBRL to save costs and improve efficiency in handling business and financial information. Because XBRL is extensible and flexible, it can be adapted to a wide variety of different requirements. All participants in the financial information supply chain can benefit, whether they are preparers, transmitters or users of business data.

XBRL enables producers and consumers of financial data to switch resources away from costly manual processes, typically involving time-consuming comparison, assembly and re-entry of data. They are able to concentrate effort on analysis, aided by software which can validate and manipulate XBRL information.

Data Collection and Reporting

By using XBRL, companies and other producers of financial data and business reports can automate the processes of data collection. For example, data from different company divisions with different accounting systems can be assembled quickly, cheaply and efficiently if the sources of information have been upgraded to using XBRL. Once data is gathered in XBRL, different types of reports using varying subsets of the data can be produced with minimum effort. A company finance division, for example, could quickly and reliably generate internal management reports, financial statements for publication, tax and other regulatory filings, as well as credit reports for lenders. Not only can data handling be automated, removing time-consuming, error-prone processes, but the data can be checked by software for accuracy.

Data Consumption and Analysis

Users of data which is received electronically in XBRL can automate its handling, cutting out time-consuming and costly collation and re-entry of information. Software can also immediately validate the data, highlighting errors and gaps which can immediately be addressed. It can also help in analysing, selecting, and processing the data for re-use. Human effort can switch to higher, more value-added aspects of analysis, review, reporting and decision-making. In this way, investment analysts can save effort, greatly simplify the selection and comparison of data, and deepen their company analysis. Lenders can save costs and speed up their dealings with borrowers. Regulators and government departments can assemble, validate and review data much more efficiently and usefully than they have hitherto been able to do.

XBRL Glossary


An attribute of an element to indicate that the element is only used in a hierarchy to group related elements together. An abstract element cannot be used to tag data in an instance document.


A property of an element such as its name, balance, data type, and whether the element is abstract. Attributes of XBRL US GAAP Taxonomy elements cannot be changed.

authoritative reference

Citations to specific authoritative accounting literature (pronouncements, standards, rules, and regulations) derived from various authoritative sources (Securities and Exchange Commission, Financial Accounting Standards Board, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, etc.) and used to help define an element.

axis (pl. axes)

An instance document contains facts; an axis differentiates facts and each axis represents a way that the facts may be classified. For example, Revenue for a period might be reported along a business unit axis, a country axis, a product axis, and so forth.

axis-default relationship

The dimensional relationship indicating that the table axis has a default domain member. In the XBRL US GAAP Taxonomies 1.0, the default is always the domain element.

axis-domain relationship

The dimensional relationship indicating that the table axis has members drawn from a domain.


An attribute of a monetary item type designated as debit, credit, or neither; a designation, if any, should be the natural or most expected balance of the element – credit or debit – and thus indicates how calculation relationships involving the element may be assigned a weight attribute (-1 or +1).

calculation relationships

Additive relationships between numeric items expressed as parent-child hierarchies.


XBRL technical term for element.


Entity and report-specific information (reporting period, segment information, and so forth) required by XBRL that allows tagged data to be understood in relation to other information.


Instance document fact attribute used to express the number of decimal places to which numbers have been rounded.

definition relationships file

Technical term for dimensional relationships file.


XBRL technical term for axis.


An element that represents an entire set of other elements; the domain and its members are used to classify facts along the axis of a table. For example, “Arkansas” is a domain member in the domain “States,” and would be used to classify elements such as revenues and assets in Arkansas as distinct from other states. When a fact does not have any domain member specified, that means it applies to the entire domain.

domain member

An element representing one of the possibilities within a domain.

domain-member relationship

Dimensional relationship indicating that a domain contains the member.


XBRL components (items, domain members, dimensions, and so forth). The representation of a financial reporting concept, including: line items in the face of the financial statements, important narrative disclosures, and rows and columns in tables.

element definition

A human-readable description of a reporting concept. From an XBRL technical point of view, the element definition is the label with the type “documentation,” and there are label relationships in a label relationships file, but from a user point of view the definition is an unchangeable attribute of the element.

extension taxonomy or extension

A taxonomy that allows users to add to a published taxonomy in order to define new elements or change element relationships and attributes (presentation, calculation, labels, and so forth) without altering the original.

face of the financial statements

Financial statements without the notes or schedules.


The occurrence in an instance document of a value or other information tagged by a taxonomy element.


Trees (presentation, calculation, and so forth) used to express and navigate relationships.


XBRL technical term for a table.

imputed value

A value that is not specifically provided but could be calculated based on other provided numbers and calculation weights.

instance or instance document

XML file that contains business reporting information and represents a collection of financial facts and report-specific information using tags from one or more XBRL taxonomies.


XBRL technical term for a kind of element.


Human-readable name for an element; each element has a standard label that corresponds to the element name, and is unique across the taxonomy.

label type

A distinguishing name for each distinct element indicating the circumstances in which it should be used; each is given a separate defining role to use in different presentation situations.

line item

Elements that conventionally appear on the vertical axis (rows) of a table.


XBRL technical term for a relationships file.


Process of determining the elements that correspond to lines and columns in a financial statement and which elements must be created by extension.


Unique identifier of an element in a taxonomy.


Every element has a Universal Resource Identifier (URI) that identifies the organization that maintains the element definitions, with an indication of what the term covers. In the XBRL US GAAP Taxonomy, namespaces start with http://xbrl.us/us-gaap. A namespace prefix is not the namespace.


An attribute that appears on all taxonomy elements, and is used (false) on elements that, if used in an instance document, must have a non-empty value. XBRL taxonomy tools normally have the default value for nillable as “true.” There is no need for any extension to define an element with nillable “false.”

parent-child hierarchy

Relationship between elements that indicates subordination of one to the other as represented in a print listing or financial statement presentation. Relationships files use parent-child hierarchies to model several different relationships, including presentation, summation of a set of facts, and membership of concepts within a domain used as the axis of a table.

period type

An attribute of an element that reflects whether it is reported as an instant or duration time period.

prefix or namespace prefix

A shorthand sequence of letters for a namespace; “us-gaap,” for example, is a common prefix for the namespace http://xbrl.us/us-gaap/2008-01-31.

presentation relationships

Relationships that arrange elements allowing them to navigate the taxonomy content in parent-child tree structures (hierarchies).

render or rendering

To process an instance document into a layout that facilitates readability and understanding of its contents.


A process that automatically scales numeric data by value, thus saving time of entering zeros during the entry or creation process. XBRL does not support the scaling of numeric values (all values must be reported in their entirety); however, it is a feature commonly found in instance document creation software.


Tag that allows for additional information to be associated with facts in an instance document; this information encompasses in particular the reporting circumstances of the fact, as for example “actual or forecast.” The scenario of any fact can be left unspecified.


Technical term for an element declaration file.


Tag that allows additional information to be included in the context of an instance document; this information captures segment information such as an entity’s business units, type of debt, type of other income, and so forth.

sign value

Denotes whether a numeric fact in an instance has a positive (+) or negative (-) value.

standard label

The default label for an element. An extension may override the standard label.


An element that organizes a set of axes and a set of line items to indicate that each fact of one of the line items could be further characterized along one or more of its axes. For example, if a line item is Sales and an axis is Scenario, this means that an instance document could have facts that are either for an unspecified scenario or for a specific scenario such as “actual or forecast.”

tag (noun)

Identifying information that describes a unit of data in an instance document and encloses it in angle brackets (<> and ). All facts in an instance document are enclosed by tags that identify the element of the fact.

tag (verb)

To apply tags to an instance document.

taxonomy, taxonomies

Electronic dictionary of business reporting elements used to report business data. A taxonomy is composed of an element names file (.xsd) and relationships files directly referenced by that schema. The taxonomy schema files together with the relationships files define the concepts (elements) and relationships that form the basis of the taxonomy. The set of related schemas and relationships files altogether constitute a taxonomy.

type or data type

Data types (monetary, string, share, decimal, and so forth) define the kind of data to be tagged with the element name.

unit of measure

The units in which numeric items have been measured, such as dollars, shares, Euros, or dollars per share.


Process of checking that instance documents and taxonomies correctly meet the rules of the XBRL specification.


Calculation relationship attribute (-1 or +1) that works in conjunction with the balance of the parent and child numeric elements to determine the arithmetic summation relationship

Related Post-

Filing of Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss Account in eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) mode – General Circular 37/2011


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June 2021