What is XBRL?

What is XBRL? 

XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) is an open data standard for financial reporting.

XBRL is a language for the electronic communication of business and financial data which is revolutionising business reporting around the world. It provides major benefits in the preparation, analysis and communication of business information. It offers cost savings, greater efficiency and improved accuracy and reliability to all those involved in supplying or using financial data.

XBRL allows information modeling and the expression of semantic meaning commonly required in business reporting. XBRL is XML-based. It uses the XML syntax and related XML technologies such as XML Schema, XLink, XPath, and Namespaces to articulate this semantic meaning. One use of XBRL is to define and exchange financial information, such as a financial statement. The XBRL Specification is developed and published by XBRL International, Inc. (XII). XBRL is a standards-based way to communicate business and financial information. These communications are defined by metadata set out in taxonomies. Taxonomies capture the definition of individual reporting concepts as well as the relationships between concepts and other semantic meaning.


XBRLS is a simplified application profile of this standard intended to enable the non-XBRL expert to create both XBRL metadata and XBRL reports in a simple and convenient manner. At the same time, it seeks to improve the usability of XBRL, the interoperability among XBRL-based solutions and to reduce software development costs.

XBRL is being developed by an international non-profit consortium of approximately 450 major companies, organisations and government agencies. It is an open standard, free of licence fees. It is already being put to practical use in a number of countries and implementations of XBRL are growing rapidly around the world.

Benefits and Beneficiaries 

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.  

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. As just one example, searches for particular information which might in the past have taken hours can be completed with XBRL in a fraction of a second.

Those who stand to benefit include all who collect business data, including governments, regulators, economic agencies, stock exchanges, financial information companies and the like, and those who produce or use it, including accountants, auditors, company managers, financial analysts, investors and creditors. Among those who can take advantage of XBRL include accountancy software vendors, the financial services industry, investor relations companies and the information technology industry.

The use of XBRL does not imply an enforced standardisation of financial reporting. On the contrary, the language is a flexible one which is intended to support all current aspects of reporting in different countries and industries. Its extensible nature means that it can be adjusted to meet particular business requirements, even at the individual organisation level.

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.

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