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data element

The fundamental data structure in a data processing system. Any unit of data defined for processing is a data element; for example, ACCOUNT NUMBER, NAME, ADDRESS and CITY. A data element is defined by size (in characters) and type (alphanumeric, numeric only, true/false, date, etc.). A specific set of values or range of values may also be part of the definition.

Technically, a data element is a logical definition of data, whereas a field is the physical unit of storage in a record. For example, the data element ACCOUNT NUMBER, which exists only once, is stored in the ACCOUNT NUMBER field in each customer record and in the ACCOUNT NUMBER field in each order record. See field.




The Basic Unit of Storage
Technically, data elements describe the logical unit of data, fields are the actual storage units, and data items are the individual instances of the data elements as in this example. In practice, all three terms may be used interchangeably. However, technical documentation on database management should employ the terms properly.






field

A physical structure in a form, file or database that holds data. A field is one or more bytes in size. A collection of fields makes up a data record; for example, ORDER #, NAME, ADDRESS, CITY, etc. The terms field and "box" are often used synonymously such as a "search field" or "search box" on a Web page.

The field is the common denominator for database searches. For example, the STATE field is referenced when the query to find "all customers who live in Florida" is made to a database. When totaling transactions, the ORDER_AMOUNT field is summed. JOB_TITLE is referenced when looking for certain employees.

Fields, Data Elements and Data Items
Although often used interchangeably, there are several terms that refer to the same unit of storage in a data record. A "data element" is the logical definition of the field, while a "data item" is the actual data stored in the field. For example, for each CITY data element defined in a record, there are many CITY fields (structures) in the database that hold the data items (New York, Chicago, Phoenix, etc.).




The Basic Unit of Storage
Data elements describe the logical unit of data, fields are the actual storage units, and data items are the individual instances of the data elements as in this example.






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