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8. Details of Individual Metadata Elements

8.17 Data Format




Identifying Attributes




Data Format

Defined by

Government of Canada Records Management Metadata Standard - formatMIME

Element URI

[To be actioned by Treasury Board of Canada, Secretariat before publication]

Definitional Attributes


The logical format of the data.


To serve as a management tool for the control, storage and preservation of records over time.

To provide information or pointers to information on the technology required for access to the various kinds of records held by an institution.

To enable movement of records from one medium to another based on their particular format, so that records of the same format can be managed together, migrated at the same time, etc.


"Records should be stored on media that ensure their useability, reliability, authenticity and preservation for as long as they are needed." ISO International Standard 15489-1, s. 9.6

"As well as the content, the record should contain, or be persistently linked to, or associated with, the metadata necessary to document a transaction, as follows: a) the structure of a record, that is, its format and the relationships between the elements comprising the record, should remain intact…" ISO International Standard 15489-1, s. 7.2.1

"Records systems should be designed so that records will remain authentic, reliable and useable throughout any kind of system change, including format conversion, migration between hardware and operating systems or specific software applications, for the entire period of their retention." ISO International Standard 15489-1, s. 8.3.5

"Key elements of structural and storage metadata, such as format and key technical dependencies, should be identified and documented at the point of record capture in order to ensure that the record's accessibility can be maintained as long as required for business or other needs and to facilitate long-term preservation and management." ISO Technical Specification 23081-1, s. 9.2.1

"In order to define the content of the record or any aggregation, its logical and physical structure and its technical attributes, and in order to document the relationships that records may have between each other, metadata about the record should …

c) document record structure, …
f) document record technical characteristics and dependencies,
g) document the relationship between the data or format elements that comprise the record
i) enable migration to different software,
j) facilitate re-presentation through emulation,
k) initiate data and format management activities to protect against media deterioration…" ISO Technical Specification 23081-1, s. 9.2.1

"Records of current and previous structural metadata, such as format and key technical dependencies, will continue to be applied to ensure the record's accessibility is maintained through time." ISO Technical Specification 23081-1, s. 9.2.2 …

Value Domain

Enumerated strings of text representing format types.

Datatype Name



Applicable at record level only.


Mandatory at record level.

Relational Attributes

Encoding Scheme

Government of Canada Format Scheme (gcformat)


Institution-specific scheme


Event Type

Conditions of Application - Record


Text, based on encoding scheme.


Pre Record Declared Locked

Post Record Declared Locked


Yes, by authorized official only.


Not repeatable

Conditions of Application - File







Comments and Guidance

a) Explanation of Definition/Usage

The Data Format element is used to identify the application that was used to create the record. This information is important for resource retrieval purposes and for resource migration to a new application that requires a new data format because of obsolescence of the original application, application version, or data format.

It is also important for archival purposes. Knowing the application will ensure that the software required in managing the resource is maintained.

This element should not be confused with the element Type, which indicates the genre of record, i.e. contract, memo, etc.

b) Best Practices

Recommended best practice is to select a value from the Government of Canada Format Scheme (gcformat). The terms are mostly derived from the IANA MIME Media Type list ( The terms contain a category and a specific format name separated by a "/": e.g. image/jpeg, audio/mpeg, application/msword, etc. In accordance with the IANA naming scheme, terms in the Scheme that do not appear in the IANA MIME Media Type list include the prefix "x-" preceding the specific format name: e.g. video/x-realvideo, audio/x-midi, application/x-shockwave, etc.

Further guidance on controlled vocabularies may be found in the following document: Controlled Vocabularies Sub-Group, Government On-Line Metadata Working Group, Guide to the Development and Maintenance of Controlled Vocabularies in the Government of Canada, July 8, 2005. [url forthcoming].

This element must be modifiable to allow for migration to newer formats. Current EDRMS applications require that each format of a record has metadata applied to it, but best practice is for the new format to be linked to the original record.

c) Obligation

This element is mandatory to assist in the long-term maintenance of the record. By knowing the data format, the record can be migrated to newer formats.

d) Default Values/Auto-populate

The EDRMS should recognize the data format and auto-populate it.

e) Linkages

Data Format is linked to the element Event Type in cases where a change to the format of the record must be noted in the management and event history log.

f) Examples

  1. "application/pdf"

  2. "audio/mpeg"

  3. "audio/x-midi"

  4. "image/jpeg"

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