metadata  (

What is it?
[metadata]"meta-data" or "meta data"* Data about data. In data processing, meta-data is definitional data that provides information about or documentation of other data managed within an application or environment.

For example, meta-data would document data about data elements or attributes, (name, size, data type, etc.) and data about records or data structures (length, fields, columns, etc) and data about data (where it is located, how it is associated, ownership, etc.). Meta-data may include descriptive information about the context, quality and condition, or characteristics of the data.

From "The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing" (, Editor Denis Howe, link accessed Tuesday, 21 June 2005)

It will be hard to improve on this definition, so let's simply take a look at a real world example of how the concept is implemented for spatial data.

* Trademark issues?:

Metadata (Note: One unhyphenated word with initial capital; contrast meta data) A word coined by Jack E. Myers to represent current and future lines of products implementing the concepts of his MetaModel, and also to designate his company The Metadata Company that would develop and market those products.

A data and publication search performed when Myers coined the term, early in the summer of 1969, did not discover any use either of the word "metadata" or "meta data". Myers used the term in a 1973 product brochure and it is an Incontestable registered U.S. Trademark.

Also from "The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing" (, Editor Denis Howe)

And the FGDC weighs in...