Who invented XBRL

eXtensible Business Reporting Language

XBRL, which stands for eXtensible Business Reporting Language, is a language used for the electronic communication of financial and business information across the globe. It provides a greater level of efficiency, cost savings and improved reliability and accuracy to anyone supplying or utilizing financial data.

Quick Version History

XBRL 1.0: This version was based on DTDs. It expressed the difference between data exchange in instance documents and metadata exchange in taxonomy documents. Taxonomies were expressed as XML Schema files, but these were not used for instance validation.

XBRL 2.0: This version introduced use of XML Schema substitution groups as a way of allowing schema validation of instances. Concept relations were broken out into separate XLink based linkbases. Context data in the instance was collected into a separate element.

XBRL 2.1: This version tightened the definition of terms significantly, allowing for the introduction of a conformance suite.

SBR: In 2003 the Dutch government started the Netherlands Taxonomy Project (NTP) to create a multi agency taxonomy and communication infrastructure. The Dutch government now collaborates with Australia, New Zealand and Singapore in Standard Business Reporting (SBR) programs.

XBRLS: In 2008 Charlie Hoffman and Rene van Egmond proposed a simplified, user-friendly XBRL application profile of XBRL that makes using XBRL easier for most business users, improves the potential for interoperability, and improves the potential for comparability needed by most business users, business communities, regulators and independent software vendors.


XBRL is XML-based, which means that it uses the XML, or Extensible Markup Language, syntax and related XML technologies, which are the standard in communicating information between businesses and the Internet. Data can be converted to XBRL by appropriate mapping tools, or data can be written directly in XBRL by suitable software. Rather than viewing financial documentation as a series of texts, as it appears on a printed document or on a Web page, XBRL assigns an identifying tag for each individual data item that can be easily understood by a computer. For example, a specific tag would be assigned to company net profit. However, XBRL goes one step further than simply identifying the item. XBRL’s tags can discern additional information about the item, such as whether it is a currency, percentage or fraction. XBRL can also apply tags to an item in any language, furthering its desirability in the global marketplace.

With XBRL, computer software can automatically process business information, without requiring manual input, which is costly and labor-intensive. Computers can read the information in an XBRL document and then choose to analyze, store, exchange the information with other computers or even publish it so it can be viewed by users in a variety of ways. XBRL benefits the business community by greatly increasing the speed of handling financial data and reducing the likelihood of human error by automatically checking information. For example, a search for a particular piece of information using XBRL can be completed instantaneously, instead of the hours it would have taken in the past.

XBRL uses taxonomies, which are the dictionaries that the language uses to assign the specific tags for individual items of data. Taxonomies can be created for different countries’ accounting regulations and for the individual needs of specific industries or companies. Most XBRL users have no need to understand the technicalities behind the language, but software providers certainly do when designing their products.

XBRL supports an open standard of financial reporting. This means that it is flexible enough to support all the current ways of reporting in different countries and industries. XBRL is freely available, without any license fees to supply or to access the information. It is a non-profit venture driven by XBRL International, a collaboration of about 550 major international companies, organizations and government agencies. XBRL has already been implemented and is regularly used in a growing number of countries and industries around the world.


Initial users of XBRL included regulators such as the Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS) and the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Today, the many users of XBRL benefit from communicating common functions, such as stock exchange and securities regulations, banking regulations, business registration, revenue reporting and tax filings.

XBRL is the brainchild of Charles Hoffman, a certified public accountant from Tacoma, Wash., who, in 1998, began investigating how XML could be used for electronic reporting of financial information. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) recognized the importance of Hoffman’s work to the accounting industry and funded the efforts to create XBRL International.

XBRL still has a way to go. In April 2009, North Carolina State University Department of Accounting conducted a survey to evaluate the reliability of XBRL filings for the 22 companies who participated in the SEC’s voluntary filing program in 2006. The results of their survey highlighted multiple errors in amounts, signage, labeling and classification. These errors are significant since generally only computers analyze XBRL data, meaning users will not be able to visually catch these errors, thereby allowing many financial reporting mistakes to go unnoticed.

XBRL Modules

XBRL Dimensions 1.0: The Dimension 1.0 Specification is an optional extension to the XBRL 2.1 Specficication that enriches the rules and procedures for constructing dimensional taxonomies and instance documents. It supports the use of XBRL taxonomy linkbases to define additional, structured contextual information for business facts. Each piece of contextual information is referred to as a “dimension.” The base XBRL specification essentially defines three dimensions: reporting period, reporting entity, and a loosely-defined reporting scenario, originally intended to distinguish between actual vs. projected facts. Taxonomies using XBRL Dimensions can define new dimensions, specify the valid values (“domains”) for dimensions, designate which dimensions apply to which business concepts through mechanisms called “hypercubes”, and relate other taxonomy metadata to dimensions.

XBRL Formula 1.0: The Formula Specification 1.0 supports the creation of expressions that can be applied to XBRL instances to validate its information or to calculate new XBRL facts in a new instance.

XBRL Rendering: The Inline XBRL (Rendering) Specification has two deliverables. One is “Inline XBRL”, a specification for embedding XBRL inside XHTML. The other is a Specified Transformations registry. The registry will leverage the label and presentation linkbases to provide a facility for more comprehensive report definition. For example, the label linkbase can tell you that the English name for the ifrs-gp:assets concept is “Assets”, and the presentation linkbase can tell you that ifrs-gp:assets is the first concept in the hierarchy named “Balance Sheet”. The Rendering Linkbase would add the metadata that the “Balance Sheet” usually runs with the labels down the former leftmost column, and then shows it with the two most recent periods within the next columns, in a particularly defined, structured order.

XBRL Versioning:This module will support the creation of a standard versioning report, which will document the differences between two versions of the same taxonomy.

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