Chapter 21. (Nearly) Ten Keys to Understanding How XBRL Works

In This Chapter

  • Explaining key technical ideas to business readers

  • Grasping how XBRL actually does what it does

  • Seeing what XBRL will do

This chapter has one specific focus: explain key concepts in terms that you, a business reader, can relate to. You don't need to understand these concepts to use XBRL. However, for those who are curious or who like to understand how things work, this chapter is for you.

Syntax Is Fairly Unimportant, Except Where It's Critical

Syntax is fairly unimportant to business users, but of critical interest to technical people. The following examples of different syntax all say the same thing — namely, that John Doe's salary is $145,000:

  • Plain text: John Doe's salary is $145,000

  • CSV (comma separated values): John, Doe, 145000

  • HTML: <p>John Doe's salary is $145,000</p>

  • XML: <my:salary name="John Doe">145000</my:salary>

  • RTF (Rich text format): {\rtlch\fcs1 John Doe's salary is $145,000}

Syntax really doesn't matter much to business people except for two important things:

  • The entire world is moving to one agreed-upon syntax for exchanging information, which is XML.

  • The syntax needs to be able to do what you need it to do. If it doesn't work for what you need, what good is it?

XML provides a couple of critical things:

  • Multilingual support: A big problem with exchanging information is all the different characters that have to be expressed. XML was built in a manner to solve this problem.

  • The ability to express a hierarchy ...

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