What is XBRL ?
Dr Paul Booth
Technical & Development Manager,
the techie bit
Look under the bonnet?
Start with the familiar: HTML
‘The book <i><b>Systema Naturae</b></i> was
one of the major works of the Swedish botanist,
zoologist and physician Carolus Linnaeus.’
<b>Systema Naturae</b> Systema Naturae
<i>Systema Naturae</i> Systema Naturae
<i><b>Systema Naturae</b></i> Systema Naturae
What about XML?
• Like HTML but a bit cleverer
• A browser knows (from a Stylesheet) how to display it
• Other programs can process it too
• It’s all about tagging
<name>Mr John Smith</name>
<addr1>23 Acacia Avenue</addr1>
• What does each tag
•Is it <addr1> or <address
• Will the code MIA send
your bag to Miami
International (USA) or
Mian Yang (China)?
So, every tagging language needs a dictionary
All sorts of tagging languages
• ebXML: ‘ebXML enables enterprises of any size,
in any global region, to conduct business using
• CML: ‘CML (Chemical Markup Language) is an
approach to managing molecular information …’
• ThML: … and there’s even one for Theology!
• Tagging makes it easier to share data
between users without manual re-keying
• …and for computers to extract and process
… and now XBRL
• eXtensible Business Reporting Language
• Freely licensed standard, originated in
• It is XML – and cleverer still
• As well as tagging data items
o it can show relationships
o … and how they have been calculated
o Uses a taxonomy
What’s a taxonomy?
• An XBRL taxonomy is the same sort of thing: a
‘dictionary’ and logical categorisation scheme for
financial reporting concepts.
• Examples: ‘net profit’, ‘assets’, ‘equity’
• In XBRL, taxonomies relate back to financial
• Different taxonomy needed for different reporting
standards – in UK, UK GAAP or IFRS
Transparent reporting, checking
• Each ‘fact’ (eg ‘Share premium = £293,900’) can
be related back to the taxonomy.
• Items that are supposed to add up can be
• Definitions and context (eg currency, period,
units) are there. Called up share 500
Share premium 293,900
Profit and loss (258,892)
… and then there’s iXBRL
• Inline XBRL
• HTML and XBRL in the same document
• Humans read the HTML • Computers read the XBRL
Just a bit more background …
• XBRL already in use around the
• SEC in the USA one of most
• In the UK, Companies House
XBRL filing has been running
for past four years.
• Currently the simplest companies – dormant and
• Next year, Companies House moves to iXBRL
• Eventually, a single filing for both purposes.
• Up to end of November, 738,515 accounts e-filed
at Companies House, of which 537,760 web
filings and 200,755 using software
What about HMRC?
• Enable tax authority to analyse returns more
• Target ‘problem cases’ – eg suspected fraud,
under-payment more effectively.
• Make the tax authority’s processes less labour-
intensive, therefore cheaper.
• Enable better analysis of effects of possible
changes in legislation/tax rates.