Flat file overview

A flat file is a data file that contains plain text format. It is typically a standalone listing of data.

A flat file is structured to enable a machine to parse it. A flat file does not contain details about how the information is structured, nor does it relate to or contain any links to other files. Flat files are related, but only if the applications sending and receiving the files are programmed to be aware of such relationships. Relations to other files are described in other tools that are managed in a relation database or in a file manager. An example data relationship is describing the customers for an order or the vendors of the purchases.

You can use flat files store and transport all types of application data in the form of flat messages. Often, flat files are used for exchanging messages between two nodes within a network, for example, to exchange purchase orders, invoices, and payments between a supplier and a vendor.

Data in flat files remain in their original form until the data are transmitted in a form of flat file messages. Flat file messages are electronic business messages in flat file format. When transmission is completed, the data is modified and saved in a different format, for example from a flat file to an XML file.