Content Handling

Translation Engine

In file transfer, a “translation engine” is a common name for a “transformation engine” that converts documents from one document definition to another through “transformation maps“.

See “transformation engine” for more information.


In file transfer, a “mapper” is a common name for a “transformation engine” that converts documents from one document definition to another through “transformation maps“.

See “transformation engine” for more information.

Transformation Engine

A translation engine is software that performs the work defined in individual transformation maps.

The transformation engines that power transformation maps are typically defined as “single-pass” or “multiple-pass” engines.  Single-pass engines are faster than multiple-pass engines because documents are directly translated from source formats to destination formats, but single-pass engines often require more manual setup and are harder to integrate and extend than multiple-pass engines.  Multiple-pass engines use an intermediate format (usually XML) between the source and destination formats; this makes them slower than single-pass engines but often eases interoperability between systems.

BEST PRACTICE: Your decision to use a single- or multiple-pass map transformation engine should be predicated first on performance, then on interoperability.  (It won’t matter how interoperable your deployment is if it can’t keep up with your traffic.)    However, the ever-increasing speed of computers and more common use of parallel, coordinated systems is gradually tilting the file transfer industry in favor of multiple-pass transformation engines.

Document Definition

In file transfer, a “document definition” typically refers to a very specific, field-by-field description of a single document format (such as an ACH file) or single set of transaction data (such as EDI’s “997” Functional Acknowledgment).

Document definitions are used in transformation maps and can often be used outside of maps to validate the format of individual documents.

The best known example of a document definition language today is XML’s DTD (“Document Type Definition”).

Many transformation engines understand XML DTDs and some use standard transformation mechanisms like XSLT (“XML Transformations”).  However most transformation engines depend on proprietary mapping formats (particularly for custom maps) that prevent much interoperability from one vendor to another.

Transformation Map

A transformation map (or just “map”) provides a standardized way to transform one document format into another through the use of pre-defined document definitions.

A single transformation map typically encompasses separate source and destination document definitions, a field-by-field “mapping” from the source document to the destination, and metadata such as the name of the map, what collection it belongs to and which people and workflows can access it.

It is common to “develop” new maps and document formats to cope with document formats unique to a specific organization, trading arrangement or industry.  (The term “development” is still typically used with maps in the file transfer industry, even though most mapping interfaces are now 99%+ drag-and-drop.)

BEST PRACTICE: Most transformation engines (especially those tuned for a particular industry) now come with extensive pre-defined libraries of common document formats and maps to translate between them.   Before investing in custom map development, research available off-the-shelf options thoroughly.

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