Metadata is "data about data". Are there other words with similar meaning?

  • 2
    Hello, can you tell us where exactly you need this synonym? It'll be helpful for everyone here to understand better "what" you need.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 12:44
  • 1
    I just want to know more words with this meaning. I'm developing a part of software which works with general data (images, pages etc). I need a word describing properties of this data.
    – tikh
    Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 12:57
  • 3
    @tikh: Metadata pretty much exactly describes this concept; I can't think of a more precise term. Any reason you're looking for an alternative? Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 13:15
  • @tikh: I updated my answer.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 13:44
  • 2
    Do you fear that your user will be uncomfortable with the word "metadata" ? Are you reluctant to use it ?
    – ogerard
    Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 15:36

7 Answers 7


Metadata has no meaningful synonym in software development; it's the abstract term to refer to data that describe the context of another value. The words object, type, attribute, property, aspect, and schema all refer to metadata in some context. The elements of a web page, for example, are collectively referred to as the Document Object Model, or DOM for short. The DOM contains the order, type, reference name, display name, and value of each element in the page. Or, more generally, it's the metadata for a web page.

So I'm thinking what you really want is a more specific term than metadata, rather than a synonym for it.

  • 3
    I agree with this answer... except that the DOM is not a good example of metadata. The DOM is the structure that holds ALL the HTML data on the web page, some of which is metadata about the page.
    – LarsH
    Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 21:32

I agree with all the answerers that metadata is the more general and useful terms and all other options are more restrictive or context-sensitive.

Other possible (but less general) terms not already proposed, and sometimes found in software, the general idea being that the collection of metadata on an object "x" can allow identification/disambiguation/research of "x" :

  • Known facts about "x"
  • General facts about "x"
  • Information resources on "x"
  • Identity card of "x"
  • Pedigree of "x"
  • Description of "x"

and a dozen more variants.

One can also remark that metadata is a bit barbaric. Didactic close-equivalent words would be

  • prologos
  • metalogos
  • perilogos
  • epilogos

with the exact choice depending of the relation between the information and the subject of it. For instance peri is really "about" but in a more concrete way (think perimeter, delimiting the object), than meta, which has more often the meaning of "information of a higher level, of another kind, with precedence or pre-existence".


I checked various sources and I didn't found anything. I doubt there are synonyms meant as single words, probably there are expressions but I don't know if they are what you're looking for.

EDIT: I checked more and I found "Metacontent" from here.


Some alternatives in the technical vocabulary:

  • schema
  • data dictionary
  • DTD (document type definition)

None of these have the aura of recursion about them, but they certainly do describe the format of data.

  • 2
    Throughout many years as a software developer, I've always used schema to mean the framework within which metadata values are interpreted. To me it's only meaningful when there's a choice of which particular schema to 'activate'. The schema is invariably encapsulated in program code, whereas the metadata it applies to consists of variable values stored in data / config files. Any variable specifying which particular schema to use would, of course, be part of the metadata. Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 17:36
  • @FumbleFingers: I understand your distinction. Most modern databases have 'system tables' that have tables and fields that store the user defined tables/fields/properties. This data is commonly called the table schema. The fact that the data describing the structure of other data lives in a place similar to the other data makes 'schema' sound, in this context, like 'metadata'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 19:55

How about "data dictionary"?

In a software context, this is not describing the meaning of the data words; rather it is a repository describing the layout or format of the data.


Metadata is too limited. I like schema or shell. A shell for the file is part of the file but not the contents. The shell forms the contents of a file. Metadata and schema are contained in the electronic shell of a document. Apart of the document that describes and defines the form of the information within the shell.

  • Calling such things shells is not going to work very well. That word already has too strongly held a meaning in a programming context for use here.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 3:08

This may not work well for your image-handling application, but the following terms crop up when you're talking about communication (i.e., messages):

  • envelope information
  • outside-of-the-envelope information
  • wrapper information
  • encapsulation information
  • signal-related information (in contrast to content-related information)

... or, of course, you can substitute "data" for "information" in any of the above.

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