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Anthony Cecchini is the President of Information Technology Partners (ITP), an


SAP consulting company headquartered in Pennsylvania. ITP offers comprehensive planning, resource
allocation, implementation, upgrade, and training assistance to companies. Anthony has over 17 years
of experience in SAP R/3 business process analysis and SAP systems integration. His areas of expertise
include SAP NetWeaver integration; ALE development; RFC, BAPI, IDoc, Dialog, and Web Dynpro
development; and customized Workflow development. You can reach him at ajcecchini@itpsap.com.

The SAP IDoc Technology


In this months blog I will begin a series on the SAP IDoc Technology, This technology is used in ALE,
EDI, and 3rd Party Systems Integration scenarios.
For some of my readers this may be trip down memory lane, but for some, the New Developers, I hope to
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give you the tools you need to understand and demystify the IDoc concept. So.. for you old dogs, think of
it as a remedial and chime in with comments and suggestions. lets get started!

What are IDocs?


You have probably heard the term IDoc many times. This blog will help you understand exactly what an
IDoc is and what it does.
Lets look at some important facts about IDocs.
- The term IDoc stands for intermediate document. It is simply a data container used to exchange
information between any two processes that can understand the semantics of the data.
- An IDoc is created as a result of executing an Outbound ALE or EDI process whereas with an inbound
ALE or EDI process, an IDoc serves as input to create an application object in SAP, like a Sales Order or
PO.
- IDocs in the SAP system, are stored in database tables. We can use transactions to view, edit, and
process them. When an IDoc is generated in the system, a unique number is assigned to it via a Number
Range Object. This number is unique within a client.
- IDocs are independent of the direction of data exchange. An inbound and an outbound process can use
an IDoc. For example, the ORDERS01 IDoc is used by the Purchasing module to send a purchase order,
and is also used by the Sales and Distribution module to accept a sales order. Using this technique avoids
creating redundant IDoc types.

The IDoc Interface


How are IDocs used? What is EDI? ALE? I might be giving my age away here. but the IDoc
interface has been around since release 2.2, when IDocs were initially used in the EDI process. So this is
a PROVEN, Scalable technology that is used in a wide variety of interfacing requirements.
OK, let me define some of the concepts we will touch on

EDI Integration (Electronic Data Interchange)


EDI is the electronic exchange of business documents between trading partners in a common industry
standard format, such as ANSI X12 or EDIFACT. Several applications (purchasing, sales, or shipping)
in SAP are enabled for EDI. To use EDI, an application first creates an application document, such as a
purchase order. Then the EDI interface layer converts the application document (the purchase order) into
an IDoc, which is transferred to an EDI subsystem, or PI with an EDI Plug-in. The EDI middleware
translates the IDoc into an industrystandard format and then transfers it to a business partner over a
network.

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Advantages of EDI process


- Reduced data Entry Errors
- Reduced Processing cycle time
- Availability of data in electronic form
- Reduced Paper Work
- Reduced Cost
- Reduced Inventories and Better Planning
- Standard Means of Communicating

ALE Integration (Application Link Enabling)


ALE enables the exchange of data between two SAP systems. This allows SAP business processes and
applications to be distributed across multiple SAP systems. ALE ensures integration in a distributed SAP
environment. The IDoc acts as the data container. SAP introduced ALE as its initiative to support a
distributed yet integrated environment. ALE allows for efficient and reliable communication between
distributed processes across physically separate SAP systems to achieve a distributed, yet integrated,
logical SAP system. Because ALE architecture is independent of the participating systems, this enabled
SAP to use this technique for SAP to nonSAP systems as well. This was huge in the early years of ALE
and led to it being widely adopted as a Best Practice for communicating with SAP and Non-SAP
systems.

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ALE supports
- Distribution of applications between different releases of R/3 Systems
- Continued data exchange after a release upgrade without requiring special maintenance
- Customer-specific extensions.
- Communication interfaces that allow connections to non-SAP systems.

Lets wrap this up by examining some of over-arching benefits of using the IDoc
Technology
Independence from Applications
The biggest advantage of using the IDoc interface is that its an open interface. Its independent of the
internal structure used by SAP to store data and independent of the sending and receiving applications.
Any application that can understand the syntax and semantics of the data can use the IDoc interface.

Exception Handling via Workflow


Handling exceptions is always very important and usually a second thought in most designs. If you have
designed sophisticated applications in the past, you can, no doubt, relate to the agony of designing a
consistent means of logging errors and exceptions across the board and then developing tools to display
that information.
Well with IDocs, you get comprehensive information about the processing. Several standard tools are
available to display the logged information. In particular, SAP uses the workflow technology to route an
error intelligently to the right person so they can see what happened, why, and how to proceed. By using
the IDoc interface, you automatically take advantage of this exceptionhandling process. This is both for
standard and for your custom IDocs. No extra code required.
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IDoc Modification and Enhancement


Using standard tools we will discuss in later blogs, (the IDoc editor and Segment editor), you can either
enhance standard SAP IDocs or create new IDocs in the system to support custom interfaces. Your newly
developed IDocs integrate seamlessly into the standard EDI interface because they are developed using
standard tools provided by the system. IDocs developed in this manner become available in the standard
list of SAP IDocs and can take advantage of all the tools designed for standard IDocs, such as IDoc
monitoring, error handling, and archiving. We will talk at length about each one of these in turn in later
blogs.

So in summary, IDocs act as containers for data exchanged between two applications. The IDoc interface
is functionally rich and provides a robust environment for interfacing SAP with SAP, as well as with
external applications. Using the IDoc interface for integrating external applications with the SAP system
offers several benefits, such as a thoroughly documented interface, independence of the application
product, numerous testing and troubleshooting tools, and a sophisticated means of error handling via
workflow.
In the next part of this blog series we will dive into the technical makeup of IDocs.

If you enjoyed this blog on The SAP IDoc Technology, please click on the link below and sign up for our
newsletter. We deliver relevant SAP Technical tips & tricks and current news right to your inbox!

Check out are web channels

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The New Enhancement Framework Part


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A Guide to the New ALV Grid Control


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7 comments a year ago

Anthony Cecchini The information in this

Jon Thanks for this Tony! Reading your

and all my blogs are from experience using


the IDE tool or tool-set i am

blog was much better than searching the


internet for a quick

Whats New in ABAP 7.02 and 7.03 Part 1

An introduction to Web Dynpro Part 3

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aess.upc.es Keep this going please, great

John Very good post with deeper analysis

job!

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