Data Catalog vs. Data Dictionary: Differences, Benefits & Use Cases
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In a hurry? We’ve summarized the essence of this article as well as what to expect from it:
- A data dictionary documents technical metadata for a specific database. Meanwhile, a data catalog acts as a unified context and control plane for all metadata.
- In this article, we’ll explore the concepts of a data dictionary and a data catalog, followed by their benefits, core features, and differences. We’ll also compare data catalog vs. data dictionary vs. business glossary.
- Looking for a way to build a modern data dictionary? Check out Atlan — a modern data catalog that hosts beyond a standard data dictionary. Book a demo or take a guided product tour.
Data catalog vs. data dictionary: The difference
The main difference between a data catalog and a data dictionary is that a data dictionary documents technical metadata for a specific database, whereas a data catalog acts as a unified context, control, and collaboration layer of all metadata (technical, governance, operational, collaboration, quality, and usage) across your entire data ecosystem.
Data Catalog Vs Data Dictionary: Which one do you need?
To understand the differences between data catalog and data dictionary, read on.
Table of Contents
- What is a data dictionary?
- What are the benefits of a data dictionary?
- What is a data catalog?
- 4 Fundamental features of a data catalog
- Data catalog vs. data dictionary vs. business glossary
- Data catalogs vs. data dictionaries in the real world
- Related reads
Explore data catalog and data dictionary with a pre-configured demo instance
What is a data dictionary?
A data dictionary provides information and insights about your database. Consider a data dictionary to be a documentation for databases.
A data dictionary provides insights on
- Data source (data warehouse, data lakes, databases, applications)
- Tables names and descriptions
- Table relationships
- Column name and descriptions
- Permissible values for a field
- Data types
- Column nullability
- Referential constraints — foreign keys and primary keys
- Column statistics — missing values, min-max values, and histogram distribution.
- Data and time when the property was created or changed
- Data owner
- Data freshness
- Classifications (PII, GDPR, HIPAA)
What are the benefits of a data dictionary?
The number of benefits your organization can have from a robust data dictionary is endless. Yet, let’s have a look at the top seven benefits of a data dictionary that acts as the interpreter for your databases:
- A data dictionary links physical data assets to business terms/concepts/metrics. This helps data users to understand and trust data better (improves data validity and credibility).
- Enables quick detection of anomalies and errors and hence helps keep a check on data quality.
- Checks how and where a field is referenced across the entire database.
- Provides a framework for programming and database standards to maintain data integrity.
- Helps evaluate data consistency during security and compliance audits.
- A data dictionary acts as self-serve documentation for new engineers/analysts. This greatly reduces onboarding time.
- Data dictionaries can be accessed externally through APIs for reporting and cataloging purposes.
And to learn more about each benefit in detail, check out the key benefits of a data dictionary.
What is a data catalog?
A data catalog is an inventory of data assets across all your data sources in your enterprise. It helps organizations discover, understand, and consume data better — all in one place.
A data catalog helps find answers to:
- What data do we have?
- Where does it come from?
- Who is the owner?
- How clean is the data & are there any gaps?
- How is it classified?
- Is the data good enough for running analysis?
4 fundamental features of a data catalog
Fundamentally, what are the features of a data catalog? A data catalog reduces the time to insight for data users. It ensures:
- Data is made readily accessible
- Context is provided
- The data lifecycle is visible
- Access permissions are defined
Watch a demo of Atlan data catalog
1. Data catalogs make data accessible
A data catalog automatically crawls, identifies, inventories, and classifies data assets from multiple sources. Data catalog tools allow you to run a search across data lakes, data warehouses, databases, tables, columns, SQL queries, and business glossaries.
2. Data catalogs provide context
People with no context of the data can learn more about it to decide if they have the right data.
3. Data catalogs help visualize data lifecycle
Data catalogs enable you to visualize the complete lifecycle of a data asset, its transformation, and its dependency both upstream and downstream.
A Guide to Building a Business Case for a Data Catalog
4. Data catalogs enable data governance
A data catalog helps enforce robust access control policies as guard rails to help you protect confidentiality and comply with various data protection regulations.
Data catalog vs. data dictionary vs. business glossary
While evaluating the need for data catalogs and data dictionaries, people often stumble upon business glossaries. Here’s how the three are primarily different.
The main difference between data catalog, data dictionary and business glossary is that A data dictionary holds the technical metadata for a database, a business glossary pulls together a common understanding of business terms and concepts, whereas a data catalog is a unified access, control, and collaboration layer that spans all metadata across your data estate.
Think of it this way, a data dictionary helps understand and trust data in databases better, a business glossary provides a common language for the organization when it comes to business concepts and metrics, and a data catalog helps find, understand, trust, and collaborate on data.
And to explore more about how a business glossary differs from the other two, check out the business glossary vs. data catalog.
When does an organization need a data catalog?
It’s safe to say, deploying a data catalog is a right of passage for an organization to be truly data-driven. As a business, you can collect all the data that you want and set up best-in-class infrastructure to store that data, but data in itself is nothing. Just numbers.
You need the right data to reach the right person at the right time - for it to really move the needle on your business. Modern Data Catalogs are being designed to ensure that the complexities and scale of data do not deter “non-data” folks from using data in their day-to-day work.
Data catalogs vs. data dictionaries in the real world
As more and more data teams are feeling the need for and adopting data catalogs, the difference between a catalog and a dictionary is fast vanishing—and becoming more complementary—because catalog tools now crawl and inventory data dictionaries for metadata. Data dictionaries are now an integral part of a data catalog.
Just in case, if you are evaluating a data catalog, data dictionary, and metadata management for your team, do take Atlan for a spin.
Atlan is a modern data catalog built on the premise of embedded collaboration that is key in today’s modern workplace, borrowing principles from GitHub, Figma, Slack, Notion, Superhuman, and other modern tools that are commonplace today.
Data dictionary vs. Data catalog: Related reads
- Business Glossary vs. Data Catalog — Fundamentals, Use Cases, Examples & More
- What Is a Data Catalog? & Do You Need One?
- Data Inventory vs. Data Catalog: Definitions, Differences, and Examples
- Data Dictionary: Examples, Components, Benefits, How To Create One, and Available Tools
- Explore the Top 6 Benefits of a Data Dictionary
- Data Dictionary vs. Business Glossary: Definitions, Examples & Why Do They Matter?
- Modern Data Catalog: 5 Essential Features and Tool Evaluation Guide
- Best Alation Alternative: 5 Reasons Why Customers Choose Atlan
- Best Collibra Alternative — 8 Reasons Why Future-Focused Data Teams Are Choosing Atlan
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