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A detail file is a computer file that records an event or transaction that has occurred. For this reason, it is also called a transaction file. Detail files are composed of a series of fields of information that constitute a computer record. The fields can often be used to search through the entire collection of detail files that are created. Detail files usually have one key field that can be used as a search criterion, such as an employee number, customer account number, date or other piece of important information.
A collection of detail files or transaction records are stored and processed by a transaction processing system. Each detail file gets stored for a specific amount of time within the transaction processing system if it meets a set of criteria for retention. For example, the transaction processing system might be programmed to retain only a detail file that has a complete record in which all of the fields hold valid data.
Each detail file is an important piece of information that needs to be retrieved and processed by the transaction processing system as part of the normal operating procedures of a business. For example, a detail file might include information on a specific financial transaction. In order for payment to be made, the detail file must be captured and processed. The file would include information about whom to pay, how much to pay and why the payment is being made, as well as any other fields that the computer system is programmed to capture.
There are several characteristics of a detail file and transaction processing system that are important for making the system efficient. The detail files should be designed for rapid processing so that they can be transmitted, processed and stored as quickly as possible. The system that transmits the detail files should be reliable so that no detail files are lost or misdirected. Detail files have to be standardized in order to be efficient; having the same design for each detail file means that the transaction processing system can process the file quickly. Finally, the detail files must be accessible only under certain circumstances so that the integrity of the information is retained.
Detail files can be processed in different ways. They can be processed in a batch at certain predetermined times each day, week or month. They might instead be processed instantly or in "real time," such as during online transactions. The means of processing the files depends on the needs of the business and the demands and expectations of the customer.