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A data element is a data dictionary object in SAP. Data elements can be created and modified using transaction SE11 and all data elements reside in SE11. Data elements are important data dictionary objects that describe the semantic characteristics of table fields, such as the online help on the particular fields. In other words, a data element defines the manner in which the table field is displayed to end users and the details to be provided to users when the F1 help button is used on a table field.
There are two types of data elements:
Data elements are used to define the characteristics of a table field or a component of a structure. They are also used to define the row type of the table type. The meaning of the table field or structure component along with editing screen fields can be mapped to a data element. All of this information is available automatically to screen fields that are referenced to a data element.
ABAP programs can make use of data elements by referencing the keyword TYPE. In this way, variables used in an ABAP program can take the characteristics or attributes of the referenced data elements.
It is always advised to make use of built SAP data elements before creating new ones.