ESDS Program

Creating File Format Guidelines: The Aura Experience


This technical note describes the process that the Aura teams used to create file format guidelines for their data products.


The Creating File Format Guidelines: The Aura Experience is a lessons-learned document recommended for informational use in NASA Earth science data systems in March 2009.

Technical Note

Creating File Format Guidelines: The Aura Experience

NASA Earth Science Community Recommendations for Use


ESDS-RFC-018 documents the methodology and the results of one of the more successful efforts to improve data access to a broad community. Reviewers felt that the process used by the Aura Data Systems Working Group was a good “grass-roots” model for coming to an agreement among several data producers for the benefit of each other as well the broader user community. As such, the process is well worth documenting and sharing with future teams.


One reviewer would have liked more of the perceived weaknesses of the Aura File Format Guidelines, which are documented in ESDS-RFC-009, to be documented as lessons learned in ESDS-RFC-018. For example:

  • “Perhaps the technical note could mention, as one of the lessons learned, that more work on metadata guidance is needed in the future.”
  • “The Technical Note did not address the issue of multiple teams that use the same field name, but assign slightly different meanings to the data contained in the fields.”


We expect that NASA"s Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) Project would encourage use of a common data file format for data products generated by different sources, such as instrument teams on future missions or other NASA-funded data generation products (e.g., Decadal Survey missions). At least one of the reviewers plans to look to the Aura Guide as a starting point in developing data products for a mission currently being planned.


ESDS-RFC-018 documents a grass roots, consensus based approach to file format guidelines. This is certainly not the only approach for standardization. Some of the perceived weaknesses mentioned might have been avoided with a more top-down approach. However, getting community buy-in might have been more difficult.

Overall, reviewers were pleased with the Aura Guidelines (ESDS-RFC-009), and agreed that this “Aura Experience” document was a valuable record of the approach taken and lessons learned by the Aura team.

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