What Is Salesforce Metadata? A Beginner’s Guide

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Metadata are core components or features in Salesforce. Without Metadata, most of the magic just isn’t possible!

However, many Salesforce Admins still struggle to grasp the entire scope of Metadata and fall short of obtaining the maximum value from it. Let’s dig in to understand the what, why, how, and the wow of Metadata.

What is Salesforce Metadata?

Metadata relates to the fields, configurations, code, logic, and page layouts that go into building the information architecture and look and feel of your Salesforce environment.

Metadata can be imported into Salesforce, modified in the product interface, or manipulated via the Salesforce Metadata API.

There are several types of Metadata, with each one representing a unique way a business function can be customized. Here are a few broad categories for Metadata types:

  • Data: the core components of the data structure on which most customization is built. E.g. Custom Objects, Value Sets, and Custom Apps.
  • Programmability: custom code developed on top of the platform. E.g. Apex Classes, Apex Page, and Apex Triggers.
  • Presentation: customization on how users interact with the platform. E.g. Components, VisualForce and Lightning pages.

For the full list of Metadata types, click here.

Why Metadata?

Hard-coded applications are a thing of the past; customization is the flair of the season.

You need flexible applications that can be tailor-made as per your business needs without the need for high-level programming skills. That is why Salesforce Metadata is so powerful. Metadata is what transforms Salesforce from a simple database into an entire platform.

How Does Metadata Differ From Data? 

Newbie (and even seasoned) Salesforce administrators assume Metadata and Data are the same — they are not.

Data relates to the records that a business relies on, such as Users, Accounts, Contacts, to name a few. On the other hand, Metadata is the data that describes other Data.

Confused? Let’s break it down with a few examples.

Example 1: Metadata in a Basic Form

First, let’s look at Metadata in its most basic form. For this example, our bicycle manufacturing company has just closed a deal with Austin Bicycle Enterprise. The instance of this Salesforce opportunity object is our data and a field like “Lead Source” is some of the Metadata that helps describe and provide valuable insight about this individual opportunity. Even the ‘Account Name’ is essential Metadata, without that information we wouldn’t know what to call this opportunity!

There’s a lot of interesting things you can do with this Metadata in the future too. You can run a report at the end of the year and compare the success of opportunities from Trade Shows vs other sources.

Example 2: Metadata as Validation Rules

With the example above, it’s clear that Metadata can be invaluable to an organization; however, much of this important information is dependent on manual input. Sales Reps, Support Engineers and other users enrich Salesforce with data as they do their jobs. One big challenge is ensuring the accuracy of the Metadata in Salesforce. A great way to do this is with Validation Rules.

Validation Rules are configurable checks you can add to your Salesforce Objects Metadata descriptions. In the example above, I’m creating a rule to ensure our ContractIDs follow the approved corporate format. I can also create more complex rules with formulas like vLookups (Excel fans rejoice!) to solve simple problems like ensuring the correct zip code is being entered.

Example 3: Metadata as Automation

Unitrends, our partner subsidiary company, has a few interesting challenges when it comes to fulfillment and provisioning. Depending on their needs, customers purchase hardware, software, or SaaS subscriptions. Sometimes they buy all three!

These simple Metadata values have BIG impact on our internal processes. Each of these values kicks off different requests and different teams move into action depending on the value. If a customer simply needs Office 365 SaaS backup, everything is fully automated: charging, billing, etc. are all handled by the software.

What if they want more? If the customer is backing up on-premises servers or workstations, they might want a physical appliance delivered to their site. A combination of Metadata sets our factory into motion! We combine a basic Salesforce workflow to handle order processing and once that is completed a Salesforce Apex trigger fires to kick off a task to construct, configure and ship our physical appliances to our customers.

It’s amazing what a few simple fields can really do!

Wow! The New ‘Where Is This Used?’ Feature

Salesforce’s Winter ’19 release introduced the amazing ‘Where is this used?’ feature. This feature makes it possible for administrators to access Metadata without enabling access to Data. Users can now easily create, edit, and delete Metadata without touching the Data.

The new feature is available with the following editions: Lightning Experience and Salesforce Classic in Professional, Enterprise, Performance, and Unlimited.

Users can check references to a custom field, such as Layout or Apex Trigger, by clicking on the ‘Where is this used?’ button.

You can see where a field is used and where changes to the field appear before you edit it.


What makes Where Is This Used? Feature so attractive is that it delivers ease of access and customization — all at the same time. However, it also makes Metadata and Data more susceptible to attacks.

Add to that, the warning label that comes with the feature doesn’t make things any better:

Use this feature is at your sole discretion. The feature is offered as-is and isn’t supported. Salesforce has no liability for any harm or damage arising out of, or in connection, with this feature.

In reality, Salesforce Metadata and Data loss occurs more often than administrators would like to admit. Although Salesforce has a great security infrastructure, it does not provide coverage against data loss at your end. This includes human error, sync error, ransomware, and insider threats. The recommendation is to provide an additional layer of security to your Salesforce data with a robust third-party SaaS backup solution.

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