What Is a Data Catalog? Explained With Examples

July 8, 2024
20 Mins Read

Organizations manage vast amounts of data originating from diverse sources and in various formats. Due to the complexities associated with handling this data, effective data management and governance have become paramount.

A data catalog is a centralized solution for organizing and managing your organization’s data assets. It serves as a comprehensive inventory that provides essential insights, enabling efficient discovery, understanding, and utilization of data across the organization.

In this article, you will look into the details of a data catalog, its essential features, how to create one, and some relevant examples.

What Is Metadata?

Metadata refers to data that provides information about other data. It describes the various aspects, such as the structure, format, content, and usage, of data. Metadata gives context to data, making it easier for you to understand and utilize effectively.

Email is a good example to know about metadata; every email you send or receive has metadata associated with it. The metadata of an email includes the subject, sender, recipients, date and time it was sent, and the format. It also comprises the names and IPs of the sending and receiving servers.

Metadata can be categorized into six types:

  • Technical Metadata: Includes structural and storage-specific information such as data type, row or column count, location, data source, and schema.
  • Business Metadata: Provides context and insights relevant to the business domain, including data definitions and terms listed in business glossaries.
  • Operational Metadata: Tracks data flow and includes information about data repositories, code usage, ETL logs, and runtime.
  • Collaboration Metadata: Relates to social interactions such as comments, discussions, tags, bookmarks, etc.
  • Quality Metadata: Details quality metrics and measures, including dataset status and test results.
  • Usage Metadata: Records data usage details, including the asset view count, top users, and frequency of use.

What Is a Data Catalog?

A data catalog is a centralized repository or tool that helps organize and manage an organization's metadata. It provides detailed information, including the data’s structure, location, ownership, usage, and relationships with other data assets.

By providing such a comprehensive overview, data catalogs help you discover, understand, and trust the data available within your organization. Beyond data management, data catalogs also facilitate effective data governance, enhance collaboration among various stakeholders, and promote informed decision-making.

Data catalog

According to research, the global data catalog market was valued at $878.8 million in 2023 and is projected to reach $4,680.9 million by 2032. This impressive growth underscores the critical role data catalogs can play in empowering your organizations.

Features of Data Catalog

Data catalogs offer a range of essential features to enhance organizational data management and utilization. Let's look at some of the key features:

Search and Exploration

Data catalogs provide advanced search and filtering capabilities that allow you to efficiently locate datasets and perform data analytics or engineering tasks. They also enhance the retrieval of metadata-driven results, suggestions, and alerts based on user ratings and reviews.

Versatile Connection with Diverse Data Sources

A data catalog allows you to seamlessly integrate with various data sources, serving as a comprehensive repository of an organization's data assets. It maintains robust connections to existing assets and is continuously updated to support new data sources, ensuring that all data is accessible through a single platform.

Automation and Data Intelligence

Data catalogs leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to automate routine data management tasks and apply advanced analytics to metadata. This automation results in more efficient data handling, helping uncover valuable insights from the metadata.

Tools for Collaboration

Data catalogs facilitate internal communication by providing tools to discuss, exchange information, and collaborate on data-driven projects. You can also comment, review, and rate data assets.

Unified Data Governance

Data catalogs incorporate governance tools, helping manage critical data governance tasks like data stewardship, quality control, and security management. This ensures high-quality data that is also secure and compliant with relevant policies and regulations.

Advantages of Utilizing a Data Catalog

There are numerous benefits associated with the use of data catalogs, particularly for enhancing organizational data management. Here are some key advantages:

Benefits of data catalog

Enhanced Data Analysis

Data catalogs help improve data analysis by simplifying the data discovery process, ensuring data quality standards, and streamlining data integration. These capabilities allow you to locate and utilize relevant data faster, saving time and reducing errors. As a result, you can make well-informed decisions and conduct data analysis more efficiently.

Quick Data Discovery

Data catalogs facilitate the rapid discovery of data assets within your organization. Their robust functionalities enable you to efficiently find data using criteria such as tags, metadata, keywords, attributes, or filters. This not only boosts employee productivity but also supports timely decision-making and analysis.

Enhanced Data Security

A data catalog implements appropriate access controls and tracks data origin, access history, and usage patterns. It is crucial for the proper management of sensitive data, helping maintain data integrity, ensure confidentiality, and regulate compliance efforts.

Better Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange

A data catalog supports collaboration through a user-friendly interface that allows sharing of insights and documentation of data resources. It also ensures that you work with the most current version of data, with visibility into the evolution of datasets.

How to Create a Data Catalog?

To create a data catalog, follow these steps:

Step 1: Metadata Collection

The first step in creating a data catalog is to collect metadata from all existing data. The collection process involves scanning the data repository to identify the datasets, tables, and files and later copy them to a catalog.

Step 2: Build a Data Dictionary

After collecting the metadata, the next step is to build a data dictionary that describes all the metadata. This can be done using various software tools or even a simple Excel sheet.

Step 3: Profile the Data

Profiling the data enables you to visualize and understand your datasets.

Step 4: Mark Relationships Among Data

You need to identify the relationships among datasets to understand the connection between them.

Step 5: Build Data Lineage

Create a visual representation of data lineage to understand the data flow from source to destination. This will help you trace the root cause of any error or failure.

Step 6: Organize the Data

Data needs to be organized so that your business requirements are met and users can easily comprehend and trust it. This can be done through tagging, automation, organizing by usage, and user role.

Step 7: Accessibility and Security

Create a data catalog that is easily accessible within the data stack and adheres to security standards. The catalog should have role-based security, access to tracking, auditing, and encryption features.

Examples of Data Catalog

Data catalogs are vital to ensure that your organization always uses accurate and timely data for analysis. Here are some of the data catalog examples.

1. Tableau Catalog

Tableau Catalog

Tableau Catalog provides a comprehensive understanding of data within your organization and enhances communication about data updates with stakeholders.

Let’s look into some of the features of the Tableau Catalog:

Lineage Graph 

Teams often encounter challenges in their data environments due to their lack of control over changes in existing content and users. With the lineage graph feature, each team can visualize and understand the relationship between tables, databases, flows, columns, and workbooks. This visualization enables them to identify the data elements linked to a particular table or column and alert users about any modifications.

External Assets Inventory

Tableau Catalog simplifies the process of identifying the data housed within your Tableau environment. The external assets inventory provides a comprehensive list of your environment's databases, files, and tables, along with usage metrics. This helps in identifying and removing redundant data.

Data Quality Alerts

The data quality alerts involve proactive alerting on the status of data sources, which is critical during maintenance or when the data becomes outdated. Using the data quality alerts enables you to flag a data asset. This ensures the alert propagates to the associated content and prevents misguided decisions based on incorrect data.

2. Databricks Unity Catalog

Databricks Unity Catalog

Databricks Unity Catalog provides an integrated governance framework for managing both data and AI within the Databricks Data Intelligence Platform. The Unity Catalog allows you to effectively govern your organization’s data, models, notebooks, dashboards, and files across various cloud environments. You can leverage the Unity Catalog to securely explore, enhance productivity, retrieve, and collaborate on verified data with AI resources.

Here are some of the key features of the Unity Catalog:

Open Data Sharing

The open data sharing feature allows the secure sharing of data and AI resources across different clouds and platforms. This simplifies collaboration and enhances business value without requiring complex ETL or data replication.

Automated AI Monitoring

The Unity Catalog provides automated AI monitoring tools to track errors and send alerts. These tools are essential for maintaining the accuracy and integrity of models and data.

Consolidated View of Data and AI

This feature enables you to seamlessly explore and manage data and AI assets within the Databricks Data Intelligence Platform. You can effortlessly navigate through data regardless of the cloud or platform it resides on.

Enhance Your Data Catalog with Airbyte


Data catalogs are vital in enhancing your organizational data’s discoverability, accessibility, and governance. However, with the continuous influx of data from various sources, it can be challenging and time-consuming to keep data catalogs updated. This is where Airbyte can be a great tool to rely on. It solves this challenge by streamlining data movement and ensuring your data catalog reflects the latest information.

Airbyte’s comprehensive list of 350+ connectors allows you to seamlessly connect multiple sources and destinations. Consolidating all your data at a central location provides a unified view of your data, making it easier to manage and process high-volume data flowing into your organization.

Some additional features of Airbyte include:

  • Custom Connectors: If you can’t find the required connector, consider using Airbyte’s Connector Development Kit (CDK) to build one. You have the following options with CDK:
    • A no-code connector builder that takes less than 10 minutes.
    • A low-code CDK that takes less than 30 minutes.
    • Language-specific CDKs, which take about three hours.
  • Capture Every Change: With Airbyte's Change Data Capture (CDC) capabilities, you can regularly track even the most granular changes. When configuring your data pipeline, you must define a sync interval to capture updates from the source. After each sync, Airbyte meticulously logs all modifications—inserts, deletes, and updates—made to the data, providing complete transparency into your data workflows.

Summing It Up

A data catalog is an essential tool for modern data management; the growing complexity of data ecosystems has increased the demand for robust data catalog solutions. It offers a centralized repository of metadata that significantly enhances data visibility, access, and trust across the organization.

Data catalogs also help improve collaboration by providing a platform for stakeholders to share knowledge, exchange insights, and work together on data-driven projects. They ensure your organization can effectively understand, utilize, and govern its data assets, thus leading to greater efficiency, productivity, and business value.


What does a good data catalog look like?

A good data catalog is user-friendly, searchable, and provides comprehensive metadata with data lineage. It supports collaboration, allows seamless integration with various data sources, and maintains robust governance and security.

Who uses a data catalog?

Data catalogs are utilized by various stakeholders, such as data analysts, data scientists, business analysts, data stewards, IT administrators, and product managers. By providing a centralized platform for data management and discovery, these tools support data collaboration, governance, and decision-making across various departments.

What is the difference between a data catalog and a data lake?

A data catalog is a centralized inventory that helps you organize, manage, and search metadata about your data assets. On the other hand, a data lake is a storage repository that enables you to store the data in its raw format. Essentially, a data catalog improves data discovery and governance, while a data lake focuses on storing unprocessed data.

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