The Binary Universal Form for the Representation of meteorological data (BUFR) is a binary data format maintained by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The latest version is BUFR Edition 4. BUFR Edition 3 is also considered current for operational use.

BUFR was created in 1988 with the goal of replacing the WMO's dozens of character-based, position-driven meteorological codes, such as SYNOP (surface observations), TEMP (upper air soundings) and CLIMAT (monthly climatological data). BUFR was designed to be portable, compact, and universal. Any kind of data can be represented, along with its specific spatial/temporal context and any other associated metadata. In the WMO terminology, BUFR belongs to the category of table-driven code forms, where the meaning of data elements is determined by referring to a set of tables that are kept and maintained separately from the message itself.

Description of format

A BUFR message is composed of six sections, numbered zero through five.

The product description contained in Section 3 can be made sophisticated and non-trivial by the use of replication and/or operator descriptors. (See below for a brief overview of the different kinds of descriptors; refer to the WMO Guide on BUFR for further detail.)


Section 3 contains a short header followed by a sequence of descriptors that matches the contents of Section 4's bit-stream. The sequence of descriptors in Section 3 could be understood as the template of the BUFR message. The template contains the information necessary to describe the structure of the data values embedded in the matching bit-stream. It is to be interpreted in a step-by-step, algorithm-like manner. Given a set of BUFR messages, the values contained in Section 4 may differ from one message to the next, but their ordering and structure will be kept predictable if the template provided in Section 3 remains unchanged.

Templates can be designed to meet the requirements of a specific data product (weather observations, for instance). Such templates can then be used to standardize the content and structure of BUFR data products. The WMO has released a number of BUFR templates for surface and upper air observational data.


All descriptors, 16 bits wide, have a F-X-Y structure, where F refers to the two most significant bits (leftmost); X refers to the 6 middle bits and Y to the least significant (rightmost) 8 bits. The F value (0 to 3) determines the type of descriptor.


The data structure established in the Section 3 template may be re-used multiple times within a single BUFR message. In such a case, Section 4 will contain a succession of so-called subsets. For instance, subsets could be used to convey observations from several locations in a single message.

External links

Online BUFR Code and Decoder

Online BUFR validators

Software libraries

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