Metadata Customization

Dataverse has a flexible data-driven metadata system powered by “metadata blocks” that are listed in the Appendix section of the User Guide. In this section we explain the customization options.


Before you embark on customizing metadata in Dataverse you should make sure you are aware of the modest amount of customization that is available with the Dataverse web interface. It’s possible to hide fields and make field required by clicking “Edit” at the dataverse level, clicking “General Information” and making adjustments under “Metadata Fields” as described in the context of dataset templates in the Dataverse Management section of the User Guide.

Much more customization of metadata is possible, but this is an advanced topic so feedback on what is written below is very welcome. The possibilities for customization include:

  • Editing and adding metadata fields
  • Editing and adding instructional text (field label tooltips and text box watermarks)
  • Editing and adding controlled vocabularies
  • Changing which fields depositors must use in order to save datasets (see also “dataset templates” in the Dataverse Management section of the User Guide.)
  • Changing how saved metadata values are displayed in the UI

Generally speaking it is safer to create your own custom metadata block rather than editing metadata blocks that ship with Dataverse, because changes to these blocks may be made in future releases of Dataverse. If you’d like to make improvements to any of the metadata blocks shipped with Dataverse, please open an issue at so it can be discussed before a pull request is made. Please note that the metadata blocks shipped with Dataverse are based on standards (e.g. DDI for social science) and you can learn more about these standards in the Appendix section of the User Guide. If you have developed your own custom metadata block that you think may be of interest to the Dataverse community, please create an issue and consider making a pull request as described in the Version Control section of the Developer Guide.

In Dataverse 4, custom metadata are no longer defined as individual fields, as they were in Dataverse Network (DVN) 3.x, but in metadata blocks. Dataverse 4 ships with a citation metadata block, which includes mandatory fields needed for assigning persistent IDs to datasets, and domain specific metadata blocks. For a complete list, see the Appendix section of the User Guide.

Definitions of these blocks are loaded into a Dataverse installation in tab-separated value (TSV). [1], [2] While it is technically possible to define more than one metadata block in a TSV file, it is good organizational practice to define only one in each file.

The metadata block TSVs shipped with Dataverse are in this folder in the Dataverse github repo and the corresponding ResourceBundle property files are here. Human-readable copies are available in this Google Sheets document but they tend to get out of sync with the TSV files, which should be considered authoritative. The Dataverse installation process operates on the TSVs, not the Google spreadsheet.

About the metadata block TSV

Here we list and describe the purposes of each section and property of the metadata block TSV.

  1. metadataBlock
    • Purpose: Represents the metadata block being defined.
    • Cardinality:
      • 0 or more per Dataverse
      • 1 per Metadata Block definition
  2. datasetField
    • Purpose: Each entry represents a metadata field to be defined within a metadata block.
    • Cardinality: 1 or more per metadataBlock
  3. controlledVocabulary
    • Purpose: Each entry enumerates an allowed value for a given datasetField.
    • Cardinality: zero or more per datasetField

Each of the three main sections own sets of properties:

#metadataBlock properties

Property Purpose Allowed values and restrictions
name A user-definable string used to identify a #metadataBlock

• No spaces or punctuation, except underscore.

• By convention, should start with a letter, and use lower camel case [3]

• Must not collide with a field of the same name in the same or any other #datasetField definition, including metadata blocks defined elsewhere. [4]

dataverseAlias If specified, this metadata block will be available only to the dataverse designated here by its alias and to children of that dataverse. Free text. For an example, see custom_hbgdki.tsv.
displayName Acts as a brief label for display related to this #metadataBlock. Should be relatively brief. The limit is 256 character, but very long names might cause display problems.

#datasetField (field) properties

Property Purpose Allowed values and restrictions
name A user-definable string used to identify a #datasetField. Maps directly to field name used by Solr.

• (from The internal DDI-like name, no spaces, etc.

• (from Solr) Field names should consist of alphanumeric or underscore characters only and not start with a digit. This is not currently strictly enforced, but other field names will not have first class support from all components and back compatibility is not guaranteed. Names with both leading and trailing underscores (e.g. _version_) are reserved.

• Must not collide with a field of the same same name in another #metadataBlock definition or any name already included as a field in the Solr index.

title Acts as a brief label for display related to this #datasetField. Should be relatively brief.
description Used to provide a description of the field. Free text
watermark A string to initially display in a field as a prompt for what the user should enter. Free text
fieldType Defines the type of content that the field, if not empty, is meant to contain.
• none
• date
• email
• text
• textbox
• url
• int
• float
• See below for
fieldtype definitions
displayOrder Controls the sequence in which the fields are displayed, both for input and presentation. Non-negative integer.
displayFormat Controls how the content is displayed for presentation (not entry). The value of this field may contain one or more special variables (enumerated below). HTML tags, likely in conjunction with one or more of these values, may be used to control the display of content in the web UI. See below for displayFormat variables
advancedSearchField Specify whether this field is available in advanced search. TRUE (available) or FALSE (not available)
allowControlledVocabulary Specify whether the possible values of this field are determined by values in the #controlledVocabulary section. TRUE (controlled) or FALSE (not controlled)
allowmultiples Specify whether this field is repeatable. TRUE (repeatable) or FALSE (not repeatable)
facetable Specify whether the field is facetable (i.e., if the expected values for this field are themselves useful search terms for this field). If a field is “facetable” (able to be faceted on), it appears under “Browse/Search Facets” when you edit “General Information” for a dataverse. Setting this value to TRUE generally makes sense for enumerated or controlled vocabulary fields, fields representing identifiers (IDs, names, email addresses), and other fields that are likely to share values across entries. It is less likely to make sense for fields containing descriptions, floating point numbers, and other values that are likely to be unique. TRUE (controlled) or FALSE (not controlled)
displayoncreate [5] Designate fields that should display during the creation of a new dataset, even before the dataset is saved. Fields not so designated will not be displayed until the dataset has been saved. TRUE (display during creation) or FALSE (don’t display during creation)
required Specify whether or not the field is required. This means that at least one instance of the field must be present. More than one field may be allowed, depending on the value of allowmultiples. TRUE (required) or FALSE (optional)
parent For subfields, specify the name of the parent or containing field.

• Must not result in a cyclical reference.

• Must reference an existing field in the same #metadataBlock.

metadatablock_id Specify the name of the #metadataBlock that contains this field.

• Must reference an existing #metadataBlock.

• As a best practice, the value should reference the #metadataBlock in the current definition (it is technically possible to reference another existing metadata block.)

#controlledVocabulary (enumerated) properties

Property Purpose Allowed values and restrictions
DatasetField Specifies the #datasetField to which this entry applies. Must reference an existing #datasetField. As a best practice, the value should reference a #datasetField in the current metadata block definition. (It is technically possible to reference an existing #datasetField from another metadata block.)
Value A short display string, representing an enumerated value for this field. If the identifier property is empty, this value is used as the identifier. Free text
identifier A string used to encode the selected enumerated value of a field. If this property is empty, the value of the “Value” field is used as the identifier. Free text
displayOrder Control the order in which the enumerated values are displayed for selection. Non-negative integer.

FieldType definitions

Fieldtype Definition
none Used for compound fields, in which case the parent field would have no value and display no data entry control.
date A date, expressed in one of three resolutions of the form YYYY-MM-DD, YYYY-MM, or YYYY.
email A valid email address. Not indexed for privacy reasons.
text Any text other than newlines may be entered into this field.
textbox Any text may be entered. For input, Dataverse presents a multi-line area that accepts newlines. While any HTML is permitted, only a subset of HTML tags will be rendered in the UI. A list of supported tags is included in the Dataverse User Guide .
url If not empty, field must contain a valid URL.
int An integer value destined for a numeric field.
float A floating point number destined for a numeric field.

displayFormat variables

These are common ways to use the displayFormat to control how values are displayed in the UI. This list is not exhaustive.

Variable Description
(blank) The displayFormat is left blank for primitive fields (e.g. subtitle) and fields that do not take values (e.g. author), since displayFormats do not work for these fields.
#VALUE The value of the field (instance level).
#NAME The name of the field (class level).
#EMAIL For displaying emails.
<a href=”#VALUE”>#VALUE</a> For displaying the value as a link (if the value entered is a link).
<a href=’URL/#VALUE’>#VALUE</a> For displaying the value as a link, with the value included in the URL (e.g. if URL is, and the value entered is 1001, the field is displayed as 1001 (hyperlinked to /1001_summary.html)).
<img src=”#VALUE” alt=”#NAME” class=”metadata-logo”/><br/> For displaying the image of an entered image URL (used to display images in the producer and distributor logos metadata fields).




Appends and/or prepends characters to the value of the field. e.g. if the displayFormat for the distributorAffiliation is (#VALUE) (wrapped with parens) and the value entered is University of North Carolina, the field is displayed in the UI as (University of North Carolina).




Displays the character (e.g. semicolon, comma) between the values of fields within compound fields. For example, if the displayFormat for the compound field “series” is a colon, and if the value entered for seriesName is IMPs and for seriesInformation is A collection of NMR data, the compound field is displayed in the UI as IMPs: A collection of NMR data.

Metadata Block Setup

Now that you understand the TSV format used for metadata blocks, the next step is to attempt to make improvements to existing metadata blocks or create entirely new metadata blocks. For either task, you should have a Dataverse environment set up for testing where you can drop the database frequently while you make edits to TSV files. Once you have tested your TSV files, you should consider making a pull request to contribute your improvement back to the community.

Exploring Metadata Blocks

In addition to studying the TSV files themselves you might find the following highly experimental and subject-to-change API endpoints useful to understand the metadata blocks that have already been loaded into your installation of Dataverse:

You can get a dump of metadata fields (yes, the output is odd, please open a issue) like this:

curl http://localhost:8080/api/admin/datasetfield

To see details about an individual field such as “title” in the example below:

curl http://localhost:8080/api/admin/datasetfield/title

Setting Up a Dev Environment for Testing

You have several options for setting up a dev environment for testing metadata block changes:

To get a clean environment in Vagrant, you’ll be running vagrant destroy. In Docker, you’ll use docker rm. For a full dev environment or AWS installation, you might find rebuild and related scripts at scripts/deploy/ useful.

Editing TSV files

Early in Dataverse 4 development metadata blocks were edited in the Google spreadsheet mentioned above and then exported in TSV format. This worked fine when there was only one person editing the Google spreadsheet but now that contributions are coming in from all over, the TSV files are edited directly. We are somewhat painfully aware that another format such as XML might make more sense these days. Please see for a discussion of non-TSV formats.

Please note that metadata fields share a common namespace so they must be unique. The following curl command will print list of metadata fields already available in the system:

curl http://localhost:8080/api/admin/index/solr/schema

We’ll use this command again below to update the Solr schema to accomodate metadata fields we’ve added.

Loading TSV files into Dataverse

A number of TSV files are loaded into Dataverse on every new installation, becoming the metadata blocks you see in the UI. For the list of metadata blocks that are included with Dataverse out of the box, see the Appendix section of the User Guide.

Along with TSV file, there are corresponding ResourceBundle property files with key=value pair here. To add other language files, see the Configuration for JVM Options section, and add a file, for example: “” to the path you specified for the JVM option, and then restart Glassfish.

If you are improving an existing metadata block, the Dataverse installation process will load the TSV for you, assuming you edited the TSV file in place. The TSV file for the Citation metadata block, for example, can be found at scripts/api/data/metadatablocks/citation.tsv. If any of the below mentioned property values are changed, corresponsing ResourceBundle property file has to be edited and stored under location

  • name, displayName property under #metadataBlock
  • name, title, description, watermark properties under #datasetfield
  • DatasetField, Value property under #controlledVocabulary

If you are creating a new custom metadata block (hopefully with the idea of contributing it back to the community if you feel like it would provide value to others), the Dataverse installation process won’t know about your new TSV file so you must load it manually. The script that loads the TSV files into the system is scripts/api/ and contains a series of curl commands. Here’s an example of the necessary curl command with the new custom metadata block in the “/tmp” directory.

curl http://localhost:8080/api/admin/datasetfield/load -H "Content-type: text/tab-separated-values" -X POST --upload-file /tmp/new-metadata-block.tsv

To create a new ResourceBundle, here are the steps to generate key=value pair for the three main sections:

#metadataBlock properties value of name property from #metadatablock)

metadatablock.displayName=(the value of displayName property from #metadatablock)


metadatablock.displayName=Citation Metadata

#datasetField (field) properties

datasetfieldtype.(the value of name property from #datasetField).title=(the value of title property from #datasetField)

datasetfieldtype.(the value of name property from #datasetField).description=(the value of description property from #datasetField)

datasetfieldtype.(the value of name property from #datasetField).watermark=(the value of watermark property from #datasetField)



datasetfieldtype.title.description=Full title by which the Dataset is known.

datasetfieldtype.title.watermark=Enter title...

#controlledVocabulary (enumerated) properties

controlledvocabulary.(the value of DatasetField property from #controlledVocabulary).(the value of Value property from #controlledVocabulary)=(the value of Value property from #controlledVocabulary)

Since the Value property from #controlledVocabulary is free text, while creating the key, it has to be converted to lowercase, replace space with underscore, and strip accents.


controlledvocabulary.subject.agricultural_sciences=Agricultural Sciences

controlledvocabulary.language.marathi_(marathi)=Marathi (Maru0101u1E6Dhu012B)

Enabling a Metadata Block

Running a curl command like “load” example above should make the new custom metadata block available within the system but in order to start using the fields you must either enable it from the GUI (see “General Information” in the Dataverse Management section of the User Guide) or by running a curl command like the one below using a superuser API token. In the example below we are enabling the “journal” and “geospatial” metadata blocks for the root dataverse:

curl -H "X-Dataverse-key:$API_TOKEN" -X POST -H "Content-type:application/json" -d "[\"journal\",\"geospatial\"]" http://localhost:8080/api/dataverses/:root/metadatablocks

Updating the Solr Schema

Once you have enabled a new metadata block you should be able to see the new fields in the GUI but before you can save the dataset, you must add additional fields to your Solr schema. You should run the following curl command to have Dataverse output the “field name” and “copyField” elements for all the metadata fields that have been loaded into Dataverse:

curl http://localhost:8080/api/admin/index/solr/schema

See the Prerequisites section of the Installation Guide for a suggested location on disk for the Solr schema file.

Please note that if you are going to make a pull request updating conf/solr/7.3.1/schema.xml with fields you have added, you should first load all the custom metadata blocks in scripts/api/data/metadatablocks (including ones you don’t care about) to create a complete list of fields.

Reloading a Metadata Block

As mentioned above, changes to metadata blocks that ship with Dataverse will be made over time to improve them and release notes will sometimes instruct you to reload an existing metadata block. The syntax for reloading is the same as reloading. Here’s an example with the “citation” metadata block:

curl http://localhost:8080/api/admin/datasetfield/load -H "Content-type: text/tab-separated-values" -X POST --upload-file citation.tsv

Great care must be taken when reloading a metadata block. Matching is done on field names (or identifiers and then names in the case of controlled vocabulary values) so it’s easy to accidentally create duplicate fields.

The ability to reload metadata blocks means that SQL update scripts don’t need to be written for these changes. See also the SQL Upgrade Scripts section of the Dev Guide.

Tips from the Dataverse Community

If there are tips that you feel are omitted from this document, please open an issue at and consider making a pull request to make improvements. You can find this document at

Alternatively, you are welcome to request “edit” access to this “Tips for Dataverse metadata blocks from the community” Google doc:

The thinking is that the tips can become issues and the issues can eventually be worked on as features to improve the Dataverse metadata system.


[2]Although the structure of the data, as you’ll see below, violates the “Each record must have the same number of fields” tenet of TSV
[4]These field names are added to the Solr schema.xml and cannot be duplicated. See “Editing TSV files” for how to check for duplication.
[5]“displayoncreate” was “showabovefold” in Dataverse versions before 4.3.1 (see #3073) but parsing is done based on column order rather than name so this only matters to the person reading the TSV file.