Use Metadata API to retrieve, deploy, create, update or delete customization information, such as custom object definitions and page layouts, for your organization. This API is intended for managing customizations and for building tools that can manage the metadata model, not the data itself. To create, retrieve, update or delete records, such as accounts or leads, use data SOAP API or REST API.
The easiest way to access the functionality in Metadata API is to use the Force.com IDE or Force.com Migration Tool. These tools are built on top of Metadata API and use the standard Eclipse and Ant tools respectively to simplify the task of working with Metadata API. Built on the Eclipse platform, the Force.com IDE provides a comfortable environment for programmers familiar with integrated development environments, allowing you to code, compile, test, and deploy all from within the IDE itself. The Force.com Migration Tool is ideal if you want to use a script or a command-line utility for moving metadata between a local directory and a Salesforce organization. For more information about the Force.com IDE or Force.com Migration Tool, see developer.salesforce.com.
The underlying calls of Metadata API have been exposed for you to use directly, if you prefer to build your own client applications. This guide gives you more information about working directly with Metadata API.
You can use the Metadata API to manage setup and customization information (metadata) for your organizations. For example:
You can modify metadata in test organizations on Developer Edition or sandbox, and then deploy tested changes to production organizations on Enterprise, Unlimited, or Performance Editions. You can also create scripts to populate a new organization with your custom objects, custom fields, and other components.