What is the purpose of $node->data? the Node object reference has $node->date, which used for
Long date, including timezone data, of when the node was created.
May I use $node->data to store my own temporary variables?
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According to this page
$node->data was used about Drupal 5 and is left there for legacy purposes only. It appears it's only purpose is to prevent "call to undefined property" errors. Do not use it.