The Shapefile Problem and Potential Solutions

Here’s an excellent article on the problems of the Shapefile format and contenders as replacements of this omnipresent format. We mentioned the shapefile format frequently in the past, and while I was/am excited about the GeoPackage format and standard (I work in a world where OGC standards matter), James Fee concludes by anticipating that ‘the shapefile will outlive us all’.

From the entry: “The DBF is only half the problem with the shapefile.  It doesn’t understand topology, only handles simple features (ever try and draw a curve in a shapefile?), puny 2GB file size limitation and not to mention you can’t combine points, polygons and lines in one file (hence every shapefile name has the word point, line or poly in it). Oh and it’s anywhere between 3 and 15ish file types/extensions.”

Amongst the contenders for replacing the Shapefile, according to James:

  • Esri’s File Geodatabase (FGDB): “There isn’t anything inherently wrong with Esri taking this path but it means you’re stuck using their software or their APIs to access the file format.  To me this severely limits the FGDB to me an interchange file format and I think that is perfectly fine with Esri as they don’t really care too much if the FGDB doesn’t work with other’s software.”
  • GeoPackage: “It is relatively well supported by GIS software (even Esri technically can support it with the help of Safe Software).  Plus it supports all those complex features that the shapefile can’t.  Heck OGC even chose it as the reference implementation for the GeoPackage (assuming people still care about that).  Heck supports rasters too!”
  • GML & KML: “Don’t even try and use a different projection.  They have their use in specific cases but the limits of the formats means you’ll never see it being an interchange format.”
  • GeoJSON: “It can be many types of projections, it can be points, polygons and lines (with variations of many), it supports topology with the TopoJSON format and it’s JSON so it’s human readable. […] As with the shapefile/KML and unlike SpatiaLite it won’t support curves and other complex geometry or rasters and never will.  Thus it is not well suited as a shapefile replacement.”
  • WKT: “But alas, we still don’t support rasters.  It’s a vector format for vector data. SpatiaLite and the File Geodatabase both support rasters.”

The whole article should be read by anyone with interest in geospatial data, probably every Slashgeo reader!

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