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Switch from Shapefile

ESRI Shapefile is a file format for storing geospatial vector data. It has been around since the early 1990s and is still the most commonly used vector data exchange format.

While Shapefiles have enabled many successful activities over the years, they also have a number of limitations that complicate software development and reduce efficiency.

We, members of the geospatial IT industry, believe that it is time to stop using Shapefiles as the primary vector data exchange format and to replace them with a format that takes advantage of the huge advances that have been made since Shapefile was introduced.

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The good side

Shapefile does a lot of things right. Here are some reasons why Shapefile is so heavily used:


What are the alternatives to the Shapefile format? To be honest, no alternative format has overthrown the Shapefile hegemony yet. Some formats nearly took over (KML, GML, GeoJSON), but their usage was limited to relatively narrow use cases only.

Although there are more then 80 vector data formats in use out there, only a few can be considered as candidates for Shapefile replacement. Please note, that we do take only open (preferably community) formats into account.

List of some Shapefile alternatives featuring two formats as @shapefile replacement. Which do you prefer? #switchfromshapefile #geojson vs. #geopackage

— Jachym Cepicky (@jachymc) October 5, 2017


Another OGC Standard.



GML was picked as the main distribution vector data format the European INSPIRE initiative. It's a very complex format, and its direct usage in GIS software is limited. Its main use is as a data exchange format that needs to be ingested into the user's system (e.g. into a database) to be fully usable.

GML is currently often used for open data datasets, since it is technology-neutral and a supported OGC Standard.

A major downside to GML is that it is an insanely complex standard. Few software packages support the entire standard and support for individual parts of the standard varies widely.

We believe that GML is a candidate for Shapefile replacement for data interchange in situations where data is too complex to be represented by GeoJSON. However, for the vast majority of datasets GML is overkill.

Last modification: 2017-10-08
Initially created by: Jachym Cepicky, OpenGeoLabs s.r.o.
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