discussion / Remote Sensing & GIS  / 11 September 2017

Alternatives to shapefiles

I'm used to using ArcGIS and shapefiles, however shapefiles have various restrictions (file size, field width, etc).

There are lots of alternative file formats (Esri ref, GDAL ref) - which one(s) to choose?

I'm looking for a file format that:

  • doesn't place unreasonable restrictions on file size and field width 
  • can be read natively in ArcGIS and QGIS
  • ideally can be updated in ArcGIS and QGIS
  • is widely supported and can be used to exchange data with other organisations (I'd prefer an "open" format to a proprietary one)

What are other people using?

Is there any industry consensus on a replacement for "shapefiles"?

Steve Pritchard

Hi Steve, 

Over on twitter Kurt had this to say: 

Having something that can be R/W in both QGIS & Arc is the catch. Arc doesn't support editing of much beyond shapefiles and filegdb's

— Kurt Menke (@geomenke) September 13, 2017

There is a new format, Geopackages, based on spatialite that could be this eventually, but it's not supported well on either yet.

— Kurt Menke (@geomenke) September 13, 2017

There is GeoJson...supports long field names but isn't efficient at large complex vector data & Arc doesn't support it

— Kurt Menke (@geomenke) September 13, 2017



This is a very good question, @spritchard, and not one specific to the conservation community. I'd suggest maybe also posting on GIS StackExchange? The shapefile has come to be the standard vector exchange format, but you're right that it's actually proprietary. I guess geoJSON is the open source equivalent and it is actually supported in some Esri applications e.g. ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Online. 

Geopackage and geoJSON for general GIS purpose (the fisrt is particularly optimal for storage and sharing) and sf (stands for simple feature) for R environment spatial data manipulation.