Blog article: What the @#%! is a Shapefile?

What the @#%! is a Shapefile?

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We’re excited that you’re taking the plunge into open data! We’re assuming that you want to explore and/or work with the many open data files available in our data catalogue. We aren’t officially endorsing anything you find here as the “tool of choice” or “best tool”, etc, so your mileage may vary. That being said, we’re especially interested in ensuring that technical knowledge and price aren’t a factor when it comes to accessing our datasets. As such, we’re sticking with recommending FOSS (free and/or open source) solutions to help you learn more about how to work with open data files.
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CSV

What is it? Comma Separated Values. Why would I use it? Creates a very lightweight file with a standardized notation that can be opened in most spreadsheet programs. What does it look like? Text with values separated by a delineator, like a comma or semi-colon How do I open it? Google Sheets, OpenOffice Calc, Excel , Charts for Mac

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XML

What is it? eXtendable Markup Language Why would I use it? Another lightweight file. XML files can be opened in almost any program. What does it look like? Text with values separated by a delineator, like a comma or semi-colon How do I open it? Open Office, LibreOffice, Google Sheets, Microsoft Word , Pages

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SHP

What is it? ESRI Shapefile Why would I use it? It’s a common geospatial format, so it’s ideal for mapping. What does it look like? A shapefile is a set of related files that store location, shape, and attributes of geographic features. How do I open it? GQIS, ArcReader, ESRI ArcGIS

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JSON

What is it? Javascript Object Notation File Why would I use it? Creates a very lightweight file with a standardized notation. The focus is on the data! What does it look like? Text with values separated by a delineator, like a comma or semi-colon How do I open it? Open Office, LibreOffice, Google Sheets, Microsoft Word ($), Pages ($)

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ZIP

What is it? Zipped (compressed) file Why would I use it? Imagine stuffing a suitcase to the brim and zipping it shut. A Zip file compresses your files so that they take up less space and can be transferred faster. What does it look like? A folder that you open up to reveal more files and folders inside. How do I open it? On most operating systems, you can right-click and hit “unzip” , “unarchive”, etc. You can also use the same technique to zip up a collection of files and folders.

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RAR

What is it? RAR Compressed File. It’s essentially a special Windows-version of a ZIP file. Why would I use it? To zip up and condense files for faster and easier transfer when ZIP isn’t available. What does it look like? A folder that you open up to reveal more files and folders inside. How do I open it? WinRAR , desktop utility

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GeoJSON

What is it? The geographic version of a JSON file Why would I use it? Allows you to encode a variety of geographic data structures, and allows you to include values like point, linestring, and polygon which are essential for mapping. What does it look like? Exactly like a JSON file with some additional geography-specific values How do I open it? Most mapping and GIS software packages, like ArcGIS , Leaflet, and Google Maps.

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DOC, DOCX

What is it? Word Document Why would I use it? Because it’s hard to escape. What does it look like? A formatted document with text and images inside it. How do I open it? Microsoft Word , OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Pages , Google Docs

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PPT, KEY

What is it? Powerpoint Presention / Keynote Presentation Why would I use it? To create a slideshow or slide deck What does it look like? Multiple slides with images and/or text How do I open it? Powerpoint , Keynote , OpenOffice, Google Slides

 

GKPG

What is it? GeoPackage Why would I use it? It’s an open data format so it’s free to work with. It’s used widely in the mapping world. What does it look like? A lightweight, ready-to-use file with an SQLite database container How do I open it? In your browser, directly from the URL, and in most mapping and GIS packages (see SHP).