Where can one find out what the most pervasive GIS formats are?

For example, from the GIS file formats Wikipedia page, there 4 broad categories, each with many popular formats.

  1. Raster formats (13 formats listed)
  2. Vector formats (19)
  3. Grid formats (4)
  4. Other formats (5)

This is a dizzying array of alternatives, each with their own reasons for existence.

In terms of general formats though, what are the most pervasive ones in use?

Edit: By pervasive, I'm looking for say the top 3 formats that would be encountered if a company that used GIS data was randomly selected out of all companies using GIS data

  • 3
    One wonders what "most pervasive" might mean. Arguably, a format is "pervasive" only if it shows up on that Wikipedia page, in which case the question answers itself. Does the interest lie in amount of data stored in a format? Number of entities using a format? Recent rates of increase in the rate of use of a format? Size and visibility of the organizations adopting a format? Number of software programs natively using (or importing? exporting?) a format? Total user base of said programs? Etc., etc. – whuber Nov 1 '11 at 17:12
  • 1
    Agreed, what kind of answer are you expecting, lists of formats used/supported by particular communities, industries or software packages? Seems too broad to be answerable without some guidelines. – blah238 Nov 1 '11 at 17:23
  • 4
    I agree that the definition of pervasive is important. But I don't think I would ever argue that a format is pervasive just because it shows up on wikipedia! – Mark Ireland Nov 1 '11 at 17:58
  • 1
    If the question had some reasoning behind the need for the pervasiveness we might get to a consensus – Brad Nesom Nov 1 '11 at 18:40
  • 1
    @whuber - That's fair enough. If something is popular it is likely to appear on wikipedia. But the reverse is almost certainly not true. – Mark Ireland Nov 1 '11 at 21:30

Well, where to start.

Although you can divide data by vector/raster etc there are some obvious problems. For example an Oracle database can store vector or raster (as can other databases).

I work at Safe Software where we generally prefer to look at Spatial data (rather than just GIS) and so divide into different categories according to use.

  • CAD
  • GIS
  • Raster
  • Database
  • BIM/3D
  • Web
  • Point Cloud

Whether this is a better categorization I'm not sure, but it does (I think) help determine whether a format is pervasive for a particular field.

Also, there is "pervasive" and then there is "best". Shape format is very pervasive in GIS, but I don't know that everyone will say it is the best. XML-based formats are up-and-coming since they work well for web delivery.

Anyway, we collect stats on most-used formats and I think I can probably share them since it's nothing you couldn't guess:

  • GIS: Shape
  • CAD: DWG
  • Raster: GeoTIFF
  • Database: Oracle and Geodatabase
  • BIM: CityGML
  • Web: WFS
  • Point Cloud: LAS

But take a look at our web site for the full list of formats we support. There is a truly mind-boggling 300 spatial (or related) formats.

| improve this answer | |
  • I remember seeing a slide showing a matrix of which input and output formats were the most popular in FME, do you have a link to that available? Of course Shapefile was #1 for both. – blah238 Nov 1 '11 at 18:06
  • 1
    If you look at this slideshow (slide 25) there is a table of type translations (eg GIS->GIS, CAD->GIS, GIS->BIM etc). I'll see if I can find the format version: slideshare.net/SafeSoftware/taste-test-fme-2011-beyond-5519213 – Mark Ireland Nov 1 '11 at 18:46
  • Note: There is a difference in 32-bit and 64-bit version of FME 2011/2012beta but it is down to the native vendor of that format not supporting 64-bit (not Safe's issue) – Mapperz Nov 1 '11 at 18:47
  • @Mark, I think that may have been the one I was thinking of actually. Thanks – blah238 Nov 1 '11 at 20:12
  • 1
    @blah238 - there is a format version, but the only one I can find is from 2006. The opening session slides from our 2006 user conference, if you cared to look it up: fmeuc.com/archive/2006fmeuc.php – Mark Ireland Nov 1 '11 at 21:26


Shapefile (ESRI) Tech Spec PDF 2.5 billion files est

MapInfo Tab/MIF (Pitney Bowes Business Insight) Tech Spec 1.5 billion files est

AutoCAD DWG (AutoDesk)** has 18 major variants of the DWG "Autodesk estimates that in 1998 there were in excess of two billion DWG files in existence"

Fastest adopted format is KML/KMZ Google Earth/Pro est 0.5 Billion files.


Tiff Tagged Image File Format (GeoTiff)

Jpeg (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

PNG (Portable Network Graphics)

| improve this answer | |

Any ESRI format, ESRI is the most used gis with 30% market share. http://geothought.blogspot.com/2009/08/traditional-gis-vendor-market-share-for.html

| improve this answer | |

When talking about GIS data exchange formats, do not forget GML as well.

| improve this answer | |
  1. Shapefile
  2. XLS (usually with loads of formatting and completely non-normalized)
  3. XLSX (which you have to download a converter to open in Excel 2003)
| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.