My organization is working on an application running on ArcGIS Engine. Previous versions of the application used primarily Shapefiles for displaying roads, parcels, buildings, etc.

Since I was taught to avoid Shapefiles when managing data at my college job, I suggested moving to file geodatabases.

Esri claims file geodatabases are optimized for performance and storage.

My co-worker remembers hearing that Shapefiles usually draw faster.

I didn't come across an article directly talking about this topic, so I thought I would ask the community.

I'm leaning towards file geodatabases, but it would be nice to know if I'm missing out on anything that Shapefiles offer.

  • 2
    As a comment, shapefiles offer the ability to be read, and used, by a wide variety of proprietary and Open Source programs ... something geodatabases don't ... in some circumstances this may outway display issues. – user681 Nov 23 '11 at 22:20
  • 1
    @DanPatterson You can read/write file geodatabases (Simple Features) in projects that use gdal/ogr. Nowadays that includes most open source GIS projects. Granted, that if you are not on Windows, it still requires you to compile the filegdb driver yourself. – Ragi Yaser Burhum Nov 24 '11 at 16:42
  • I know, but others don't eg. DNRGarmin. The comment wasn't restricted open source GIS programs. – user681 Nov 24 '11 at 18:08
  • You can monitor speeds using the PerfQAnalyzer from ArcGIS support services blog - New ArcGIS Performance Calibration Tool – MDHald Jan 8 '14 at 16:47

According to System Design Strategies - Software Performance, an Esri technical article, file geodatabases are faster than shapefiles in their specific tests. They go into a lot of additional detail regarding what bottlenecks may exist and other performance considerations for various ArcGIS software use cases.

Workflow Performance Summary

  • 2
    Of course the speed of the network has a huge effect on SDE drawing speed. – mattwigway Nov 24 '11 at 6:53

An Uncompressed File Geodatabase for the same data is the fastest readable format for ArcGIS (ArcMap) (compared to legacy shapefile and arcinfo coverages of the same data)

Though you can 'compact' a file geodatabase... http://help.arcgis.com/en/arcgisdesktop/10.0/help/index.html#/Compact/00170000000n000000/

But to draw faster data the it is pure processing power [chip speed], video card [RAM,Chipset], and Speed of the Physical RAM and speed of the hard drive or Solid State Drive in the Computer that makes the big difference.

  • Thanks for the answer. Do you know of any links that explain why an Uncompressed File Geodatabase is the fastest? Or how compressing a geodatabase slows it down? – Tanner Nov 23 '11 at 22:31
  • 2
    Compressing a File GDB forces ArcMap to decompress the data you are requesting when you draw it. Decompressing takes some CPU. I'm not sure if ArcMap implements caching to prevent repeated decompression, but in case it will need to decompress the data sometimes. In my experience, FGBDs are quite fast, especially when on a fast drive and with indices on any columns that are used in joins or definition queries (although I don't have any comparative data for FGDBs vs. other formats). – mattwigway Nov 24 '11 at 6:52
  • 2
    @mattwigway it depends on the bandwidth of the file access. If you are accessing the File GDB over a slow network connection is can be faster to let the CPU decompress. – Matthew Snape Nov 24 '11 at 12:13
  • 1
    compressing and compacting are different for file geodatabases - compacting changes/deletions/record index help.arcgis.com/en/arcgisdesktop/10.0/help/index.html#//… from 10 years ArcGIS experience – Mapperz Nov 24 '11 at 15:13
  • @MatthewSnape Good point. – mattwigway Nov 25 '11 at 3:19

I can provide anecdotal evidence that a compressed FGDB is indeed faster than an uncompressed one on our sloooow network. Here are some stats:

ArcGIS 10 FGDB accessed by an ArcGIS 10 MXD

142 Feature Classes

24 Tables

Compressed FGDB size - 794 MB

Uncompressed FGDB size - 1.66 GB

The MXD opens faster when connected to the uncompressed GDB. However, once loaded, everything (zooms, pans, etc.) is noticeably slower than when connected to the compressed GDB.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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