How do I simplify an sf polygon without introducing gaps and slivers?

With a shapefile, for example, I would use rmapshaper::ms_simplify():


              destfile = "regions.zip")
regions <- readOGR(".", "england_gor_2011")
# ~13MB

regions <- ms_simplify(regions)
# < 1MB

I've tried sf::st_cast() which, from the man pages, states:

Cast geometry to another type: either simplify, or cast explicitly


to argument: character; target type, if missing, simplification is tried; when x is of type sfg (i.e., a single geometry) then to needs to be specified.

When I've left to as missing this hasn't worked as expected though (I knew it was too good to be true!):

regions <- sf::read_sf("england_gor_2011.shp")
# ~13MB

regions <- sf::st_cast(regions)
# Still 13MB

Currently I'm opening the file with rgdal::readOGR(), simplifying it, saving this, then loading this again with sf.

Is there a better way?


@s.k 's suggestion of rgeos::gSimplify() can do topologically-aware simplifications (i.e. simplifies without creating slivers) when specified with the following arguments:

regions_gSimplify <- gSimplify(regions, tol = 0.05, topologyPreserve = TRUE)

gSimplify doesn't preserve the @data frame, though, so we should re-create it:

regions_df <- regions@data
regions_gSimplify <- sp::SpatialPolygonsDataFrame(regions_gSimplify, regions_df)

And this does indeed result in a smaller file size (can tweak tol argument to get it smaller) and I confirmed this hadn't created any slivers by examining it in QGIS.

# ~8MB

So although this is a valid alternative to rmapshaper::ms_simplify() I still have the same problem, namely that it doesn't work with sf:

regions_sf <- sf::read_sf("england_gor_2011.shp")

regions_gSimplify <- gSimplify(regions_sf, topologyPreserve = TRUE, tol = 0.05)
# Error in gSimplify(regions_sf, topologyPreserve = TRUE, tol = 0.05) : 
# no slot of name "proj4string" for this object of class "sf"

@obrl_soil 's answer can also be applied to gSimplify(), just use it in place of ms_simplify().

  • 1
    Do you have any access to a Douglas–Peucker algorithm? It is widely know for features simplification in GIS world. stackoverflow.com/questions/17217413/… & r-bloggers.com/simplifying-spatial-polygons-in-r Jun 11, 2017 at 21:38
  • 1
    Isn't st_simplify supposed to do that? (didn't use it, yet)
    – lbusett
    Jun 12, 2017 at 5:43
  • 2
    ooh, I hadn't noticed st_simplify, thanks for pointing it out. I do prefer the algorithm that rmapshaper::ms_simplify defaults to over all the others I've tried so far, but I'll have a play with the new option (update: whoa proceed with caution, preserveTopology = TRUE definitely doesn't work properly yet)
    – obrl_soil
    Jun 12, 2017 at 10:13
  • 1
    Good to know. What about opening a bug report on this ?
    – lbusett
    Jun 12, 2017 at 11:14
  • 1
    @obrl_soil It works for tolerances up to about 1000 on the polygons I've used in the question (regions) but beyond that it no longer preserves topology. As it breaks at a certain point I'd say that's not intended behaviour
    – Phil
    Jun 12, 2017 at 12:44

1 Answer 1


You can cast an sf object to sp, for packages that don't yet support sf - I do this a fair bit for raster/polygon interactions. So you could do:

simplepolys <- rmapshaper::ms_simplify(input = as(sfobj, 'Spatial')) %>%
  • 2
    This technique - casting as a spatial object, simplifying, then re-casting as an sf object - worked perfectly, and can be used with rmapshaper::ms_simplify() or rgeos::gSimplify(). Thanks for the suggestion!
    – Phil
    Jun 12, 2017 at 9:54
  • Cool cool, just be aware that the topology of interlocking polygons is only truly preserved with rmapshaper's approach. If your input data is all isolated, non-interlocking polygons, you can safely use any of the available simplification algs.
    – obrl_soil
    Jun 12, 2017 at 10:24
  • I'm accepting this as the answer because the more canonical sf::st_simplify() isn't robust at high tolerances at the time of writing, although obviously this may change.
    – Phil
    Jun 12, 2017 at 12:34
  • 11
    I am currently working on support for sf objects in rmapshaper. ms_simplify is available for sf objects in the development version. I'd love early testers - if you want to try it out, you can install with devtools::install_github("ateucher/rmapshaper", ref = "sf") Jun 12, 2017 at 17:15
  • 10
    As of rmapshaper version 0.3.0, the call to as( , "Spatial") is no longer required.
    – Luke1018
    May 7, 2018 at 1:16

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