I sometimes write short scripts/work instructions for colleagues who are not very skilled at GDAL / programming in general.

To prevent any problems with the scripts, when merging/converting geotiffs with GDAL, I try to just use the BIGTIFF=YES option regardless of what file sizes would be used, so that an unexpected error does not confuse the user of the script. Are there any drawbacks to doing this?

Why isn't BIGTIFF on by default, especially nowadays where >4 GB GeoTIFF files are quite common?

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    Very good question. The only drawback I found is that it is not compatible to normal Tiff format. Programs with libtiff<4.0 or programs using other libraries might not be able to open these files. But I guess that all recent programs can handle BIGTIFFs...
    – pLumo
    Jun 19, 2017 at 14:48
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    One more drawback. BIGTIFFs can only handle files up to 18.000 petabytes. We might need VERYBIGTIFFs soon ;-)
    – pLumo
    Jun 19, 2017 at 14:49
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    If your data really is approaching the BigTiff limit, then consider splitting it up and using the VRT format. I use VRT where my rasters approach a TB let alone a PB! VRTs are brilliant and you can effectively avoid many massive operations (e.g. merges and bulk warps) by using them. Jun 19, 2017 at 16:19

1 Answer 1


Are there any drawbacks to doing this?

There are softwares that are not going to be able to read BIGTIFF. It is likely that most geospatial/GIS software that consumes raster data can now handle BIGTIFF, but others might not have been updated or make assumptions about maximum sizes. BIGTIFF support did and does require some software implementation.

If you want your data a little more future-proof, if you use very old software (5+ years old), or you push your TIFFs back and forth between different disciplines (graphic design, GIS, photo, engineering), don't use BIGTIFF if you don't need it.

Why isn't BIGTIFF on by default, especially nowadays where >4 GB GeoTIFF files are quite common?

Ten years ago, when BIGTIFF was first implemented, they weren't so common. BIGTIFF's implementation was recognition that this was soon going to be a common problem.

GDAL tries to be smart about its use of BIGTIFF, but things can still fall over, especially when merging, etc. The advice from MappaGnosis is really good -- use VRTs for merging instead of writing huge TIFFs.

I'm still slightly disappointed that my proposed name of BFT did not win over the BIGTIFF one.

  • Thanks for the answer! Still, using VRTs might not help much with software that struggles to display even a single BIGTIFF.
    – miln40
    Jun 20, 2017 at 9:39

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