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I work for the State government and we are now receiving requests for QGIS shapefiles. We have worked with ArcGIS shapefiles in the past.

Are shapefiles used in QGIS stored the same way as regular shapefiles?

No one in our section has used QGIS, as we have an Esri enterprise license.

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    There is no such thing as a "QGIS shapefile". Shapefiles are a proprietary file format invented and pushed by ESRI. The only thing not compatible between ARC & QGIS are the style files which come with some shapefiles. Over the last few years the open source community tried to push the geopackage file format, which solves some issue which shapefiles suffer from.
    – Erik
    Oct 26 at 14:09
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    Following the documentation, this is the same format, the only "small" difference can be in the sidecar files, QGIS can have "qix" for spatial index and "qpj" for projections, see here : docs.qgis.org/3.16/en/docs/user_manual/managing_data_source/… Oct 26 at 14:11
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    As QGIS is OpenSource, you can install it on as many machines as you like without any restrictions to test how shapefiles work together with QGIS.
    – Babel
    Oct 26 at 15:48
  • I will also mention this amazing answer from @Vince.
    – Taras
    Oct 26 at 16:43
  • Don't discount the possibility that "shapefile" is a generic term and by "QGIS shapefiles" they mean "not layer packages"
    – blindjesse
    Oct 27 at 0:02
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This answer is the synthesis of the two comments, @Erik and mine.

Shapefile is a GIS file format. Shapefiles are a format invented and controlled by Esri (the term proprietary is discutable, see the comments of this answer), but with a large open specifications for interoperability (GIS & CAD software mainly).

Following the documentation, this is the same format, the only "small" difference can be in the sidecar files, QGIS can have "qix" for spatial index and "qpj" for projections, see here.

The only thing not compatible between ArcGIS and QGIS are the style files which come with some shapefiles : *.lyr, *.style for ArcGIS and *.qml, *.sld for QGIS.

Over the last few years the open source community tried to push the geopackage file format, which solves some issues which Shapefile format suffer from.

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  • I wouldn't call the shapefile format 'proprietary'. From Wikipedia: It is developed and regulated by Esri as a mostly open specification for data. There are also several non-Esri libraries that read and write shapefiles. And these days, not even Esri is 'pushing' shp. The File Geodatabase perhaps, but shapefiles are (or should be) only used for interoperability with other software.
    – Berend
    Oct 27 at 8:59
  • @Berend: see here : switchfromshapefile.org, the specifications are open but the format is proprietary. Oct 27 at 9:10
  • They may use the word 'proprietary' in the sense that it is developed by Esri, but a proprietary file format usually means a 'secret' or 'restricted' format, see here. A shapefile is neither of those.
    – Berend
    Oct 27 at 10:04
  • @Berend: the fact is that the format is controlled by ESRI and have not an open licence, so even if it looks open, the specifications are indeed, but definitevely, for me, the format is not unlike the geopackage one for example : github.com/opengeospatial/geopackage Oct 27 at 11:17
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    Yes, the format is controlled by Esri, but that does not make it a proprietary file format. That is the point I'm trying to make here. I'd therefore recommend you change the wording proprietary format in your answer to a format controlled by, to remove all ambiguity. I'd also remove pushed by Esri because there's no indication that Esri is actively pushing the Shapefile format at this moment. It also doesn't really add anything useful to the otherwise good answer.
    – Berend
    Oct 27 at 11:53
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This is a comment but it won't fit in the space allowed so I'll make it a supplemental answer. Shapefiles are read by both ArcGIS and QGIS (and many other programs) and we have both programs in widespread use. There's one very minor thing to note. If ArcGIS is used to create a spatial index it adds sbn and sbx files to the shapefile collection. QGIS can read these but not write or update them. QGIS can create qix spatial indexes that ArcGIS can't see, so ArcCatalog doesn't copy or delete them when it moves or deletes a shapefile. It’s possible after editing in either program the shapefile's spatial index (if there is one) needs to be updated, or the index files deleted, to prevent draw and other oddities. This is likely not a problem at all if you are just providing files, and you could decide to not provide any index files as they aren't required. But if you are in a mixed environment sharing edited files from both programs, users should be aware of this if they see missing shapes. In my workplace I don't create any qix, I typically only give others shapefiles without the sbn and sbx, and I use ArcCatalog to update the sbn and sbx files after editing in QGIS.

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  • Great answer. May I request that you describe how you do the update in ArcCatalog? I assume you use the Create Spatial Indexes tool, but wanted to confirm.
    – Stu Smith
    Oct 27 at 6:01
  • @Stu In the Shapefile Properties - Index tab - Spatial Index section there are buttons for deleting or updating the spatial index IF there is one. I will use those.
    – johns
    Oct 27 at 13:29
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A thing I noticed when I switch from ArcGIS to QGIS : the .cpg (code page encoding) file isn't supported by QGIS. QGIS works with the dbf file's encoding. It's purely optional but it can have impact with some data with specific spellings. Just a minor difference.

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Just use 4 files besides the one with the SHP extension, eg.,

mygovernment.shp
mygovernment.shx
mygovernment.dbf
mygovernment.prj

And be happy.

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