I don't know why this is so hard to find or to do, but how does one create an empty .shp with geopandas?

I essentially want to duplicate the processes of creating a type: polygon shapefile from QGIS, but in a Python script. There is no data to append at this stage. I understand the error, but I am not sure how to add data without adding data. Do I need to do something with schema?

def create_empty(save_name):
    df = gpd.GeoDataFrame(columns=['id', 'geometry'], geometry='geometry')
    df.to_file(filename=f'./QGIS_inputs/{save_name}.shp', driver='ESRI Shapefile')

The error that I get:

ValueError: Cannot write empty DataFrame to file.

2 Answers 2


Geopandas derives the schema from the geodataframe if you don't specify it. And since your geodataframe is empty, geopandas can't derive a schema.

If you want to save an empty shapefile, you need to pass a fiona schema dict that defines the geometry type and at least one column (that's a shapefile restriction, not applicable to all output formats):

import geopandas

shp_fname = "test.shp"
schema = {"geometry": "Polygon", "properties": {"id": "int"}}
crs = "EPSG:4326"

df = geopandas.GeoDataFrame(geometry=[])

df.to_file(shp_fname, driver='ESRI Shapefile', schema=schema, crs=crs)

More details on schemas:

  • Thank you! To follow up, are there other shapefile schemas? Why would geopandas not have a schema? To make it simplier?
    – Binx
    Jun 16 at 14:02
  • 1
    Geopandas derives the schema from the geodataframe if you don't specify it. Geopandas only uses fiona schemas, but you can set up any fiona schema that a shapefile supports.
    – user2856
    Jun 16 at 22:36

GeoPandas < 0.11

Try with Fiona instead:

import fiona
import geopandas

shp_fname = "test.shp"
schema = {"geometry": "Polygon", "properties": {"id": "int"}}
crs = "EPSG:4326"

# write an empty polygon shapefile
with fiona.open(shp_fname, "w", "ESRI Shapefile", schema=schema, crs=crs):

# now read in the empty shapefile
df = geopandas.read_file(shp_fname)

After GeoPandas >= 0.11

This release can write empty shapefiles:

import geopandas

df = geopandas.GeoDataFrame(
    columns=["id", "geometry"],
    geometry="geometry", crs="EPSG:4326")

now shows a warning:

UserWarning: You are attempting to write an empty DataFrame to file. For some drivers, this operation may fail.

Here is the metadata from a system shell with fio info:

$ fio info test.shp --indent 2
  "driver": "ESRI Shapefile",
  "schema": {
    "properties": {
      "index": "str:80",
      "id": "str:80"
    "geometry": "LineString"
  "crs": "EPSG:4326",
  "crs_wkt": "GEOGCS[\"WGS 84\",DATUM[\"WGS_1984\",SPHEROID[\"WGS 84\",6378137,298.257223563,AUTHORITY[\"EPSG\",\"7030\"]],AUTHORITY[\"EPSG\",\"6326\"]],PRIMEM[\"Greenwich\",0,AUTHORITY[\"EPSG\",\"8901\"]],UNIT[\"degree\",0.0174532925199433,AUTHORITY[\"EPSG\",\"9122\"]],AXIS[\"Latitude\",NORTH],AXIS[\"Longitude\",EAST],AUTHORITY[\"EPSG\",\"4326\"]]",
  "name": "test",
  "bounds": [
  "count": 0

Note that this assumes LineString geometry.

  • Thanks for the solution, though I marked user2856 due to them using geopandas. Do you not need to save or close after fiona.open()?
    – Binx
    Jun 16 at 14:04
  • 1
    @Binx no, because of the with statement which is a python context manager.
    – user2856
    Jun 16 at 22:46
  • 1
    under the hood, geopandas uses fiona (until pyogrio is ready)
    – Mike T
    Jun 17 at 9:05

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