Esri defines Feature as a cartographic term:

[cartography] Any part of the earth's surface, or anything found on the earth's surface, that can be represented on a map. Features can represent various types of geographic entities, such as points, lines, polygons, or even more complex objects like networks or surfaces. Each feature typically has associated attributes that provide additional information, such as its name, population, or elevation, and may have additional, spatial characteristics, such as geographic coordinates.


Esri builds from there with feature types, feature class, feature datasets, feature services, etc.

To add confusion, closely related disciplines define it differently. In machine learning, for example, a feature is:

A feature is a measurable property of the object you’re trying to analyze. In datasets, features appear as columns.


Is this the origin of the term 'Feature' in GIS and do any other disciplines use it in the same way?


1 Answer 1


I believe when GIS was cartography centric, the term 'Feature' was used to classify spatial items such as rivers, streams, buildings, and more without directly calling out the actual item.

Saying "A map contains many hydrographic features" is synonymous with "A map contains rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and oceans". It could just be jargon from GIS industry professionals. It's like calling a shapefile a layer, when a layer has drawing parameters. "Open the shapefile's table", do you mean open the DBF? Open the Shape, open the SHX??

Things evolve in the GIS language realm, who knows!

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