I am attempting to polygonize a raster using GDALPolygonize() in a Python script. The script began polygonizing yesterday at 5pm and is still polygonizing now at 9:30 am. I have no clue how far along it is, but I know it is still going because when I refresh my Windows explorer I can see the file size change for the output shapefile.

My raster is rather large, but I still don't expect it to take this long. My raster is 35,486 Columns and 23,682 Rows with a 1 meter cell size. It is a binary raster where a value of 1 represents data and 0 is NoData.

When I polygonized in ArcGIS using Raster to Polygon in the Conversion Toolbox it took 56 seconds. The resulting shapefile is 200mb while the shapefile still being created by GDALPolygonize is still only 100mb. That makes me think GDAL is about half way done after running all night.

Specs: Windows 7 64bit, 8gb RAM, GDAL 1.10 64bit, ArcGIS Desktop 10.2, 64bit Background Geoprocessing for ArcGIS Desktop, Python 2.7.3 64bit

UPDATE Day 2 - GDALPolygonize is still running. It has gone overnight 2 nights in a row and through a whole day without completing. ArcGIS took 56 seconds.

  • quick update from 2018: gdal_polygonize is still taking much more than 56 seconds. I have a raster of 12000x12000 and gdal has been working for over an hour. It's not much compared to days, but it's more than 60 times more than 56 seconds, so I have a feeling I'll be looking at a running process when I come back to check on my machine tomorrow morning. – thymaro Oct 28 '18 at 22:52

I have the same experience. The algorithm is really slow for huge rasters, although quite fast for smaller ones. There is one possible workaround:

  1. Split huge raster file into smaller files by gdalwarp (using -te to define extent for each file):

gdalwarp -te 12.08 48.5 12.5 51.1 original_file.tif part1.tif

  1. Polygonize each of them into separate shapefile:

gdal_polygonize.py part1.tif -f "ESRI Shapefile" part1.shp

  1. Merge shapefiles together:

ogr2ogr -f "ESRI Shapefile" -update -append merge.shp part1.shp -nln merge

  1. Dissolve the new shapefile:

ogr2ogr "output.shp" "input.shp" -dialect sqlite -sql "SELECT ST_Union(geometry), field FROM input GROUP BY field"

I know, it's crazy as hell, but the final time was way faster.


  • 1
    You could probably wrap this into one script so that you only have to do something yourself once – henrik-dmg Jan 28 '17 at 13:24
  • Hi Stanley, thanks for this answer. I'm trying to do something similar to this because my rasters are taking forever to polygonize. Does this method merge the polygons on the edges back together as if you never split the rasters in the first place? Could you expand on the SQL statements in the last command? I don't know SQL and am trying to figure out how to make this work with my data. – user20408 May 1 '17 at 18:13
  • instead of using gdalwarp, couldn't you just tile your raster by creating a vrt file when saving it? At least, that's how I learned to cut up my rasters and I don't have to do it for each tile separately. – thymaro Oct 28 '18 at 22:55

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