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This page gives the description of the layers available from the DC_GIS mapserver. When I look up the metadata for various layers, say record lots, the description says
Geometry Type: esriGeometryPolygon
but when I fetch the layer using either qgis or ArcMap, I get a raster layer. I've tried this for several different layers which describe themselves a polygons, but always get a raster.

In ArcMap I download the .lyr file. In qgis, I copy the WMS URL, open it in the New WMS servers dialog and select the layer to add.

Is it me or is it the metadata?

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According to Wikipedia:

A Web Map Service (WMS) is a standard protocol for serving georeferenced map images over the Internet that are generated by a map server using data from a GIS database.

Consequently, what you should expect to see in QGIS or ArcGIS for Desktop (or any other WMS client) is an image (raster) even though the underlying features being rendered are vectors.

If you want to work with the vector data instead then the OGC specification to look at is Web Feature Service (WFS).

  • TLDR: If you ask for WMS, it'll be a raster. – BradHards Oct 20 '13 at 4:27
  • Thanks - I guess I was confused by my past experience in using ArcGIS servers which serve features and rasters (or at least that's my memory). – Llaves Oct 20 '13 at 14:30

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