A mechanism for distributing vector data following the same tile numbering scheme as widely used raster tiles. Used by Google, Mapbox and other major mapping providers.

Vector tiles, tiled vectors or vectiles are packets of geographic data, packaged into pre-defined roughly-square shaped "tiles". This is an emerging method for delivering styled web maps, combining certain benefits of pre-rendered raster map tiles with vector map data. As with the widely used raster tiled web maps, map data is requested by a client as a set of "tiles" corresponding to square areas of land of a pre-defined size and location. Unlike raster tiled web maps, however, the server returns vector map data, which has been clipped to the boundaries of each tile, instead of a pre-rendered map image.

There are several major advantages of this hybrid approach. Compared to an un-tiled vector map, the data transfer is reduced, because only data within the current viewport, and at the current zoom level needs to be transferred. The GIS clipping operations can all be performed in advance, as the tiles are pre-defined. This in turn means that tiled vector data can be package up and distributed, without needing any kind of GIS system available to serve data.

Compared to a tiled raster map, data transfer is also greatly reduced, as vector data is typically much smaller than a rendered bitmap. Also, styling can be applied later in the process, or even in the browser itself, allowing much greater flexibility in how data is presented. It is also easy to provide interactivity with map features, as their vector representation already exists within the client. Yet another benefit is that less centralised server processing power is required, since rasterisation can be performed directly in the client. This has been described as making "rendering ... a last-mile problem, with fast, high-quality GPU[s] in everyone’s pocket".

(From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vector_tiles)

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