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File extension : .shp
Developed by: ESRI
Container for: Geospatial data

The file format Shapefile (often called Shapedaten or Shape ) is a format for vector spatial data originally developed for the ArcView software from ESRI .


The Shapefile is widespread as a quasi-standard in the desktop GIS environment because it is a fairly simple format and not very demanding in terms of data quality . Still, it is the format in which the most map data is available. The support of free as well as commercial programs and program libraries (e.g. GeoTools and Deegree ) is not as good with any format as with the Shapefiles. Many open source programs convert data from shapefiles to SQL for spatial databases.


A shapefile is not a single file, it consists of at least three files:

  • .shp is used to save the geometry data
  • .dbf factual data in dBASE format
  • .shx is used as an index of the geometry to link the factual data (also called attribute data)

Optional files

  • .atx attribute index
  • .sbx and .sbn spatial index
  • .qix alternative spatial index ( used and created by GDAL )
  • .aih and .ain index for table links (links)
  • .shp.xml metadata about the shapefile
  • .prj projection of the data
  • .cpg to specify the character set used in the .dbf .

A shapefile can only contain elements of one type, e.g. B.

  • Points,
  • Lines,
  • Areas (polygons)
  • or multi-points

In addition to the respective type, the shapefile can always contain so-called null shapes. These have no geometry, but just like any other type they have a data record in the associated DBF file. Furthermore, a distinction can be made between 2D geometries and 3D geometries.

Optionally, the created design of a shapefile (line thickness, point symbols, colors, etc.) can be saved in a legend file (up to ArcView 3.3 * .avl, from ArcGIS-ArcView 8 * .lyr), as this information is not saved within a shapefile. The legend file can be added in the theme properties after loading a shapefile.

Format restrictions

  • The size of the Shp and DBF files must not exceed 2 gigabytes.

The attribute database format for the DBF component file is based on an earlier dBase standard. This is accompanied by the following restrictions:

  • While the current dBase format as well as GDAL / OGR (as an open source software library for reading and writing shapefiles) distinguishes empty fields as zero values ​​from the number 0, ESRI Software does not make this distinction.
  • limited support for Unicode field names
  • Maximum length of the field names: 10 characters
  • Maximum number of fields: 255
  • Permitted field types are floating point (13 characters), whole number / integer, date without time storage (8 characters) and text (254 characters)
  • Floating point numbers can contain rounding errors because they are stored as text

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ESRI HowTo: Read and write shapefile and dBASE file encoded in various code pages
  2. ArcGIS Desktop 9.3 Help - Geoprocessing considerations for shapefile output . Esri. April 24, 2009. Retrieved March 24, 2014.