Nottinghamshire Councils ESRI Maps

The shapefile format is a popular geospatial vector data format for geographic information system (GIS) software. It is developed and regulated by Esri as a (mostly) open specification for data interoperability among Esri and other GIS software products.[1] The shapefile format can spatially describe vectorfeatures: points, lines, and polygons, representing, for example, water wells,rivers, and lakes. Each item usually has attributes that describe it, such as nameor temperature.



The shapefile format is a digital vector storage format for storing geometric location and associated attribute information. This format lacks the capacity to store topological information. The shapefile format was introduced withArcView GIS version 2 in the early 1990s. It is now possible to read and write geographical datasets using the shapefile format with a wide variety of software.

The shapefile format is simple because it can store the primitive geometric data types of points, lines, and polygons. Shapes ts/lines/polygons) together with data attributes can create infinitely many representations about geographic data. Representation provides the ability for powerful and accurate computations.

The term “shapefile” is quite common, but is misleading since the format consists of a collection of files with a common filename prefix, stored in the same directory. The three mandatory files have filename extensions .shp, .shx, and .dbf. The actual shapefile relates specifically to the .shp file, but alone is incomplete for distribution as the other supporting files are required. Legacy GIS software may expect that the filename prefix be limited to eight characters to conform to the DOS 8.3 filename convention, though modern software applications accept files with longer names.

Mandatory files
  • .shp — shape format; the feature geometry itself
  • .shx — shape index format; a positional index of the feature geometry to allow seeking forwards and backwards quickly
  • .dbf — attribute format; columnar attributes for each shape, in dBase IV format
Other files
  • .prj — projection format; the coordinate system and projection information, a plain text file describing the projection using well-known text format
  • .sbn and .sbx — a spatial index of the features
  • .fbn and .fbx — a spatial index of the features that are read-only
  • .ain and .aih — an attribute index of the active fields in a table
  • .ixs — a geocoding index for read-write datasets
  • .mxs — a geocoding index for read-write datasets (ODB format)
  • .atx — an attribute index for the .dbf file in the form ofshapefile.columnname.atx (ArcGIS 8 and later)
  • .shp.xmlgeospatial metadata in XML format, such asISO 19115 or other XML schema
  • .cpg — used to specify the code page (only for .dbf) for identifying the character encoding to be used
  • .qix — an alternative quadtree spatial index used byMapServer and GDAL/OGR software

In each of the .shp, .shx, and .dbf files, the shapes in each file correspond to each other in sequence (i.e., the first record in the .shp file corresponds to the first record in the .shx and .dbf files, etc.). The .shp and .shx files have various fields with different endianness, so an implementer of the file formats must be very careful to respect the endianness of each field and treat it properly.