The field of GIS includes a large number of file formats and not all software packages are compatible with each file format. Below is a list of common GIS file formats and the software(s) they are compatible with. The GIS workstations on the first floor of the library have the software packages listed below each file format: ArcGIS Desktop, AutoCAD Map 3D, QGIS, Global Mapper, and Google Earth Pro. If you are a current Carleton student you can obain your own student edition of ArcGIS from us and load it in your own computer if you are interested, and QGIS is open source and freely available.

It is worth noting that the library GIS workstations also have FME Desktop, which is a software that can convert a file from one format to many others (e.g.: shapefile to AutoCAD Drawing and back again). If you require this kind of file conversion, please email us at

**All software mentioned below is available on the GIS workstations in the library, unless otherwise noted.

Common GIS file formats

AutoCAD Drawings (.dwg)

  • Proprietary AutoDesk vector format, as well as .dxf (Drawing Exchange Format)
  • Best viewed using AutoCAD Map 3D, but also compatible with ArcMap and QGIS
  • It is possible to export DWGs from the above softwares as well as Global Mapper

Digital Elevation Models (.dem, .flt, .csv, .tif, .txt, .hgt)

ESRI File Geodatabase (.gdb):

  • GIS file format used by Esri (creator of ArcGIS) to store a collection of datasets
  • Best viewed using ArcGIS Desktop (ArcMap, ArcCatalog, ArcGIS Pro)
  • If you opened a folder and it has a bunch of files that look like a00000001.gdbindexes and a00000003.dgbtablx, it's a geodatabase and you'll need to navigate through the Catalog window in ArcMap to view the feature classes
  • More details.

ESRI Layer File (.lyr):

ESRI Shapefile (.shp):

  • Industry standard GIS file format developed and regulated by Esri
  • Best viewed using ArcGIS Desktop (ArcMap, ArcCatalog, ArcGIS Pro) but can also be viewed using Global Mapper, QGIS, and Google Earth Pro. AutoCAD Map requires an extension.
  • New to shapefiles? This may help.

Geography Markup Language (.gml):

  • XML grammar able to integrate geographic information of all forms, including 3D data
  • Easily viewed in Global Mapper
  • Can be viewed in ArcGIS (ArcMap, ArcScene, ArcGIS Pro) using Quick Import with the Data Interoperability extension
    • Go to Customize > Extensions... to make sure Data Interoperability is turned on
  • Can convert to AutoCAD and other formats in FME Quick Translator (available on library GIS workstations)

KML (Keyhole Markup Language; .kml):

  • Spatial data file format developed for Google Earth using XML notation
  • KMZ (.kmz) is a compressed KML file
  • Google Earth, Google Earth Pro, Global Mapper, and you can import KMLs into both ArcGIS and QGIS
  • You can also export KML/KMZ files from all the softwares listed above
  • More details

LiDAR (.las, .laz, .zlas, etc.)

Uncommon or obsolete GIS file formats that you may encounter

ESRI ArcInfo Coverages (.adf):

ESRI ArcInfo Interchange (.e00):

ESRI SDC (Smart Data Compression):

MapInfo Tab (.tab):

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