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 four software packages listed below each file format: ArcGIS 10.4, AutoCAD Map 3D, QGISGlobal Mapper, and Google Earth Pro. You can obain your own student edition of ArcGIS 10.4 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 GIS workstations in the library 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 service, please come see us.

**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
  • 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)

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)
  • 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) but can also be viewed using Global Mapper, QGIS, and Google Earth Pro. AutoCAD Map requires an extension.
  • New to shapefiles? This may help.

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

Uncommon or obsolete GIS file formats that you may encounter

ESRI ArcInfo Coverages (.adf):

ESRI ArcInfo Interchange (.e00):

ESRI SDC (Smart Data Compression):

  • ESRI GIS file which is highly compressed, read-only data structure that can store spatial geometry (points, lines, and polygons), and attribute data
  • Best viewed using ArcGIS Desktop (ArcMap, ArcCatalog)
  • More details

MapInfo Tab (.tab):

  • The MapInfo TAB format is a geospatial vector data format for geographic information systems software. It is developed and regulated by MapInfo as a proprietary format
  • Best viewed using MapInfo, which is not available on the GIS workstations in the library