What Is a Data Type in GIS?


Scott Campbell

In Geographic Information System (GIS), a data type refers to the classification or categorization of data based on its characteristics and properties. It determines how the data is stored, organized, and manipulated within a GIS application. Understanding different data types in GIS is essential for effectively working with spatial data and performing various analysis tasks.

Why are Data Types important?

Data types play a crucial role in GIS as they provide information about the nature of the data and how it can be used. They define the structure of the data, including its format, size, and permissible operations. By specifying the data type, GIS applications can interpret and handle the data appropriately.

Common Data Types in GIS

Here are some commonly used data types in GIS:

1. Vector Data

Vector data represents spatial features as points, lines, or polygons. It is used to represent discrete objects such as buildings, roads, or boundaries. Each feature is defined by its geometry (coordinates) and attributes (additional information).

2. Raster Data

Raster data consists of a grid of cells or pixels that collectively represent a continuous surface or phenomenon. It is used to represent continuous phenomena such as elevation, temperature, or satellite imagery. Each cell holds a value representing a specific attribute.

3. Tabular Data

Tabular data is organized in rows and columns like a spreadsheet or database table. It contains attribute information associated with spatial features represented by vector or raster datasets. Tabular data often includes non-spatial attributes such as names, population counts, or land use categories.

Data Types within Vector Data

Vector data can be further classified into different types:

1. Points

Points represent specific locations in space and are defined by a single coordinate pair. They are commonly used to represent features like cities, sampling points, or landmarks. Lines

Lines represent linear features such as roads, rivers, or boundaries. They consist of a sequence of connected vertices or nodes. Polygons

Polygons are closed areas defined by a series of connected lines. They represent features like land parcels, administrative boundaries, or lakes.

Data Types within Raster Data

Raster data can also have different types:

1. Continuous Raster

Continuous raster represents continuous surfaces that vary smoothly across space, such as elevation models or satellite imagery. Each cell holds a value that represents the attribute of interest at that location. Categorical Raster

Categorical raster, also known as thematic raster, represents discrete classes or categories assigned to each cell. It is commonly used to depict land cover types, soil classes, or vegetation categories.

Data Types within Tabular Data

The tabular data type can contain various formats:

1. Numeric Data

Numeric data consists of numbers and is used to store quantitative information such as population counts, temperature measurements, or elevation values.

2. Textual Data

Textual data contains alphanumeric characters and is used to store non-numeric information such as names, descriptions, or addresses.


Date and Time Data

Date and time data is used to represent temporal information such as timestamps, event dates, or durations.


In summary, data types in GIS play a crucial role in organizing, analyzing, and visualizing spatial data. They provide a structure for storing and manipulating different types of geographic information. Understanding the various data types within GIS allows users to effectively work with spatial data and derive meaningful insights from it.

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