What Is Vector Data Structure in GIS?


Larry Thompson

What Is Vector Data Structure in GIS?

In the field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), data is categorized into two main types: vector data and raster data. In this article, we will focus on understanding the vector data structure in GIS.

Introduction to Vector Data

Vector data is a representation of geographic features using points, lines, and polygons. These features can represent real-world objects such as buildings, roads, rivers, and boundaries. Unlike raster data which uses a grid-based structure, vector data stores information about spatial relationships between objects.

Components of Vector Data

Vector data consists of three main components:

  • Points: Points are the most basic elements in vector data. They represent a single location in space with specific coordinates (latitude and longitude).
  • Lines: Lines are composed of a series of connected points and represent linear features such as roads, rivers, or boundaries.
  • Polygons: Polygons are closed shapes formed by connecting multiple points. They represent area features like lakes, buildings, or administrative boundaries.

Data Attributes

In addition to spatial components, vector data also includes attributes that provide additional information about each geographic feature. These attributes can include categorical or numerical values such as names, population density, land use type, etc.

Advantages of Vector Data Structure

The use of vector data structure in GIS offers several advantages over raster data:

  • Faster Processing: Since vector data only stores necessary information about geographic features and their relationships, it requires less storage space and allows for faster processing and analysis.
  • More Accurate Representation: Vector data provides a more accurate representation of real-world objects, especially when dealing with complex features like boundaries or irregular shapes.
  • Flexible Editing: Vector data allows for easy editing and modification of individual features, making it suitable for tasks such as digitizing maps or updating boundaries.

Common Vector Data Formats

In GIS applications, vector data is commonly stored in various file formats. Some of the popular vector data formats include:

  • Shapefile (.shp): Developed by Esri, shapefiles consist of multiple files (.shp, .shx, .dbf) that store geometric and attribute information.
  • GeoJSON (.geojson): GeoJSON is an open standard format based on JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) for encoding geographic data structures.
  • KML (.kml): KML (Keyhole Markup Language) is an XML-based format used for displaying geographic data in Google Earth and other mapping applications.


The vector data structure is a fundamental component of GIS. It represents geographic features using points, lines, and polygons and allows for efficient storage, processing, and analysis of spatial information. Understanding the concepts of vector data is essential for anyone working with GIS applications or exploring the field of geospatial analysis.

Note: This article provides a brief overview of the vector data structure in GIS. Further exploration and hands-on experience with GIS software will deepen your understanding of this topic.

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