What Type of Data Is Used in GIS?


Angela Bailey

What Type of Data Is Used in GIS?

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are powerful tools used to analyze and visualize spatial data. GIS relies on various types of data to provide accurate and meaningful insights.

In this article, we will explore the different types of data commonly used in GIS and how they contribute to the overall understanding of geographical phenomena.

1. Spatial Data

Spatial data is at the core of GIS. It represents the physical location and shape of objects on the Earth’s surface.

This type of data is often represented using coordinates, such as latitude and longitude or projected coordinate systems. Spatial data can be classified into two main categories:

a) Vector Data

Vector data represents geographic features as discrete points, lines, or polygons. Points are used to represent individual locations, while lines represent linear features such as roads or rivers.

Polygons are closed shapes that represent areas like countries or buildings.

Examples of vector data:

  • Point data: GPS coordinates of cities
  • Line data: Road networks
  • Polygon data: Land use boundaries

b) Raster Data

Raster data is composed of a grid of cells, where each cell holds a value representing a specific attribute. Unlike vector data, raster data does not maintain discrete boundaries but rather assigns values to each cell based on measurement or classification.

Examples of raster data:

  • Elevation maps derived from satellite imagery
  • Satellite imagery for land cover classification
  • Digital photographs taken by drones for detailed analysis

2. Attribute Data

Attribute data provides additional information about the spatial features in GIS. It describes the characteristics or properties associated with each geographic feature.

Attribute data is typically stored in tables or databases and linked to the corresponding spatial data using a unique identifier.

Examples of attribute data:

  • Population density of cities
  • Temperature measurements at different locations
  • Land ownership information for cadastral mapping

3. Metadata

Metadata refers to the information about the data itself, including its origin, accuracy, and other relevant details. It provides essential context and documentation for understanding and using GIS data effectively.

Examples of metadata:

  • Data source: Satellite imagery from NASA’s Landsat program
  • Data accuracy: Survey-grade GPS measurements with an error margin of +/- 1 meter
  • Data format: Shapefile (.shp) for vector data, GeoTIFF (.tif) for raster data


GIS relies on various types of data to create meaningful representations of our world. Spatial data, including vector and raster data, forms the foundation of GIS analysis.

Attribute data provides additional context and characteristics to spatial features, while metadata ensures that the data is properly documented and understood. By leveraging these different types of data, GIS enables us to gain valuable insights into our physical environment.

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