[OSGeo-Discuss] Re: idea for an OSGeo project -- a new, open data format

P Kishor punk.kish at gmail.com
Tue Nov 13 08:34:39 PST 2007

Thanks everyone, for responding. Here is my "groundwork."

The new format --

- Should be fast. SQLite is plenty fast, and anything that simply
"extends" the Shapefile format to inject relational capabilities
should be pretty fast. It should definitely be faster than a
geodatabase format (such as PostGIS/ArcSDE) and perhaps even faster
than Shapefiles especially while accessing attribute data. DBF is
sequential, and searching for textual information is particularly
expensive. SQLite has been tuned to excellence. I have been working
with it for a few years now, and it really is an amazing product,
development community, support, and capabilities. That it is in public
domain makes for a transfat-free icing on the cake.

- Should be unencumbered by licenses and copyrights. Ideally, the new
format could also be put back into public domain. We want to remove
all encumbrances to encourage rapid and wide adoption.

- Should be a single file. Well, some like multiple files and some
like single files. We can achieve both objectives by using a
tar-gzipped packaging such as Apple tends to use for much of its stuff
(for example, its Pages wordprocessor uses a tgzipped xml file along
with other resources for icons and pictures and stuff). Or, if speed
is going to be affected because of gzipping and gunzipping, just a
package format (I have no idea if this is a Unix thing or a Mac OS
thing -- we, in the Mac world, call them packages... they appear like
files in the Finder, and like directories in the shell).

- Should be easy to transition to. By building the new format on the
structure of the Shapefile format, and *in fact*, calling it "open
shapefiles" or some such thing, we indicate from its name that the
transition is not that revolutionary but is evolutionary. This,
hopefully, will bring some name-familiarity, and make the transition
less scary.

- Frank mentions SQLite's lack of datatypes as an issue -- I guess
that is a matter of preference. I personally quite like that freedom
as it gives me, the application developer, complete control over what
goes where. SQLite actually does have now a few datatypes that it
respects, but doesn't complain about. Since all users will be
accessing the data via an application, as long as the application is
well defined, it should be fine.

- SQLite excels at one thing that it has been entrusted to do --
retrieve data that it has been entrusted with at extremely fast
speeds, and maintain ACID data integrity in case of a programmatic
catastrophe. The transactions themselves are worth their price of
admission, which, happily, happens to be zero.

- Langdon mentions Java support -- well, yes, use/work on SQLite JDBC.
I have been using it for a few days now and find it to be a pretty
competent conduit. Extend it, spatialize it. ANSI standard C is still
that magic common denominator that compiles and works predictably on
most number of systems. I have a lot against Java, but those who love
Java should definitely work on tools for accessing and working with
this new format as it would only make the format more widely used and

Ok, enough for now.

On Nov 13, 2007 8:52 AM, P Kishor <punk.kish at gmail.com> wrote:
> So, I am thinking, Shapefile is the de facto data standard for GIS
> data. That it is open (albeit not Free) along with the deep and wide
> presence of ESRI's products from the beginning of the epoch, it has
> been widely adopted. Existence of shapelib, various language bindings,
> and ready use by products such as MapServer has continued to cement
> Shapefile as the format to use. All this is in spite of Shapefile's
> inherent drawbacks, particularly in the area of attribute data
> management.
> What if we came up with a new and improved data format -- call it
> "Open Shapefile" (extension .osh) -- that would be completely Free,
> single-file based (instead of the multiple .shp, .dbf, .shx, etc.),
> and based on SQLite, giving the .osh format complete relational data
> handling capabilities. We would require a new version of Shapelib,
> improved language bindings, make it the default and preferred format
> for MapServer, and provide seamless and painless import of regular
> .shp data into .osh for native rendering. Its adoption would be quick
> in the open source community. The non-opensource community would
> either not give a rat's behind for it, but it wouldn't affect them...
> they would still work with their preferred .shp until they learned
> better. By having a completely open and Free single-file based, built
> on SQLite, fully relational dbms capable spatial data format, it would
> be positioned for continued improvement and development.
> Is this too crazy?
> --
> Puneet Kishor

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