Help Center Knowledge Base What is a shapefile?

What is a shapefile?


A shapefile is a geospatial vector data format for geographic information system (GIS) software developed by ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute). It is an ideal format for the exchange of geographical data, because the file both contains the geometric data that draws points, lines or polygons on a map and the data attributes. The shapefile format is one of the most used formats in GIS software like Mapinfo, Arcgis, QGIS, Tableau Software, Excel (3D) Maps or the Spotzi Mapbuilder.


The shapefile name is quite common, but this is kind of misleading. The shapefile (.shp) is actually a mandatory part of a collection of files that is often compressed into a ZIP file. A valid zipped (.zip) shapefile that can be used in GIS software should contain at least the following 3 (mandatory) files:

  • Shape format (.shp) – the format that contains the geometry;
  • Shape index format (.shx) – a positional index of the feature geometry to allow seeking fowards and backwards quickly;
  • dBase attribute format (.dbf) – columnar attributes for each shape.

When exporting a shapefile in Spotzi a zipped shapefile also contains the following other (not mandatory) files:

  • Projection format (.prj) – the coordinate system and projection information;
  • Code page file (.cpg) – the file to identify the character encoding.

Other (not mandatory) files that can be used in a zipped shapefile:

  • A spatial index of the features (.sbn and .sbx)
  • A spatial index of the features that are read-only (.fbn and .fbx)
  • An attribute index of the active fields in a table (.ain and .aih)
  • A geocoding index for read-write datasets (.ixs)
  • A geocoding index for read-write datasets (.mxs)
  • An attribute index for the .dbf file in the form of shapefile.columnname.atx (.atx)
  • Geospatial metadata in XML format, such as ISO 19115 or other XML schema (.shp.xml)
  • An alternative quadtree spatial index used by MapServer and GDAL/OGR software (.qix)

What software opens a shapefile?

Associated filename extensions

  • .shp
  • .shx
  • .dbf
  • .prj
  • .cpg
  • .zip
  • .sbn
  • .sbx
  • .fbn
  • .fbx
  • .ain
  • .aih
  • .ixs
  • .mxs
  • .atx
  • .shp.xml
  • .qix

Import a shapefile into the Spotzi Mapbuilder?
The Spotzi Mapbuilder is an online GIS tool that supports shapefiles to create beautiful maps and perform advanced location analytics. Read our documentation on how to import a shapefile into the Spotzi Mapbuilder.

Related blog posts

Try Spotzi for free and start finding your best-fit customers