More map file conversions: ESRI Shapefiles and GeoJSON (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Fri, 26 Aug 2016

More map file conversions: ESRI Shapefiles and GeoJSON

I recently wrote about Translating track files between mapping formats like GPX, KML, KMZ and UTM But there's one common mapping format that keeps coming up that's hard to handle using free software, and tricky to translate to other formats: ESRI shapefiles.

ArcGIS shapefiles are crazy. Typically they come as an archive that includes many different files, with the same base name but different extensions: filename.sbn, filename.shx, filename.cpg, filename.sbx, filename.dbf, filename.shp, filename.prj, and so forth. Which of these are important and which aren't?

To be honest, I don't know. I found this description in my searches: "A shape file map consists of the geometry (.shp), the spatial index (.shx), the attribute table (.dbf) and the projection metadata file (.prj)." Poking around, I found that most of the interesting metadata (trail name, description, type, access restrictions and so on) was in the .dbf file.

You can convert the whole mess into other formats using the ogr2ogr program. On Debian it's part of the gdal-bin package. Pass it the .shp filename, and it will look in the same directory for files with the same basename and other shapefile-related extensions. For instance, to convert to KML:

 ogr2ogr -f KML output.kml input.shp

Unfortunately, most of the metadata -- comments on trail conditions and access restrictions that were in the .dbf file -- didn't make it into the KML.

GPX was even worse. ogr2ogr knows how to convert directly to GPX, but that printed a lot of errors like "Field of name 'foo' is not supported in GPX schema. Use GPX_USE_EXTENSIONS creation option to allow use of the <extensions> element." So I tried ogr2ogr -f "GPX" -dsco GPX_USE_EXTENSIONS=YES output.gpx input.shp but that just led to more errors. It did produce a GPX file, but it had almost no useful data in it, far less than the KML did. I got a better GPX file by using ogr2ogr to convert to KML, then using gpsbabel to convert that KML to GPX.

Use GeoJSON instead to preserve the metadata

But there is a better way: GeoJSON.

ogr2ogr -f "GeoJSON" -t_srs crs:84 output.geojson input.shp

That preserved most, maybe all, of the metadata the .dbf file and gave me a nicely formatted file. The only problem was that I didn't have any programs that could read GeoJSON ...

[PyTopo showing metadata from GeoJSON converted from a shapefile]

But JSON is a nice straightforward format, easy to read and easy to parse, and it took surprisingly little work to add GeoJSON parsing to PyTopo. Now, at least, I have a way to view the maps converted from shapefiles, click on a trail and see the metadata from the original shapefile.

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[ 12:11 Aug 26, 2016    More mapping | permalink to this entry | comments ]
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