Vector Data

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Vector Data Structures

GRASS 6 Vector Architecture

The GRASS vector data model includes the description of topology, where besides the coordinates describing the location of the primitives (points, lines, boundaries and centroids), their spatial relations are also stored. In general, topological GIS require a data structure where the common boundary between two adjacent areas is stored as a single line, simplifying the map maintenance.

The following vector objects are defined:

  • point
  • line: directed sequence of connected vertices with 2 endpoints called nodes
  • boundary: the border line to describe an area
  • centroid: a point within a closed boundary
  • area: the topological composition of centroid and boundary
  • face: a 3D area;
  • kernel: a 3D centroid in a volume (not yet implemented)
  • volume: a 3D corpus, the topological composition of faces and kernel (not yet implemented)

Note: all lines and boundaries can be polylines (with nodes(vertices) in between)

Data Structure

a vector map(layer?) <some_vector> is stored in the directory $MAPSET/vector/<some_vector>/. This directory normally contains the files listed below.

  • head: ASCII file with header information; this is the stuff the displays.
  • dbln: ASCCI file that link(s) to attribute table(s)
  • hist: vector map change history (ASCII). -h can be used to dispay this file.)
  • coor: binary file for storing the coordinates
  • topo: binary file for topology
  • cidx: binary category index

Note: The creation of certain files can be disabled. The -t flag suported by and disables the creation of an attribute table. The -b flag supported by and disables the creation of a topology file. This is needed and useful e.g. for very large datasets (> 3 million points). The user is expected to understand what s/he is doing.



ESRI Shapefile

A shapefile stores nontopological geometry and attribute information for the spatial features in a data set. The geometry for a feature is stored as a shape comprising a set of vector coordinates.

The following vector objects are defined:

  • Point
  • MultiPoint: a set of points
  • PolyLine: A PolyLine is an ordered set of vertices that consists of one or more parts. A part is a connected sequence of 2 or more points. Parts may or may not be connected to one another. Parts may or may not intersect one another.
  • Polygon: A polygon consists of 1 or more rings. A ring is a connected sequence of 4 or more points that form a closed, non-self-intersecting loop.
  • PointM: Point plus a Measure
  • PolyLineM: Point plus a Measure
  • PolygonM: Point plus a Measure
  • MultiPointM: MultiPoint plus a Measure
  • PointZ: PointM plus a additional z-coordinate (height)
  • PolyLineZ: PolyLineM plus z-coordinates (heights)
  • PolygonZ: PolygonM plus z-coordinates (heights)
  • MultiPointZ: MultiPointM plus additional z-coordinates (heights)
  • MultiPatch: A MultiPatch consists of a number of surface patches. Each surface patch describes a



OpenGIS Simple Features

is a nontopological standard implemented by e.g. OGR and PostGIS, etc..

  • Point
  • LineString
  • Polygon
  • Multipoint
  • Multipolygon
  • GeomCollection




is a nontopological W3C standard. The following vector objects are defined:

  • line
  • polyline
  • rect: defines a rectangle
  • circle
  • ellipse
  • polygon


Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) 1.1 Specification