Shapefile Viewers

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Listed here are shapefile viewers for viewing GIS vector data in shapefile format.

What is a Shapefile?

The shapefile format also known as an Esri shapefile, is now a common format for storing GIS data.  Shapefiles stored non-topological vector data along with related attribute data.  Shapefiles store geometry in the form of point, line, and polygon data.

Developed by Esri, shapefiles can be directly read by a number of GIS software programs such as ArcGIS and QGIS.  

Despite its singular name, a shapefile is a group of at least three basic files: .shp, .shx and .dbf.  All three files must be present in the same directory for them to be viewable.   The attribute data for a shapefile is stored in the dBASE file ending with the extension .dbf. The spatial data is stored in the .shp file and the indexing information is stored in the .shx (known as the index file).

Other optional file extensions that can accompany a shapefile is the .prj file which stores map projection information.

More: What is a Shapefile?

How to View a Shapefile

Because a shapefile is a GIS data file format, a GIS software program is the most common way to load and view this data.  If you want to be able to symbolize, edit, or otherwise manipulate shapefile data, you will need a GIS software program capable of those functions.  

For those on a budget, Esri offers a personal use license for $100 per year or you can download QGIS, an open source GIS software for free.

If you simply want to be able to view the geographic and attribute data for a shapefile, there are several shapefile viewer options out there, both desktop shapefile viewers and an online shapefile viewer.

Desktop Shapefile Viewers

Esri’s ArcGIS Explorer Desktop is the most popular desktop shapefile viewer.  The software can be downloaded for free and integrates with ArcGIS Online.  ArcGIS Explorer only works on Windows OS environments.

ArcGIS Explorer from Esri.
ArcGIS Explorer from Esri.

If you’re looking for a Mac based free shapefile viewer, TNTatlas offers both a Mac and a Windows build of its data viewer.  In addition to shapefiles, TNTatlas can also viewer GeoTIFF, JP2, PNG, MrSID, DXF, and DWG file formats.

Check out the Free GIS Data Viewers page for more options.

Online Shapefile Viewer

LSI Viewer allows you to upload, view, and apply some limited symbolization to shapefiles.  The online shapefile viewer works best in Chrome or Firefox browsers.  Users must register before being able to utilize the program.


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