Data Warehouse vs. Project Folder Structure

The foundation of a strong Geographic Information System is its file storage structure. When the structure is logical and well labeled it allows users to easily access and add new data. Taking the time to properly organize your files, while considering your potential future needs, will save you time in not having to reorganize/rename them in the future (but be sure to include documentation!). When creating your GIS & Mapping folder structure it is important to make your data easily and quickly located, this involves have a logical structure, clear labeling, and limiting your folder levels (best practices is four).

There are two main components of a well-designed GIS file storage structure; the project folders and the Data Warehouse. The project folders contains all project specific files including data that has been obtained, created, or edited for a particular project. In comparison, the Data Warehouse holds all the generic/public data that has been obtained without sharing agreements and may be used for all future projects.


Figure 1: example GIS File storage structure with four folder levels

Project Folder Organization

Project folders should be stored under the appropriate department/client folder (the name will commonly include a project code). Within this structure a typical project folder should contain the following  folders (note that the following folder structure assumes the user is using ESRI products):

  • MXDs: Contains all ArcMap document files (.mxd) associated with the project.
  • Documentation: Contains all necessary documentation associated with the project, such as Microsoft Word (.docx) or Excel (.xlsx) documents.
  • Map_Images: Contains exported map image files created for the project.
  • Spatial or Spatial.gdb: Folder or file geodatabase that contains all shapefiles, raster files, layer files and any other spatial information created or used in the project.
  • Potential additional folders:
    • Received Files
    • Administration
    • Images

Data Warehouse Organization

Establishing a comprehensive spatial data warehouse of publically accessible data will make all your future projects easier. Using Data BC, GeoGratis, and other open data sources (both within and outside of Canada), Inlailawatash maintains many gigabytes of organized and up-to-date spatial data. Following a strict set of guidelines we are able to easily locate, track, and download data. Here is a snap shot of its organization!


*This graphic was created in Tree Viz,  a program which allows you to visualize a large data structure within a short time.

Check out Populating & Maintaining Your Data Warehouse for more information

-Allison Hunt