In the buzz about what will replace the shapefile, many people are talking about a portable database being a good option. SQLite is a very flexible portable database with quite a few fans here at Safe. The format is free, light-weight, and powerful enough to be used in some very high-profile applications, such as the iPhone, Firefox, and Google Desktop. FME has support for both reading and writing SQLite databases, but the spatial world has been excited lately with the advent of two new extensions to SQLite which add spatial capabilities.
Spatialite is an interesting tool which adds some very powerful tools to sqlite. In addition to providing support for storing geometries, it also has some network tools which can be used directly within sqlite. FME currently does not support spatialite, but it is certainly on our radar for the future.
SQLite Spatial, as it seems to be un-officially called, is a similar tool for working with spatial data in SQLite. Jason Birch posted a walkthrough for using SQLite Spatial with FME through an FDO provider a few months ago, and very recently we have started shipping the SQLite FDO provider with FME. This means you no longer need to install anything other than FME to get access to this format. In the near future, we will even push the FDO setup steps in Jason’s walkthrough behind the scenes, making it work like any other format in FME!
Update: Well that was fast. Just after posting, a new FME beta was released which includes full support for SQLite Spatial (FDO) without needing to manually set-up an FDO connection. Get it at www.safe.com/beta.
Both of these formats show great promise for a future of powerful, open data formats for GIS professionals to use. These formats give a user access to multiple tables, and even simple spatial querying in a single file-based database. Additionally, unlike a shapefile, SQLite is a fairly common format outside the gis world, which makes sharing complex data sets even easier. Are these SQLite extensions a harbinger of things to come in the industry? We can only hope!