File formats

Can your colleague - working in a different technical environment, and with different software - easily access your data? What demands does future software put on your data? Think carefully about storing your research data in a file format that permits easy access.

When you collect data, you will choose software to store and analyse your data. If you want to exchange data with others or if you want to use data at a later stage these proprietary formats may cause problems. Software versions also change, and if your colleagues don't have a license for your chosen software, the files are useless to them.

Therefore, when choosing a file format consider the following:

  • Consider whether you could use an open standard. For open formats all format details are public, everyone can read them. Open file formats can be easily exchanged, but they will lack some of the specific functionality that is proprietary to a software product.
  • Some proprietary formats have become ad-hoc standards in certain files like PDF of ESRI Shapefiles. For example, the ESRI shapefile is a vector data format for geospatial data. It is a (mostly) open specification for data interoperability among ESRI and other GIS software products (ArcGis). Even though some ad-hoc standards are too big to fail, other ad-hoc standards have changed. For example Adobe Flash has been widely used for moving image, but it is now becoming obsolete and Adobe is not developing further. When choosing an ad-hoc standard be aware that it may change.
  • Data repositories give lists of recommended file formats that you should use when you want to publish data through them. These lists can help select the format for data exchange during your work. DANS and 4TU.Centre for Research Data - the datarepositories where Wageningen University & Research deposits some of its datasets have the following lists of preferred formats:

Preferred file formats for publishing data at DANS

Preferred file formats for publishing data at 4TU.Centre for Research Data