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Geospatial Standards and Operational Policies

Geospatial operational policies and standards facilitate the development, sharing and use of geospatial data. Please see our fact sheet on geospatial standards and policies.

What are geospatial operational policies?

Geospatial operational policies are a broad range of practical instruments such as guidelines, best practices, directives, procedures and manuals that address topics related to the lifecycle of geospatial information (i.e., collection, management, dissemination, and use) and help facilitate access to and use of location-based information. These policies apply to the day-to-day business of organizations and address legal and administrative requirements, and make issues such as data access, quality, ownership and integrity easier to manage.

Importance of geospatial operational policies

Geospatial operational policies are essential to eliminating barriers and enabling users to exchange location-based information effectively and efficiently. Technology and standards have removed many of the technical barriers to sharing geospatial data. However, some operational policies have not kept pace with the demands of a changing environment. New practical instruments on key topics that impact geospatial information are needed to promote data exchange and integration and to ensure that social and economic decisions are taken with the benefit of the best available information.

The following key policy topics and trends impact spatial data infrastructures:

Legal/Administrative Technological/Trends
  • Ethical Legal Practices
  • Confidential, Secure, and Sensitive Information
  • Privacy
  • Intellectual Property
  • Licensing
  • Data Sharing
  • Liability
  • Archiving and Preservation
  • Data Quality
  • Open Data
  • Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI)
  • Open Source Software
  • Web 2.0 and the GeoWeb
  • Cloud Computing
  • Mobile and Location-based Services
  • High Resolution Imagery
  • Mass Market Geomatics
  • Data Integration

Operational Policy Documents:

Protected Information

  • Confidential information
  • Sensitive Information
  • Private information
  • Intellectual Property

Access, Management and Dissemination

  • Archiving and Preservation
  • Data Integration
  • Data Sharing
  • Licensing
  • Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI)
  • Cloud Computing
  • Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)
  • Licensing

What are geospatial standards?

Technical and data standards allow diverse data sources, services, applications and systems to operate with each other. The harmonization of standards is fundamental to ensuring the efficient exchange of location-based information. Standards for geospatial interoperability provide consistent and interoperable patterns for creating, reproducing, updating and maintaining geographic information and services for decision-makers in the public and private sectors, and for all Canadians. Standards have been developed to address specific interoperability challenges. Geospatial standards are technical documents that detail interfaces or encodings. Software developers and data producers use these documents to build open interfaces and encodings into their products and services. The standards also provide an indicator of quality, including the structure for encoding metadata to help identify geospatial data.

Geographic information standards provide digital coding to locate and describe features on, above or below the Earth’s surface. Geographically-related features can be naturally occurring (for example: rivers, rock formations, coastlines), man-made (for example: dams, buildings, radio towers, roads) or intrinsic, implied and transient information(for example: political boundaries, electoral districts, weather systems, distribution of population ethnicity). Technology standards allow different systems and services to work together through standard interfaces. Ideally, when the standards are implemented in products or online services independently, the resulting components ‘plug-and-play’, that is, they work together seamlessly.

Importance of geospatial standards

Standards facilitate the development, sharing, and use of geospatial data. The more standardized the structure and content of information, the more effectively it can be accessed, exchanged and used by both humans and machines. Standards are necessary for facilitating robust, open transfer of spatial data packages between platforms, especially in a varied network of computers that are managing a diverse range of spatial data stores and data types. Standards provide key benefits such as encouraging innovation, improving efficiency, reducing transaction costs, increasing transparency and allowing international compatibility for the marketplace.

List of compliant standards

The following list of standards are described and used in the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI), and aim to provide consistent and interoperable patterns for creating, reproducing, updating and maintaining mapping information for decision-makers in the public and private sectors, and for all Canadians.

The key types of standards that impact spatial data infrastructures are:


In the content of geospatial data, semantics refers to the meaning and structure of concepts used to represent various geographic phenomena. Standards in this category provide information on the properties of the datasets as well as their context.

  • Digital geospatial metadata captures the basic characteristics of a geographic data or information resource, and represents the who, what, when, where, why and how of the resource. More information on digital geospatial metadata...

  • North American Profile of ISO19115:2003 - Geographic Information - Metadata was prepared to meet the specific geographic needs of data producers and users in Canada and the U.S. More information on NAP...

Syntax and Encodings

The syntax of geospatial information relates to how the information is coded to allow communication between systems. The syntax is the encoding format used for the transfer and the visualization of geographic data.

Rules in encoding standards allow spatial information defined in an application schema to be coded into a system-independent data structure suitable for transport or storage. Encoding rules specify the types of data to be coded, and the syntax, structure and coding schemes used in the resulting data structure, which may be stored on digital media or transferred using transfer protocols.

  • Geography Markup Language (GML) is an XML application that provides a specialized vocabulary for working with geographic data. The main purpose of GML is to provide a standard means for representing information about geospatial features. More information on GML...

  • GeoRSS provides a way to encode location in RSS and Atom feeds. It allows users to perform geographic searches on feeds, or to map information found in feeds. More information on GeoRSS...

  • Keyhole Markup Language is an XML language for expressing geographic annotation and visualization within Internet-based, two-dimensional maps and three-dimensional Earth browsers. More information on KML...

  • A Styled Layer Descriptor (SLD) provides a map-styling protocol for communicating with an OGC® Web Map Service (WMS) about the appearance of map layers. More information on SLD...

  • Symbology Encoding (SE) specifies the format of a map-styling language that can be applied to digital feature and coverage data to produce geo-referenced maps with user-defined styling. More information Symbology Encoding...


Standards for web services provide capabilities for manipulating, transforming, managing, or presenting geographic information. The goals of web service interoperability are to provide seamless and automatic connections from one software application to another and the seamless flow of data between web-based applications and services. Web services encapsulate linguistic resources and tools and combine them in a common service-oriented architecture.

  • A Web Map Service (WMS) defines an interface that allows a client to get maps of geospatial data and gain detailed information on specific features shown on the map. More information on WMS...

  • A Web Feature Service (WFS) allows a client to perform data manipulation operations on one or more geographic features. WFS offers direct fine-grained access to geographic information at the feature and feature property level. More information on WFS...

  • A Web Processing Service (WPS) provides access to calculations or models which operate on spatially referenced data. More information on WPS...

  • Catalogue Services for the Web (CSW) provide a registry service to support the ability to publish and search collections of descriptive information (metadata) for data, services, and related information objects. More information on CSW...

  • A Table Joining Service (TJS) defines a simple way to describe and exchange tabular data that contains information about geographic objects. More information on TJS...

  • A Web Map Context (WMC) document specifies how a grouping of one or more maps coming from one or more Web Map Services servers can be described in a portable, platform-independent format for storage in a repository or for transmission between clients. More information on WMC...

  • A Web Map Tile Service (WMTS) provides access to cartographic maps of geo-referenced data. More information on WMTS...

  • A Web Coverage Service (WCS) defines a standard interface and operations that enable interoperable access to geospatial coverages consisting of intact, raw data. More information on WCS...

  • The Filter Encoding Standard provides XML and KVP encoding of a system-neutral syntax for expressing projection, selection and sorting clauses, collectively called a query (or filter) expression. More information on Filter Encoding...

  • A Gazetteer is an online "dictionary" of geospatial words or terms, with or without applicable feature geometries. The Gazetteer Service can be used to relate place names to stored geometry. More information on the Gazetteer Service...

Who are the key players that influence geospatial standards in Canada?

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