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Types of Spatial Data

Excerpt by Don Kiely

SQL Server includes two spatial data types-Geometry and Geography-that encapsulate the database's support for spatial data. Each data type includes pretty much the same point, line, shape, and collection objects, as well as rich sets of methods and properties for working with these shapes. Figure below shows the hierarchy of available objects. The way this works is that you define a field or variable as either the Geometry or Geography data type, then assign to that field or variable data that describes the point, line, shape, or collection you want to store.

The yellow/lighter objects shown in the figure are abstract objects, while the blue/darker objects are concrete objects that you can store in the spatial data type. The only difference between the Geometry and Geography object hierarchies is that in Geography there is a FullGlobe object that represents the complete surface of the earth. This is shown in Figure below in a lighter color and dashed line because it is not part of the Geometry object hierarchy.

TypeofSpatialimg1 The shapes defined by the various spatial objects are vector objects, which are collections of points, lines, curves, polygons, and compound curves. You're likely to use the following spatial objects most often to store and manipulate within SQL Server:

  • Point: Identified by a pair of coordinates as an exact location as X and Y coordinates, but can also include Z (elevation) and M (measure). SQL Server doesn't use the Z and M coordinates, but lets you store the data so that client applications can use them.
  • LineString: A path along a sequence of points. It is a one-dimensional shape: it has length but no area, even if multiple connected LineStrings look like a closed shape. The LineString is simple if it doesn't cross itself, or a ring if the starting point is the same as the ending point.
  • CircularString: Similar to a LineString, but defines a curve as a portion of a circle instead of a straight line.
  • Polygon: A closed 2-dimensional shape; a ring. A polygon has both a length property and an area. It can have holes in its interior, the shapes of which are defined by other, smaller polygons. The area of a hole is excluded from the area of the outer polygon.

You can also create collections of these basic shapes, including a MultiPoint, MultiLineString, and MultiPolygon, each of which can contain only the specified shapes. If you need a collection of any type of shape, including the multi-shapes, you can use a GeomCollection. This makes it easy to work with groups of shapes as a single unit. The Geography and Geometry data types are .NET classes implemented as system SQLCLR objects with several dozens of methods.

Many of the methods, about two-thirds, have names that start with the prefix ST, such as STArea, STLength, STDistance, and STGeomFromText. These ST methods are implementations of Open Geophysical Consortium standard methods (the ST stands for spatiotemporal). These methods provide the most commonly used, basic features for working with spatial data. Microsoft also added some custom extension methods to the objects to support features not part of the OGC standards. These method names don't have the ST prefix, such as Parse, ToString, and Reduce.

The nice thing about the Geography and Geometry data types is that they share a lot of methods that work the same across the two types. The main difference is that with the Geography type you'll use latitude and longitude coordinates but with the Geometry type you'll generally use x and y coordinates.

ldn-expertdkielyThis post is an excerpt from the online courseware for our Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Developer course written by expert Don Kiely.



Don Kiely
Don Kiely is a featured instructor on many of our SQL Server and Visual Studio courses. He is a nationally recognized author, instructor, and consultant specializing in Microsoft technologies. Don has many years of teaching experience, is the author or co-author of several programming books, and has spoken at many industry conferences and user groups. In addition, Don is a consultant for a variety of companies that develop distributed applications for public and private organizations.


This course excerpt was originally posted November 25, 2013 from the online courseware SQL 2012 Developer, Part 09 of 13: Advanced Data Types by Don Kiely

SQL Server