How to get data into Whitebox

By John Lindsay, Ph.D. (Last modified, May 2013)

Having a powerful GIS at your disposal is no good unless you have data to analyze. One of the most common problems when starting a new project is getting data into Whitebox. So how do you do that?

Whitebox's native vector format is the Shapefile (.shp). The Shapefile is widely used within the ESRI software platform and is also seen quite commonly in other GIS communities as well. In fact, because it is an open format, often government agencies will distribute their vector GIS data in Shapefile format. As such, there is generally no need to import vector data into Whitebox, although there are some vector import tools available in the 'Data Import/Export' toolbox, e.g. for importing well-known text (WKT), and the TAS vector format. If you are using a software package that does not use the Shapefile format as its native vector format, it is quite likely that it has an export tool that will allow you to convert it into a Shapefile.

Whitebox's native raster file format is is called a Whitebox Raster and it is different than other formats that you have encountered for raster data in other GIS and remote sensing products. This means that you have to import raster data from other software into Whitebox. Importantly, you only need to do this the first time that you are working with new data. Converting a file to Whitebox Raster format is accomplished in one of two ways. Many of the supported raster data formats that can be ingested by Whitebox can be imported simply by selecting the 'Add Layer' button. If your data is in a format that is supported by this quick style import, it will appear in the list of files within the working directory, and you simply need to select it. Whitebox will then automatically call the appropriate import tool, convert the raster to a Whitebox Raster, and display the newly created Whitebox Raster file. Notice that you can select multiple files to import using this method. Alternatively, spatial data files can be converted to native Whitebox formats using the tools within the 'Data Import/Export' toolbox. This toolbox contains tools for converting some of the most common GIS data formats. At present the number of data formats that can be imported using these import tools is greater than the number that can be converted the the 'Add Layer' functionality, with the limitation being the uniquness of the file extension. That is, if a data format has a non-unique file extension (e.g. *.txt or *.asc) then it likely will not be included in the list of supported formats for quick import via the 'Add Layer' operation.

The question that I get asked more than any other is, 'how do I get my raster data from ESRI's ArcGIS into Whitebox?', probably because of the ubiquity of this software in GIS workshops. So it's worth describing how you can do this in detail here. You can exchange raster data between ArcGIS and Whitebox either in ASCII (i.e. text) or binary format. The preferred method is binary because these data are smaller (therefore the import/export operations are quicker) and because it does not significantly alter the original data. The tool for importing ArcGIS rasters is called Import ArcGIS Binary Grid This is the best and easiest way to import raster files from ArcGIS. Floating-point grid files consist of a header file (.hdr) and data files (.flt). The tool can run in batch mode, importing multiple files at one time. Output file names are the same of the input files and are contained within the same directory. Use the Raster to Float tool in the 'Conversion Tools' toolbox of ArcGIS to create floating-point grid files from your ArcGIS raster files.