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* SDTS Translators
* SDTS White Papers
* DEMs and DEM Resources

Everything You Want To Know About SDTS!

SDTS - The Spatial Data Transfer Standard - It gives many GIS users and GeoCommunity visitors a head ache! We've attempted to to help the community by gathering together a number of resources that we feel will help you to work with SDTS data.

Do you work with SDTS formatted data on a daily basis? If you're interested in offering up an article, download/utility, white paper, or tutorial we'd be glad to add it to this collection of resources. Please contact to help us add to the collection of material listed here.
Purpose of SDTS -- The purpose of the SDTS is to promote and facilitate the transfer of digital spatial data between dissimilar computer systems, while preserving information meaning and minimizing the need for information external to the transfer. Implementation of SDTS is of significant interest to users and producers of digital spatial data because of the potential for increased access to and sharing of spatial data, the reduction of information loss in data exchange, the elimination of the duplication of data acquisition, and the increase in the quality and integrity of spatial data. SDTS is neutral, modular, growth-oriented, extensible, and flexible--all characteristics of an "open systems" standard. (From the USGS)

User Poll - View the results of a recent GeoCommunity poll that asked visitors the following, Which Data Format Gives you the most head-aches? View Results

SDTS Resources, Articles, and Features

  • Slaying the SDTS Dragon - Covered on these pages are a number of notes on taking SDTS format data and converting it to a format that can be more easily used in GIS software. The emphasis is on DLG format and ESRI format data, both of which are used by many GIS programs.

  • What is SDTS? - This detailed document from the USGS explains the SDTS data format

  • SDTS Tutorial - Retrieving and Unpacking SDTS Data Tutorial and Users Manual

  • SDTS Standards - Overview of the SDTS Document

  • SDTS Translation - Paper from the USGS published in 1999. This document is an explanation of procedures for translating USGS SDTS data into a form your GIS may be able to use. The document covers the following:
    -SDTS DEM's to ASCII XYZ files that can be imported into ARC/INFO
    -SDTS DLG's to MapInfo MIF

  • SDTS Paper from USGS - Everything you wanted to know about SDTS but were afraid to ask!

  • For ArcView 3.2 users - Article "Use Raster to Grid Utility to Model SDTS Format DEM Data" from the January 2000 issue of ArcUser.

  • SAFE Software SDTS Translator - Safe Software, Inc. announces that it has added reading support for Spatial Data Transfer Standard (SDTS). This allows SDTS data to be read directly into any application using FME Objects. Alternatively, SDTS data can be translated into any of the over forty GIS, CAD and database formats supported by Safe's stand-alone FME spatial data translation products.

  • Converting STDS DEMs for use in WCS, by R Scott Cherba - A tutorial and downloads offered up by the makers of the World Construction Set.

  • ArcUser - Article "Using Image Data in ArcView GIS". An excellent primer on using imagery by Monica Pratt, ArcUser editor.

  • ArcUser - Article "Converting and Using SDTS DEM Data". This article tells how to locate, download, and process 1:24,000-scale digital elevation model (DEM) data in Spatial Data Transfer Standard (SDTS) format.

  • ArcUser - Article "Using 1:250,000 Scale DEM Data. This article describes how to download, import, reproject, and merge 1:250,000-scale digital elevation model (DEM) data

  • ArcUser - Article "Finding Data for 3D Terrain Modeling". Mike Price, ESRI Mining Industry Solutions Manager, gives a detailed discussion about using and acquiring USGS DLG data.

  • GeoMorph v2.0 - Integrating SDTS Datasets Into GIS Packages For The Novice User by Shelley L. Silch (DRAFT - May, 1998). This Paper references the outdated AML (sdtshelp.aml). The Paper will; however, be of assistance to users who download the AML available below in the downloads.

  • SDTS Support Software for Programmers - The USGs has provided an area to offer support for programmers and developers.

SDTS Downloads

  • SDTS Translators - Our popular free software downloads section serves up a number of SDTS related utilities including SDTS2MIF, SDTS2SHP, SDTS2DXF and many more. This is a good starting point.
  • ARC/INFO AML: sdts2cov.aml (version 2.2 01/14/00) - This AML will import, build, and attach attributes to their features. It is intended for use with 1:24K, 1:100K and 1:2M vector DLG/SDTS datasets ONLY. This routine is not applicable for the DEM/SDTS data, as they are raster data. Version 2.2 contains several bug fixes to the previous version 2.0 View the ReadMe
  • MGE - SDTS Translator - Translate any valid SDTS transfer into an MGE project; Translate an MGE Project into SDTS format and create the necessary metadata; View and edit the metadata associated with an SDTS transfer; Use data from other vendors who have access to SDTS format ; Provide data to other vendors which support SDTS-formatted data.
  • BLM Downloads - This popular site hosts the BLM DEM and DLG SDTS translation tools.
  • dlgv32 - Windows 95 software for viewing USGS Digital Line Graph Optional (DLG-O), Digital Raster Graphic (DRG) data, and Spatial Data Transfer Standard (SDTS) data. User Manual and Tutorial
  • Golden Software has six products available for free demo download (Surfer, Grapher, Voxler, MapViewer, Didger, and Strater) here: Surfer, Grapher, MapViewer, and Didger have the ability to directly import and read SDTS native .DDF files.
    Golden Software also has a Surfer Frequently Asked Question (FAQ #50) about how to import SDTS .DDF files with attributes available for the public. This can be found here:
  • GRASS - The Corps has included SDTS translation in the GRASS software. SDTS-related information and software can be downloaded from the GRASS FTP site (ftp The sdts.README, sdts.r2.tar.Z, sdts_dsets.tar.Z and files are all available. Note that these programs are for vector data transfer only. GRASS can be downloaded via FTP at

Fact sheets from the USGS

If you develop SDTS related products, scripts, extensions, or translators and would like to make them available to the public, please send e-mail to or

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