There are several different approaches to locating data

  1. Metadata servers typically do not hold the data as such, but function as collections of data links that help you locate the data. Metadata servers typically contain links to where you can download the data or even a WFS, WMS or JSON link you can insert directly into your GIS application (If you don’t know what wfs/wms means learn more about common data formats here).  You can see a list of recommended metadata and repository servers here. Most metadata servers apply one or more of the three internationally accepted topic lists to categorize the data. (Read about the internationally accepted topic with links to Roskilde universities metadata server) 
  2. Data repositories many organizations expose their own data in a data repository. The obvious is national mapping organizations that supply base data. But many other organizations, especially in the environmental and planning sectors also expose their data in some data repositories. Finally, you will often find public national or regional data on data warehouses that typically are called something with “opendata” such as or You can see a list of recommended metadata and repository servers here
  3. Lists of geodata sources such as the one found on
    1. Wikipedia 
    2. GISgeoagraphy 

Finally, you can always google using keywords such as Shapefile, GIS, geodata, GML or geojson

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