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What Is a Map?

Mapping Toolbox™ software manipulates electronic representations of geographic data. It lets you import, create, use, and present geographic data in various forms and to various ends. In the digital network era, it is easy to think of geospatial data as maps and maps as data, but you should take care to note the differences between these concepts.

The simplest (although perhaps not the most general) definition of a map is a representation of geographic data. Most people today generally think of maps as two-dimensional; to the ancient Egyptians, however, maps first took the form of lists of place names in the order they would be encountered when following a given road. Today such a list would be considered as map data rather than as a map. When most people hear the word "map" they tend to visualize two-dimensional renditions such as printed road, political, and topographic maps, but even classroom globes and computer graphic flight simulation scenes are maps under this definition.

In this toolbox, map data is any variable or set of variables representing a set of geographic locations, properties of a region, or features on a planet's surface, regardless of how large or complex the data is, or how it is formatted. Such data can be rendered as maps in a variety of ways using the functions and user interfaces provided.