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Earth observation data cubes from GDAL image collections
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gdalcubes - Earth observation data cubes from GDAL image collections

Build Status

gdalcubes is a library to represent collections of Earth Observation (EO) images as on demand data cubes (or multidimensional arrays). Users define data cubes by spatiotemporal extent, resolution, and spatial reference system and let gdalcubes read only relevant parts of the data and simultaneously apply reprojection, resampling, and cropping (using gdalwarp). Data cubes may be simply exported as NetCDF files or directly streamed chunk-wise into external software such as R or Python. The library furthermore implements simple operations to reduce data cubes over time, to apply pixel-wise arithmetic expressions, and to filter by space, time, and bands.

gdalcubes is not a database, i.e., it does not need to store additional copies of the imagery but instead simply links to and indexes existing files / GDAL datasets. Using GDAL virtual file systems, it can directly access data in cloud storage and run computations in distributed environments with gdalcubes_server and Docker.

The library is written in C++ and includes a basic command line interface and an R package. A python package is planned for the future. gdalcubes is licensed under the MIT license.

Core features:

  • Create image collections that link to and index existing imagery from local files or cloud storage
  • Read multitemporal, multispectral image collections as on demand data cubes with desired spatiotemporal resolution, extent, and map projection
  • Abstract from complexities in the data like different map projections for adjacent images and different resolutions for different bands
  • Stream chunks of data cubes to external programs (e.g. R, python)
  • Scale computations on data cubes in distributed environments with gdalcubes_server and Docker (yet experimental)


Installation from sources

gdalcubes uses CMake and can be compiled with a typical CMake workflow as listed below.

git clone && cd gdalcubes
mkdir -p build 
cd build 
sudo make install

You might need to install a few libraries before compiling gdalcubes successfully. On Ubuntu apt install libgdal-dev libnetcdf-dev libcurl4-openssl-dev libsqlite3-dev will install all libraries needed to compile the core gdalcubes library. If you want to compile the command line interface, you will furthermore need apt install libboost-program-options-dev libboost-system-dev and running gdalcubes as a server additionally requires apt install libcpprest-dev.

Docker image

This repository includes a Docker image which you can use either to run the gdalcubes command line interface interactively or to run gdalcubes_server as a service for distributed processing. The commands below demonstrate how to build the image and run a container. Notice that the image builds GDAL from sources, which might take up to 30 minutes.

git clone && cd gdalcubes 
docker build -t appelmar/gdalcubes .
docker run -d -p 11111:1111 appelmar/gdalcubes # runs gdalcubes_server as a deamon 
docker run appelmar/gdalcubes /bin/bash # get a command line where you can run gdalcubes 

R package

The gdalcubes R package is hosted on It includes a Dockerfile that runs RStudio Server with the gdalcubes R package.


More detailed information can be found at the documentation page under


The library is still in an early development version. Major changes are possible to make gdalcubes more user-friendly, more stable, faster, and more robust. The documentation is also preliminary and not yet complete.


gdalcubes uses the following open source libraries. Detailed licensing and copyright information can be found at and in LICENSE_THIRDPARTY.

GDAL: A translator library for raster and vector geospatial data formats

json: JSON for Modern C++

SQLite: A self-contained, high-reliability, embedded, full-featured, public-domain, SQL database engine

CURL: Command line tool and library for transferring data with URLs

TinyExpr: A very small recursive descent parser and evaluation engine for math expressions

netCDF: The Unidata network Common Data Form C library

tiny-process-library: A small platform independent library making it simple to create and stop new processes in C++

Catch2: A modern, C++-native, header-only, test framework for unit-tests, TDD and BDD

Date: A date and time library based on the C++11/14/17 header




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