RFC 87: Signed int8 data type for raster


Even Rouault


even.rouault @ spatialys.com




Adopted and implemented


GDAL 3.7


This RFC describes the addition of a new GDT_Int8 data type, for signed 8-bit integer data, to the GDALDataType enumeration.


RFC 14: Image Structure Metadata introduced in GDAL 1.5.0 a way of specifying that a 8-bit integer should be interpreted as signed, by (ab)using the GDT_Byte type, with the addition of the PIXELTYPE=SIGNEDBYTE metadata item in the IMAGE_STRUCTURE metadata domain of bands for which this is desired.

While this approach avoided the introduction of a new data type, which has consequences internally in the GDAL code base at all places where a "switch" is done on a GDALDataType variable, as well as impact on external code using GDAL, this historical approach had the following shortcomings:

  • drivers that need to support reading signed 8-bit integers must remind to expose the PIXELTYPE=SIGNEDBYTE metadata item.

  • drivers that need to support writing signed 8-bit integers must provide a creation option for that purpose (generally called PIXELTYPE=SIGNEDBYTE itself).

  • but more importantly, the absence of a proper data type means that it is easy to forget to test the PIXELTYPE=SIGNEDBYTE metadata item in all places where the value of pixels is taken into account. There were special cases for statistics computations, but most of the other code, such as the overview or warping computation code had no provision for it, and consequently mis-interpreted negative values in the range [-128,-1] as positive values in the range [128,255].


A new GDT_Int8 = 14 item is added to the GDALDataType enumeration.

It is taken into account in all places in gcore/ and alg/ that have specific behavior depending on the value of GDALDataType. All places that only dealt specifically with a subset of types (e.g Byte, Float32) and promoted other types to the closest one will automatically have proper support for the new data type (e.g overview computation).

Existing drivers that, on reading, reported GDT_Byte + PIXELTYPE=SIGNEDBYTE are modified to report GDT_Int8. This has backward compatibility impact to external code. This affects the EEDAI, ERS, GTA, GTiff, HFA, netCDF, PostGISRaster, EHDR, RRaster, Rasterlite2 and Zarr drivers.

Existing drivers that, on writing, accepted the PIXELTYPE=SIGNEDBYTE, are modified to accept GDT_Int8 as a valid data type in their Create()/CreateCopy() implementations, and advertise "GDT_Int8" in their GDAL_DMD_CREATIONDATATYPES metadata item. The PIXELTYPE=SIGNEDBYTE creation option is kept but deprecated and discouraged: working with it prior to this RFC was clunky at times, and will remain such.

The MEM, HDF4, HDF5, KEA and PDS4 drivers are extended to support GDT_Int8 on reading (and writing, except HDF5 that is read-only).


The GDT_Int8 constant is made available in SWIG bindings.

The numpy interface of the Python bindings is modified to map GDT_Int8 to numpy.int8.

Backward compatibility

The PIXELTYPE=SIGNEDBYTE band metadata item in IMAGE_STRUCTURE is no longer reported. Code that depended on it needs to switch testing for GDT_Int8. Code that has "switch"-like constructs on GDALDataType must also account for GDT_Int8.


Documentation of utilities that have a -ot switch is modified to mention Int8.

RFC 14: Image Structure Metadata will be amended to point to this RFC, and mention that starting with GDAL 3.7.0, PIXELTYPE=SIGNEDBYTE is no longer the technical solution.


The test_gdal.cpp and testcopywords.cpp test files are extended to test functions like GDALDataTypeIsInteger(), GDALDataTypeIsFloating(), GDALDataTypeIsComplex(), etc. and all data type conversion combinations from/into GInt8.

Parts of autotest, in driver specific tests, that were testing GByte + PIXELTYPE=SIGNEDBYTE on reading or writing are adapted to the new technical solution.

Voting history

+1 from KurtS, JukkaR, MateuszL and EvenR