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4.1.1.2 Column-oriented FITS

As well as normal binary and ASCII FITS tables, STIL supports FITS files which contain tabular data stored in column-oriented format. This means that the table is stored in a BINTABLE extension HDU, but that BINTABLE has a single row, with each cell of that row holding a whole column's worth of data. The final (slowest-varying) dimension of each of these cells (declared via the TDIMn header cards) is the same, namely, the number of rows in the table that is represented. The point of this is that all the cells of a given column are stored contiguously, which for very large, and especially very wide tables means that certain access patterns (basically, ones which access only a small proportion of the columns in a table) can be much more efficient since they require less I/O overhead in reading data blocks.

Such tables are perfectly legal FITS files, but most non-STIL software will probably not recognise them as tables in the usual way. This format is mostly intended for the case where you have a large table in some other format (possibly the result of an SQL query) and you wish to cache it in a way which can be read efficiently by a STIL-based application.

Like normal FITS, two variants are supported; with (colfits-plus) and without (colfits-basic) metadata stored as a VOTable byte array in the primary HDU.

For performance reasons, it is advisable to access colfits files uncompressed on disk. Reading them from a remote URL, or in gzipped form, may be rather slow (in earlier versions it was not supported at all).


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TOPCAT - Tool for OPerations on Catalogues And Tables
Starlink User Note253
TOPCAT web page: http://www.starlink.ac.uk/topcat/
Author email: m.b.taylor@bristol.ac.uk
Mailing list: topcat-user@jiscmail.ac.uk