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The ability to query and retrieve data based on some user defined criteria is a necessary feature of the data storage and retrieval subsystem.

Data retrieval involves the capability to easily select data for graphic or attribute editing, updating, querying, analysis and/or display.

The ability to retrieve data is based on the unique structure of the DBMS and command interfaces are commonly provided with the software. Most GIS software also provides a programming subroutine library, or macro language, so the user can write their own specific data retrieval routines if required.

Querying is the capability to retrieve data, usually a data subset, based on some user defined formula. These data subsets are often referred to as logical views. Often the querying is closely linked to the data manipulation and analysis subsystem. Many GIS software offerings have attempted to standardize their querying capability by use of a Standard Query Language (SQL). This is especially true with systems that make use of an external relational DBMS. Through the use of SQL, GIS software can interface to a variety of different DBMS packages. This approach provides the user with the flexibility to select their own DBMS. This has direct implications if the organization has an existing DBMS that is being used for to satisfy other business requirements. Often it is desirable for the same DBMS to be utilized in the GIS applications. This notion of integrating the GIS software to utilize an existing DBMS through standards is referred to as corporate or enterprise GIS. With the migration of GIS technology from being a research tool to being a decision support tool there is a requirement for it to be totally integrated with existing corporate activities, including accounting, reporting, and business functions.

There is a definite trend in the GIS marketplace towards a generic interface with external relational DBMS's. The use of an external DBMS, linked via a SQL interface, is becoming the norm. A flexibility as such is a strong selling point for any GIS. SQL is quickly becoming a standard in the GIS software marketplace.