Besides shape and location there is much more to a feature. Attribute data can contain information about a shape including its name (countries, towns etc), its length (roads, rivers etc), its perimeter and area (lakes, county boundaries etc), population, employment and environment data are often included. In fact there is no limit to the amount and variation of relevant data that can be linked to features within a map. This data is stored in tables which are linked to specific layers within the GIS. This data is referred to as attribute data and consists of records (rows) for each feature in the layer and fields (columns) for type of information within the table.
If you highlight a feature on your map, such as a country within a map of the world, you will also highlight a corresponding record within the attribute data table. In the same way, if you highlight a record within the attribute data table you will highlight that feature within the map. Most GIS will allow you to then automatically zoom in to the area of the highlighted record within the map window.
Because there is a link between features and attribute data it is possible to ask questions about data in the attribute data table and then have the information show within the map window. If you have appropriate population information you could find out where population is highest within the world.
Similarly, information on climate, energy and many other important factors can be better understood through the creation of thematic maps. These maps use colours and symbols applied to features to reflect their attribute data.
If you would like to further explore how GIS could help your organisation jps services offers one and two day training courses in QGIS, ArcGIS and MapInfo.