QDPX – The Universal Project Exchange Format for Qualitative Data

ATLAS.ti understands the necessity of re-using research results for processing and publication in other applications. It therefore sports the widest range of export and reporting facilities of any QDA package.

  1. ATLAS.ti and QDPX
  2. What is QDPX?
  3. Why is QDPX Great for You?
  4. How is the QDPX format used?
  5. Limitations of QDPX
  6. QDPX and ATLAS.ti


A Word from ATLAS.ti Founder and CEO, Thomas Muhr

We are very excited to see that–after fifteen years of ATLAS.ti being the only manufacturer to steadfastly champion universal data exchange–other software makers are now coming around to seeing the benefit of not holding users’ data hostage any longer.

ATLAS.ti responded to the wishes of researchers early on by offering an open, application-independent export format for universal use. This long-standing commitment to academic openness and the free flow of ideas is now being recognized as an important value in itself.

I am convinced that being able to move projects seamlessly between different applications will be of great benefit to the research community. We are extremely proud to have been pioneers of this movement, and we are looking forward to the many advancements it will bring!

BTW, here is an article from 2000 (!) that already describes the basic vision that has guided us in this area.

What is QDPX?

ATLAS.ti is a founding member of the Rotterdam Exchange Format Initiative (REFI), the consortium that designs and governs the interoperability standard QDPX. At the heart of the matter, QDPX is an XML-based structured data format that permits not only long-term product storage and product-independent archival of qualitative research projects, but also aims at the exchange of projects between different software products.

ATLAS.ti has long championed the idea of universal exchangeability of qualitative research data between different applications and was the first manufacturer to introduce a full XML project export in their software as early as 2004. The idea of a universal data export was always a very obvious feature for us, considering the immense value that is added to data that have been processed, analyzed, and structured in the qualitative analysis process.

In the past fifteen years, we have demonstrated through many exemplary applications (many embedded in older versions of ATLAS.ti) what kinds of additional value lies in this data and in how many different and powerful ways it be used and re-purposed–from direct transformation into visually oriented presentations formats (web pages, printable reports, ebooks) to transformation into a huge variety of data formats (e.g, .rtf, csv, sql). And despite the wide spectrum of these sample applications, they barely scratch the surface of what further powerful uses will still be possible in the future.

The most immediate benefit of QDPX quite obviously lies in the fact that it enables users of various QDA software products to migrate their research projects between different packages. As more manufacturer join the initiative and implement the new standard, its usefulness to researchers will doubtlessly grow exponentially.

Why is QDPX Great for You?

Find below some general arguments for QDPX and descriptions of some of its practical benefits:

  • Because I don’t like to be locked in a specific QDAS solution, particularly if there are problems with it; I don’t want my data to be held hostage. Interoperability nudges me through the point of sale because I’m less worried that I’ll be stuck in something I don’t like.
  • Now I can move to another software for reasons beyond my control (e.g., funding, new employer, new mandates).
  • The data and coding may be the same, but I want to use different types of output/representation/visualisation that are available in one program but not another.
  • I’m working on my dissertation and I want to use program X but my committee members are more familiar with program Y. No problem. I’ll just transfer my data over at a few key phases so they can understand and comment on the database or the output/reports. I might even be able to convince them why I want to use program X.
  • As a researcher who has become familiar with a particular CAQDAS package as a result of the product that is available to me through a site license at my institution, I need to be able to continue working with my research data in a different product if I move to an institution that has a different site license.
  • Funding bodies increasingly look favorably on proposals that involve multiple research partners. This poses issues for users working in different institutions, who are familiar with or have access to different products. As a researcher I therefore need to be able to exchange my analysis between my product and those of my co-researchers. This will significantly facilitate collaborative research. For example I want to collaborate with teams in three different countries but they are all experts in a different program. In my grant proposal I want to be able to say that this is no problem and part of the reason I should be funded.
  • Each QDAS package has its own particular strengths. Users often need to be able to undertake an analytic task which is not supported by their chosen product, or is enabled in a more appropriate way for their needs in another product. As a researcher being able to move to an alternative product in order to undertake a specific task would facilitate higher quality research.

Visit the REFI website for more information about the data standard.

How is the QDPX format used?

You can move your projects across qualitative data analysis software by first exporting your project in QDPX format and then importing this QDPX project into the software of your choice. You can see the list of qualitative data analysis software that support the QDPX format here.

The exact instructions to export and import QDPX projects depends on the interface of each software, but we outline some examples here:

Move a project from NVivo to ATLAS.ti

  1. Open your project in NVivo
  2. From the "Share" tab, click on "Export Project" and select REFI-QDA poject, then choose a destination to save the QDPX project
  3. Open ATLAS.ti
  4. Click "Import Project" on the left-hand side of the welcome screen and select your QDPX project

Move a project from MAXQDA to ATLAS.ti

  1. Open your project in MAXQDA
  2. From the "Home" menu, click on "Save Project As" and select "REFI-QDA Project" as the file format
  3. Open ATLAS.ti
  4. Click "Import Project" on the left-hand side of the welcome screen and select your QDPX project

Move a project from ATLAS.ti to another software

  1. Open your project in ATLAS.ti
  2. Click on the "File" tab (in Windows) or the "Project" menu (in Mac)
  3. Go to "Export" and select the QDPX project format
  4. You can now import this QDPX project into another software

Limitations of QDPX

QDPX is not the same thing as a proper project bundle. .qdpx is a lowest common denominator to transfer projects between different software packages. But these products are all vastly different, meaning that not nearly all of the features of product A are available in product B. Hence, a QDPX bundle only contains items that all participating products have in common, not all items you see in a given ATLAS.ti project.


QDPX is not a cross-version transfer format. While in theory you could use QDPX to transfer projects from newer program versions to the (discontinued) ATLAS.ti 8, this is definitely not recommended, and you are doing so with a distinct loss of information–and thus at your own risk! Because of the “lowest common denominator” nature of QDPX, you lose a good deal of information when using QDPX to transfer projects from ATLAS.ti 9 to v.8 (or even earlier versions of ATLAS.ti 9 than the one you have). The information lost includes, among other things, text quotations in .pdf documents, networks, certain relations, all smart objects, and more. Most importantly, a project imported in this way in ATLAS.ti 8 cannot be merged with other, “real” ATLAS.ti projects any longer. We cannot accept responsibility for for any damage resulting from such an operation.