QGIS Planet

QGIS Print Layouts Graphs and Charts crowdfund launched!

Ever wished QGIS had a way to insert dynamic, feature rich charts and graphs directly inside print layouts? If so, our latest crowdfunding campaign has you covered! This missing feature is a large gap in QGIS printing capabilities, so we’re planning on filling that gap by exposing the powerful QGIS “Data Plotly” plugin to allow these charts to be embedded inside your layouts, and allow them to be created and modified in a simple, interactive style.

If you’re not aware of the existing capabilities of the DataPlotly plugin, here’s a quick screencast which should get you excited about the possibilities here…

QGIS is already a reporting powerhouse, and we believe that linking DataPlotly with QGIS print layouts will boost the current functionality up an order of magnitude! To make it possible we need 8600€ pledged before 30 April 2019. North Road is collaborating on this campaign with our friends at Faunalia, and development work will be shared between the two consultancy firms.

You can help make this a reality by supporting the campaign or by sharing the page and increasing exposure to the campaign. Full details about the planned functionality and how to contribute are available at the campaign page.

Announcing our SLYR (MXD to QGIS) funding drive!

One product which North Road had the chance to develop last year, and which we are super-proud of, is our SLYR ESRI style to QGIS conversion tool. If you haven’t heard of it before, this tool allows automatic conversion of ESRI .style database files to their equivalent QGIS symbology equivalent. It works well for the most part, and now we’re keen to take this to the next stage.

The good news is that North Road have been conducting extensive research and development over the past 12 months, and we’re pleased to announce our plans for extending SLYR to support ESRI LYR and MXD documents. The LYR and MXD formats are proprietary ESRI-only formats, with no public specifications allowing their use. This is a huge issue for organisations who want to move from an ESRI environment to the open geospatial world, yet are held back by hundreds (or thousands!) of existing ESRI MXD map documents and layer styles which they currently cannot utilise outside of the ESRI software ecosystem. Furthermore, many providers of spatial data only include ESRI specific layer formatting files with their data supplies. This leaves users with no means of utilising these official, pre-defined styles in non-ESRI tools.

In order for us to continue development of the SLYR tool and unlock use of LYR and MXD formats outside of ESRI tools, we are conducting a funding campaign. Sponsors of the campaign will receive access to the tools as they are developed and gain access to official support channels covering their use. At the conclusion of this drive we’ll be releasing all the tools and specifications under a free, open-source license.

You can read the full details of the campaign here, including pricing to become a project sponsor and gain access to the tools as they develop. As a campaign launch promo, we’re offering the first 10 sponsors a super-special discounted rate (as a reward for jumping on the development early).

The mockup below shows what the end goal is: seamless, fully integrated, automatic conversion of MXD and LYR files directly within the QGIS desktop application!

On custom layout checks in QGIS 3.6, and how they can do your work for you!

Recently, we had the opportunity to implement an exciting new feature within QGIS. An enterprise with a large number of QGIS installs was looking for a way to control the outputs which staff were creating from the software, and enforce a set of predefined policies. The policies were designed to ensure that maps created in QGIS’ print layout designer would meet a set of minimum standards, e.g.:

  • Layouts must include a “Copyright 2019 by XXX” label somewhere on the page
  • All maps must have a linked scale bar
  • No layers from certain blacklisted sources (e.g. Google Maps tiles) are permitted
  • Required attribution text for other layers must be included somewhere on the layout

Instead of just making a set of written policies and hoping that staff correctly follow them, it was instead decided that the checks should be performed automatically by QGIS itself. If any of the checks failed (indicating that the map wasn’t complying to the policies), the layout export would be blocked and the user would be advised what they needed to change in their map to make it compliant.

The result of this work is a brand new API for implementing custom “validity checks” within QGIS. Out of the box, QGIS 3.6 ships with two in-built validity checks. These are:

  • A check to warn users when a layout includes a scale bar which isn’t linked to a map
  • A check to warn users if a map overview in a layout isn’t linked to a map (e.g. if the linked map has been deleted)

All QGIS 3.6 users will see a friendly warning if either of these conditions are met, advising them of the potential issue.

 

The exciting stuff comes in custom, in-house checks. These are written in PyQGIS, so they can be deployed through in-house plugins or startup scripts. Let’s explore some examples to see how these work.

A basic check looks something like this:

from qgis.core import check

@check.register(type=QgsAbstractValidityCheck.TypeLayoutCheck)
def my_layout_check(context, feedback):
  results = ...
  return results

Checks are created using the @check.register decorator. This takes a single argument, the check type. For now, only layout checks are implemented, so this should be set to QgsAbstractValidityCheck.TypeLayoutCheck. The check function is given two arguments, a QgsValidityCheckContext argument, and a feedback argument. We can safely ignore the feedback option for now, but the context argument is important. This context contains information useful for the check to run — in the case of layout checks, the context contains a reference to the layout being checked. The check function should return a list of QgsValidityCheckResult objects, or an empty list if the check was passed successfully with no warnings or errors.

Here’s a more complete example. This one throws a warning whenever a layout map item is set to the web mercator (EPSG:3875) projection:

@check.register(type=QgsAbstractValidityCheck.TypeLayoutCheck)
def layout_map_crs_choice_check(context, feedback):
  layout = context.layout
  results = []
  for i in layout.items():
    if isinstance(i, QgsLayoutItemMap) and i.crs().authid() == 'EPSG:3857':
      res = QgsValidityCheckResult()
      res.type = QgsValidityCheckResult.Warning
      res.title='Map projection is misleading'
      res.detailedDescription='The projection for the map item {} is set to Web Mercator (EPSG:3857) which misrepresents areas and shapes. Consider using an appropriate local projection instead.'.format(i.displayName())
      results.append(res)

  return results

Here, our check loops through all the items in the layout being tested, looking for QgsLayoutItemMap instances. It then checks the CRS for each map, and if that CRS is ‘EPSG:3857’, a warning result is returned. The warning includes a friendly message for users advising them why the check failed.

In this example our check is returning results with a QgsValidityCheckResult.Warning type. Warning results are shown to users, but they don’t prevent users from proceeding and continuing to export their layout.

Checks can also return “critical” results. If any critical results are obtained, then the actual export itself is blocked. The user is still shown the messages generated by the check so that they know how to resolve the issue, but they can’t proceed with the export until they’ve fixed their layout. Here’s an example of a check which returns critical results, preventing layout export if there’s no “Copyright 2019 North Road” labels included on their layout:

@check.register(type=QgsAbstractValidityCheck.TypeLayoutCheck)
def layout_map_crs_choice_check(context, feedback):
  layout = context.layout
  for i in layout.items():
    if isinstance(i, QgsLayoutItemLabel) and 'Copyright 2019 North Road' in i.currentText():
      return

  # did not find copyright text, block layout export
  res = QgsValidityCheckResult()
  res.type = QgsValidityCheckResult.Critical
  res.title = 'Missing copyright label'
  res.detailedDescription = 'Layout has no "Copyright" label. Please add a label containing the text "Copyright 2019 North Road".'
  return [res]

If we try to export a layout with the copyright notice, we now get this error:

Notice how the OK button is disabled, and users are forced to fix the error before they can export their layouts.

Here’s a final example. This one runs through all the layers included within maps in the layout, and if any of them come from a “blacklisted” source, the user is not permitted to proceed with the export:

@check.register(type=QgsAbstractValidityCheck.TypeLayoutCheck)
def layout_map_crs_choice_check(context, feedback):
  layout = context.layout
  for i in layout.items():
    if isinstance(i, QgsLayoutItemMap):
      for l in i.layersToRender():
        # check if layer source is blacklisted
        if 'mt1.google.com' in l.source():
          res = QgsValidityCheckResult()
          res.type = QgsValidityCheckResult.Critical
          res.title = 'Blacklisted layer source'
          res.detailedDescription = 'This layout includes a Google maps layer ("{}"), which is in violation of their Terms of Service.'.format(l.name())
          return [res]

Of course, all checks are run each time — so if a layout fails multiple checks, the user will see a summary of ALL failed checks, and can click on each in turn to see the detailed description of the failure.

So there we go — when QGIS 3.6 is released in late February 2019, you’ll  have access to this API and can start making QGIS automatically enforce your organisation policies for you! The really neat thing is that this doesn’t only apply to large organisations. Even if you’re a one-person shop using QGIS, you could write your own checks to  make QGIS “remind” you when you’ve forgotten to include something in your products. It’d even be possible to hook into one of the available Python spell checking libraries to write a spelling check! With any luck, this should lead to better quality outputs and less back and forth with your clients.

North Road are leading experts in customising the QGIS application for enterprise installs. If you’d like to discuss how you can deploy in-house customisation like this within your organisation, contact us for further details!

Edit Features “In Place” crowdfund — made it to QGIS 3.4!

Well, thanks to the resounding success of our QGIS edit-in-place crowdfunding campaign, we’ve been frantically smashing away at our keyboards in an attempt to reward the QGIS community by sneaking this feature in a whole 4 months earlier than originally promised! And, we’re very proud to announce, that this exciting new feature has been implemented and will be included in the upcoming QGIS 3.4 release (due late October 2018). So go ahead — grab one of the nightly pre-release of QGIS 3.4 and checkout the results.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the rapid response to the campaign and the generosity of our wonderful backers:

(In addition to these backers, we’ve also received numerous anonymous donations to this feature from many other individuals — while we can’t list you all publicly, you’re also in our thanks!)

 

Keep an eye on this blog for other upcoming QGIS crowdfunding campaigns targeted at QGIS 3.6 and beyond… we’ve got lots more exciting work planned for these releases!

 

Edit Features “In Place” crowdfund — target reached!

Well, the final pledges have been tallied and we’re very proud to announce that our latest crowd funding campaign has been a roaring success!

We’ve been completely blown away by the response to this campaign. Thanks to some incredibly generous backers and donors, we’ve been able to hit the campaign target with plenty of time to spare. As a result, we’ll be pushing hard to reward the generosity of the community by trying to sneak this feature in for the upcoming QGIS 3.4 release (instead of the originally promised 3.6 release)! You can read more about what we’re adding at the campaign page.

We’d like to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt thanks to all the backers who have pledged to support this project:

In addition to these backers, we’ve also received numerous anonymous donations to this feature from many other individuals — while we can’t list you all publicly, you’re also in our thanks!

Stay tuned for more updates to come as work proceeds on this feature…

Edit Features “In Place” Using QGIS Spatial Operations crowdfund launched!

We’ve just launched a new QGIS crowd funding campaign which we’re super-excited about! This time, we’re addressing what we see as the major shortcoming within QGIS vector layer editing tools, and bridging the gap between the vast power of QGIS’ Processing algorithms and easy-to-use operations which modify layer features “in place”. Here’s a quick sneak preview of what we have planned:

 

QGIS is already a vector editing powerhouse, and we believe that this improvement will boost the current functionality up an order of magnitude! To make it possible we need 6500€ pledged before 30 September 2018.

This is also our first crowdfunding campaign in which we’re running a “dual funding” approach, which we think should make things friendly and easy for both corporate backers and end user contributions alike. Read more about this at the full campaign page.

You can help make this a reality by supporting the campaign or by sharing the page and increasing exposure to the campaign. Updates to follow!

 

Drill down (cascading) forms in QGIS crowdfund – final stretch!

Update: donations are now closed, with the outcome of the campaign pending!

We’re nearing the final hours of our crowd funding campaign to implement a drill-down (cascading) field support within QGIS forms, and thanks to numerous generous backers we’re very close to hitting the funding goal! This is a really exciting new feature which would help add greater flexibility and power to QGIS feature forms, but in order to implement it for QGIS 3.2 we need to hit the funding target by 11 May 2018.

As a result, we’re dropping the minimum contribution amount and throwing open the campaign for payments of any amount. These smaller payment will be treated as direct donations to the campaign, so unlike the standard campaign backing these are payable up front. In the case that the campaign IS NOT successful, the donations will not be refunded and will instead be reinvested back into the QGIS (via bug fixing and maintenance efforts). Of course, if you’d prefer to pledge using the standard crowdfunding “no payment if campaign unsuccessful” model you’re more than welcome to! (Full details are available on the campaign page).

Donations closed – outcome pending!

Full details are available on the campaign page.

Drill-down (cascading) forms in QGIS crowdfund launched!

We’ve just launched a new crowd funding campaign to implement a drill-down (cascading) field support within QGIS forms. Full details are available on the campaign page.

This is a really exciting new feature which would help add greater flexibility and power to QGIS feature forms! To make it possible we need 3500€ pledged before 11 May 2018. You can help make this a reality by supporting the campaign or by sharing the page and increasing exposure to the campaign. Updates to follow!

Implementing an in-house “New Project Wizard” for QGIS

Recently, we were required to implement a custom “New Project Wizard” for use in a client’s internal QGIS installation. The goal here was that users would be required to fill out certain metadata fields whenever they created a new QGIS project.

Fortunately, the PyQGIS (and underlying Qt) libraries makes this possibly, and relatively straightforward to do. Qt has a powerful API for creating multi-page “wizard” type dialogs, via the QWizard and QWizardPage classes. Let’s have a quick look at writing a custom wizard using these classes, and finally we’ll hook it into the QGIS interface using some PyQGIS magic.

We’ll start super simple, creating a single page wizard with no settings. To do this we first create a Page1 subclass of QWizardPage, a ProjectWizard subclass of QWizard, and a simple runNewProjectWizard function which launches the wizard. (The code below is designed for QGIS 3.0, but will run with only small modifications on QGIS 2.x):

class Page1(QWizardPage):

    def __init__(self, parent=None):
        super().__init__(parent)
        self.setTitle('General Properties')
        self.setSubTitle('Enter general properties for this project.')


class ProjectWizard(QWizard):
    
    def __init__(self, parent=None):
        super().__init__(parent)
        
        self.addPage(Page1(self))
        self.setWindowTitle("New Project")


def runNewProjectWizard():
    d=ProjectWizard()
    d.exec()

If this code is executed in the QGIS Python console, you’ll see something like this:

Not too fancy (or functional) yet, but still not bad for 20 lines of code! We can instantly make this a bit nicer by inserting a custom logo into the widget. This is done by calling setPixmap inside the ProjectWizard constructor.

class ProjectWizard(QWizard):
    
    def __init__(self, parent=None):
        super().__init__(parent)
        
        self.addPage(Page1(self))
        self.setWindowTitle("New Project")

        logo_image = QImage('path_to_logo.png')
        self.setPixmap(QWizard.LogoPixmap, QPixmap.fromImage(logo_image))

That’s a bit nicer. QWizard has HEAPS of options for tweaking the wizards — best to read about those over at the Qt documentation. Our next step is to start adding some settings to this wizard. We’ll keep things easy for now and just insert a number of text input boxes (QLineEdits) into Page1:

class Page1(QWizardPage):

    def __init__(self, parent=None):
        super().__init__(parent)
        self.setTitle('General Properties')
        self.setSubTitle('Enter general properties for this project.')

        # create some widgets
        self.project_number_line_edit = QLineEdit()
        self.project_title_line_edit = QLineEdit()
        self.author_line_edit = QLineEdit()        
        
        # set the page layout
        layout = QGridLayout()
        layout.addWidget(QLabel('Project Number'),0,0)
        layout.addWidget(self.project_number_line_edit,0,1)
        layout.addWidget(QLabel('Title'),1,0)
        layout.addWidget(self.project_title_line_edit,1,1)
        layout.addWidget(QLabel('Author'),2,0)
        layout.addWidget(self.author_line_edit,2,1)
        self.setLayout(layout)

There’s nothing particularly new here, especially if you’ve used Qt widgets before. We make a number of QLineEdit widgets, and then create a grid layout containing these widgets and accompanying labels (QLabels). Here’s the result if we run our wizard now:

So now there’s the option to enter a project number, title and author. The next step is to force users to populate these fields before they can complete the wizard. Fortunately, QWizardPage has us covered here and we can use the registerField() function to do this. By calling registerField, we make the wizard aware of the settings we’ve added on this page, allowing us to retrieve their values when the wizard completes. We can also use registerField to automatically force their population by appending a * to the end of the field names. Just like this…

class Page1(QWizardPage):
    def __init__(self, parent=None):
        super().__init__(parent)
        ...
        self.registerField('number*',self.project_number_line_edit)
        self.registerField('title*',self.project_title_line_edit)
        self.registerField('author*',self.author_line_edit)

If we ran the wizard now, we’d be forced to enter something for project number, title and author before the Finish button becomes enabled. Neat! By registering the fields, we’ve also allowed their values to be retrieved after the wizard completes. Let’s alter runNewProjectWizard to retrieve these values and do something with them:

def runNewProjectWizard():
   d=ProjectWizard()
   d.exec()

   # Set the project title
   title=d.field('title')
   QgsProject.instance().setTitle(d.field('title'))

   # Create expression variables for the author and project number
   number=d.field('number')
   QgsExpressionContextUtils.setProjectVariable(QgsProject.instance(),'project_number', number)
   author=d.field('author')
   QgsExpressionContextUtils.setProjectVariable(QgsProject.instance(),'project_author', author)
 

Here, we set the project title directly and create expression variables for the project number and author. This allows their use within QGIS expressions via the @project_number and @project_author variables. Accordingly, they can be embedded into print layout templates so that layout elements are automatically populated with the corresponding author and project number. Nifty!

Ok, let’s beef up our wizard by adding a second page, asking the user to select a sensible projection (coordinate reference system) for their project. Thanks to improvements in QGIS 3.0, it’s super-easy to embed a powerful pre-made projection selector widget into your scripts, which even includes a handy preview of the area of the world that the projection is valid for.

class Page2(QWizardPage):

    def __init__(self, parent=None):
        super().__init__(parent)
        self.setTitle('Project Coordinate System')
        self.setSubTitle('Choosing an appropriate projection is important to ensure accurate distance and area measurements.')
        
        self.proj_selector = QgsProjectionSelectionTreeWidget()
        layout = QVBoxLayout()
        layout.addWidget(self.proj_selector)
        self.setLayout(layout)
        
        self.registerField('crs',self.proj_selector)
        self.proj_selector.crsSelected.connect(self.crs_selected)
        
    def crs_selected(self):
        self.setField('crs',self.proj_selector.crs())
        self.completeChanged.emit()
        
    def isComplete(self):
        return self.proj_selector.crs().isValid()

There’s a lot happening here. First, we subclass QWizardPage to create a second page in our widget. Then, just like before, we add some widgets to this page and set the page’s layout. In this case we are using the standard QgsProjectionSelectionTreeWidget to give users a projection choice. Again, we let the wizard know about our new setting by a call to registerField. However, since QWizard has no knowledge about how to handle a QgsProjectionSelectionTreeWidget, there’s a bit more to do here. So we make a connection to the projection selector’s crsSelected signal, hooking it up to a function which sets the wizard’s “crs” field value to the widget’s selected CRS. Here, we also emit the completeChanged signal, which indicates that the wizard page should re-validate the current settings. Lastly, we override QWizardPage’s isComplete method, checking that there’s a valid CRS selection in the selector widget. If we run the wizard now we’ll be forced to choose a valid CRS from the widget before the wizard allows us to proceed:

Lastly, we need to adapt runNewProjectWizard to also handle the projection setting:

def runNewProjectWizard():
    d=ProjectWizard()
    d.exec()

    # Set the project crs
    crs=d.field('crs')
    QgsProject.instance().setCrs(crs)

    # Set the project title
    title=d.field('title')
    ...

Great! A fully functional New Project wizard. The final piece of the puzzle is triggering this wizard when a user creates a new project within QGIS. To do this, we hook into the iface.newProjectCreated signal. By connecting to this signal, our code will be called whenever the user creates a new project (after all the logic for saving and closing the current project has been performed). It’s as simple as this:

iface.newProjectCreated.connect(runNewProjectWizard)

Now, whenever a new project is made, our wizard is triggered – forcing users to populate the required fields and setting up the project accordingly!

There’s one last little bit to do – we also need to prevent users cancelling or closing the wizard before completing it. That’s done by changing a couple of settings in the ProjectWizard constructor, and by overriding the default reject method (which prevents closing the dialog by pressing escape).

class ProjectWizard(QWizard):
    
    def __init__(self, parent=None):
        super().__init__(parent)
        ...
        self.setOption(QWizard.NoCancelButton, True)
        self.setWindowFlags(self.windowFlags() | QtCore.Qt.CustomizeWindowHint)
        self.setWindowFlags(self.windowFlags() & ~QtCore.Qt.WindowCloseButtonHint)

    def reject(self):
        pass

Here’s the full version of our code, ready for copying and pasting into the QGIS Python console:

icon_path = '/home/nyall/nr_logo.png'

class ProjectWizard(QWizard):
    
    def __init__(self, parent=None):
        super().__init__(parent)
        
        self.addPage(Page1(self))
        self.addPage(Page2(self))
        self.setWindowTitle("New Project")
        
        logo_image=QImage('path_to_logo.png')
        self.setPixmap(QWizard.LogoPixmap, QPixmap.fromImage(logo_image))
        
        self.setOption(QWizard.NoCancelButton, True)
        self.setWindowFlags(self.windowFlags() | QtCore.Qt.CustomizeWindowHint)
        self.setWindowFlags(self.windowFlags() & ~QtCore.Qt.WindowCloseButtonHint)
    def reject(self):
        pass
class Page1(QWizardPage):
    
    def __init__(self, parent=None):
        super().__init__(parent)
        self.setTitle('General Properties')
        self.setSubTitle('Enter general properties for this project.')

        # create some widgets
        self.project_number_line_edit = QLineEdit()
        self.project_title_line_edit = QLineEdit()
        self.author_line_edit = QLineEdit()        
        
        # set the page layout
        layout = QGridLayout()
        layout.addWidget(QLabel('Project Number'),0,0)
        layout.addWidget(self.project_number_line_edit,0,1)
        layout.addWidget(QLabel('Title'),1,0)
        layout.addWidget(self.project_title_line_edit,1,1)
        layout.addWidget(QLabel('Author'),2,0)
        layout.addWidget(self.author_line_edit,2,1)
        self.setLayout(layout)
        
        self.registerField('number*',self.project_number_line_edit)
        self.registerField('title*',self.project_title_line_edit)
        self.registerField('author*',self.author_line_edit)
 
 
class Page2(QWizardPage):
    
    def __init__(self, parent=None):
        super().__init__(parent)
        self.setTitle('Project Coordinate System')
        self.setSubTitle('Choosing an appropriate projection is important to ensure accurate distance and area measurements.')
        
        self.proj_selector = QgsProjectionSelectionTreeWidget()
        layout = QVBoxLayout()
        layout.addWidget(self.proj_selector)
        self.setLayout(layout)
        
        self.registerField('crs',self.proj_selector)
        self.proj_selector.crsSelected.connect(self.crs_selected)
        
    def crs_selected(self):
        self.setField('crs',self.proj_selector.crs())
        self.completeChanged.emit()
        
    def isComplete(self):
        return self.proj_selector.crs().isValid()
 
        
def runNewProjectWizard():
    d=ProjectWizard()
    d.exec()
    
    # Set the project crs
    crs=d.field('crs')
    QgsProject.instance().setCrs(crs)
    
    # Set the project title
    title=d.field('title')
    QgsProject.instance().setTitle(d.field('title'))

    # Create expression variables for the author and project number
    number=d.field('number')
    QgsExpressionContextUtils.setProjectVariable(QgsProject.instance(),'project_number', number)
    author=d.field('author')
    QgsExpressionContextUtils.setProjectVariable(QgsProject.instance(),'project_author', author)
    
    
iface.newProjectCreated.connect(runNewProjectWizard)

Exploring Reports in QGIS 3.0 – the Ultimate Guide!

In 2017 North Road ran a crowd funding campaign for extending QGIS’ Print Composer and adding a brand new reporting framework to QGIS. Thanks to numerous generous backers, this campaign was a success. With the final QGIS 3.0 release just around the corner, we thought this was a great time to explore the new reporting engine and what it offers.

We’ll start with a relatively simple project, containing some administrative boundaries, populated places, ports and airports.

Using the “Project” – “New Report” command, we then create a new blank report. Initially, there’s not much to look at – the dialog which is displayed looks much like the QGIS 3.0 Layout Designer, except for the new “Report Organizer” panel shown on the left:

QGIS reports can consist of multiple, nested sections. In our new blank report we initially have only the main report section. The only options present for this report section is to include an optional header and footer for the report. If we enable these, the header will be included as the very first page (or pages… individual parts of reports can be multi-page if desired) in the report, and the footer would be the last page. Let’s go ahead and enable the header, and hit the “Edit” button next to it:

A few things happen as a result. Firstly, an edit pencil is now shown next to the “Report” section in the Report Organizer, indicating that the report section is currently being edited in the designer. We also see a new blank page shown in the designer itself, with the small “Report Header” title. In QGIS reports, every component of the report is made up of individual layouts. They can be created and modified using the exact same tools as are available for standard print layouts – so you can use any desired combination of labels, pictures, maps, tables, etc. Let’s add some items to our report header to demonstrate:

We’ll also create a simple footer for the report, by checking the “Include report footer” option and hitting “Edit“.

Before proceeding further, let’s export this report and see what we get. Exporting is done from the Report menu – in this case we select “Export Report as PDF” to render the whole report to a PDF file. Here’s the not-very-impressive result – a two page PDF consisting of our header and footer:

Let’s make things more interesting. By hitting the green “+” button in the Report Organizer, we’re given a choice of new sections to add to our report.

Currently there’s two options – a “Single section” and a “Field group“. Expect this list to grow in future QGIS releases, but for now we’ll add a Field Group to our report. At its most basic level, you can think of a Field Group as the equivalent of a print atlas. You select a layer to iterate over, and the report will insert a section for each feature found. Selecting the new Field Group section reveals a number of new related settings:

In this case we’ve setup our Field Group so that we iterate over all the states from the “Admin Level 1” layer, using the values from the “adm1name” field. The same options for header and footer are present, together with a new option to include a “body” for this section. We’ll do that, and edit the body:

We’ve setup this body with a map (set to follow the current report feature – just like how a map item in an atlas can follow the current atlas feature), and a label showing the state’s name. If we went ahead and exported our report now, we’d get something like this:

First, the report header, than a page for each state, and finally the report footer. So more or less an atlas, but with a header and footer page. Let’s make things more interesting by adding a subsection to our state group. We do this by first selecting the state field group in the organizer, then hitting the + button and adding a new Field Group:

When a field group is iterating over its features, it will automatically filter these features to match the feature attributes from its parent groups. In this case, the subsection we added will iterate over a “Populated Places” layer, including a body section for each place encountered. The magic here is that the Populated Places layer has an attribute named “adm1name“, tagging each place with the state it’s contained within (if you’re lucky your data will already be structured like this – if not, run the Processing “Join by Location” algorithm and create your own field). When we export this report, QGIS will grab the first state from the Admin Level 1 layer, and then iterate over all the Populated Places with a matching “adm1name” value. Here’s what we get:

(Here we created a basic body for the Populated Places group, including a map of the place and a table of some place attributes). So our report is now a report header, a page for each state followed by a page for every populated place within that state, and finally the report footer. If we were to add a header for the Populated Places group, it would be included just before listing the populated places for each state:

Similarly, a footer for the Populated Places group would be inserted after the final place for each state is included.

In addition to nested subsections, subsections in a report can also be included consecutively. If we add a second subsection to the Admin Level 1 group for Airports, then our report will first list ALL the populated places for each state, followed by all the airports within that state, before proceeding to the next state. In this case our report would be structured like this:

(The key point here is that our Airports group is a subsection of the Admin Level 1 group – not the Populated Places group). Here’s what our report could look like now:

Combining nested and consecutive sections, together with section headers and footers allows for tons of flexibility. For instance, in the below report we add another field group as a child of the main report for the Ports layer. Now, after listing the states together with their populated places and airports, we’ll get a summary list of all the ports in the region:

This results in the last part of our report exporting as:

As you can start to imagine, reports in QGIS are extremely powerful and flexible! We’re extremely thankful for all the backers of our crowd funding campaign, without whom this work would not have been possible.

Stay tuned for more reporting and layouts work we have planned for QGIS 3.2!

 

24 Days of QGIS 3.0 Features

If you’re not following @northroadgeo on Twitter, you’ve probably missed our recent “24 Days of QGIS” countdown. Over December, we’ve been highlighting 24 different features which are coming with the QGIS 3.0 release. We’ve collected all of these below so you can catch up:

We hope you enjoyed the series! In it we’ve only highlighted just a few of the hundreds of new features coming in QGIS 3.0. There’s also a lot of behind-the-scenes changes which we haven’t touched, e.g. a switch to Python 3 and Qt 5 libraries, a brand new, rewritten QGIS server, new QGIS web client, enhanced metadata integration, GeoNode integration, a cleaner, stabler, easier PyQGIS API, 1000s more unit tests, and so much more.

You can download a 3.0 beta from the QGIS webpage, and report feedback at https://issues.qgis.org. A huge thanks to the mammoth effort of all the QGIS contributors, this is going to be a great release!

QGIS layouts rewrite – progress report #1

Following our recent successful QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine crowdfunding campaign, we’ve been hard at working ripping up the internals of the QGIS 2.x print composer and rebuilding a brand new, shiny QGIS layouts engine. This is exciting work – it’s very satisfying to be able to cleanup a lot of the old composer code in QGIS and take opportunities along the way to fix long standing bugs and add new features.

While it’s not ready for daily use yet, there’s already been a lot of interesting changes which have landed in the layouts work as a result of this campaign. Let’s take a look at what’s been implemented so far…

  • We’ve added support for different measurements units all throughout layouts. While this means it’s now possible to set page sizes using centimeters, inches, pixels, points, etc, it goes much deeper than just that. In layouts, everything which has a size or position can take advantage of this unit support. So you can have page sizes in centimeters, but a map item with a size set in points, and positioned in millimeters! Having pixels as a unit type makes creation of screen-based layouts much easier – even right down to pixel perfect positioning and sizing of items…
  • Page handling has been totally reworked. Instead of the single “number of pages” control available in QGIS 2.x, layouts have complete flexibility in page setup. It’s now possible to have a layout with mixed page sizes and orientations (including data defined page size for different pages in the layout!). 
  • A revised status bar, with improved layout interaction widgets. We’ve also taken the opportunity to add some new features like a zoom level slider and option to zoom to layout width:
  • Layout interaction tools (such as pan/zoom/insert item/etc) have been reworked. There’s now a much more flexible framework for creation of layout tools (based off the main QGIS map canvas approach), which even allows for plugins to implement their own layout interaction tools! As part of this we’ve addressed a long standing annoyance which meant that creating new items always drew the “preview” shape of the new item as a rectangle – even for non-rectangular items. Now you get a real shape showing exactly how the created item will be sized and positioned:
  • On the topic of plugins – the layout branch has full support for plugin-provided item types. This means that QGIS plugins can create new classes of items which can be added to a layout. This opens the door for plugins allowing charts and visualisations which take advantage of all the mature Python and JS charting libraries! This is a really exciting change – in 2.x there was no way for plugins to extend or interact with composer, so we’re really keen to see where the community takes this when 3.0 is released.
  • We’ve ported another feature commonly found in illustration/DTP applications. Now, when you’re creating a new item and just click in your layout (instead of click-and-drag), you get a handy dialog allowing you to specify the exact position and dimensions for the created item. You can again see in this dialog how layouts have full support for units for both the position and size:
  • Another oft-requested feature which we’ve finally been able to add (thanks to the refactored and cleaned code) is a context menu for layouts! It’s currently quite empty, but will be expanded as this work progresses…
  • Snapping to guides and grids has been reworked. We’ve added a new snapping marker to show exactly were items will be snapped to:
  • Snapping to guides now occurs when creating new layout items (this didn’t happen in Composer in 2.x – only snapping to grids occurred when drawing new items).
  • The snapped cursor position is shown in status bar whenever a snapped point will be used, instead of the unsnapped position.
  • Unlike in Composers in QGIS 2.x, Layouts in 3.0 adopt the standard UX of dragging out rulers to create guide lines (instead of clicking on a ruler position to create a new guide). Creation of a horizontal guide is now done by grabbing the top ruler and dragging it down, and a vertical guide is created by grabbing the left ruler and dragging it out to the layout.
  • Better feedback is given in the ruler when a guide can be dragged. We now show guide positions in the rulers, and give an indication (via mouse cursor change) when these guides can be repositioned by click-and-drag.
  • Another very exciting change is the addition of a new “Guide Manager”. The guide manager allows numeric modification of existing guides and creation of new guides. Finally it’s possible to position guides at exact locations! Again, you can see the full support for layout units in place here – guides can be positioned using any available unit.
  • There’s also a handy new shortcut in the Guide Manager to allow applying the guides from the current page to all other pages in your layout.
  • We’ve refined the snapping logic. In Composer in QGIS 2.x,  grids would always take precedence whenever both a grid and guide were within tolerance of a point. Now, guides will always take precedence – since they have been manually set by users we make the assumption that they have been explicitly placed at highly desirable snapping locations, and should be selected over the general background grid. Additionally, grid snapping was previously only done if BOTH the x and y of the point could be snapped to the grid. We now snap to the nearest grid line for x/y separately. This means if a point is close to a vertical grid line but not a horizontal one it will still snap to that nearby vertical grid line.
  • Lastly, we’ve added a handy context menu to the rulers:

This is just a taster of the great new functionality coming in QGIS 3.0. This is all a direct result of the forward-thinking investments and generosity of the backers in our QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine crowdfunding campaign. Without their contributions, none of this would be possible – so our thanks go out to those organisations and individuals once again!

Stay tuned for more updates as the work continues…

 

 

QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine Campaign – a success!

Thanks to the tireless efforts and incredible generosity of the QGIS user community, our crowdfunded QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine campaign was a tremendous success! We’ve reached the funding goal for this project, and as a result QGIS 3.0 will include a more powerful print composer with a reworked code base. You can read more about what we have planned at the campaign page.

We’d like to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt thanks to all the backers who have pledged to support this project:

We’ve also received numerous anonymous contributions in addition to these – please know that the QGIS community extends their gratitude for your contributions too! This campaign was also successful thanks to The Agency for Data Supply and Efficiency, Denmark, who stepped up and have funded an initial component of this project directly.

We’d also like to thank every member of the QGIS community who assisted with promoting this campaign and bringing it to the attention of these backers. Without your efforts we would not have been able to reach these backers and the campaign would not have been successful.

We’ll be posting more updates as this work progresses. Stay tuned…

 

QGIS Composer Rewrite and Layout Engine crowdfund – half way there!

If you’ve been following our recent blog posts, you’ll be aware that we are currently running a crowd funding campaign to extend the capabilities of QGIS’ print composer. You can read full details about this over at the campaign page.

The good news is that we’ve just hit the mid way point of the funds! Many generous backers have stepped up with contributions and we’re well on the way to reaching the funding goal. However, we still need your help make this work a reality.

Right now, what we need most is interested users and community members who will reach out to their local QGIS users and seek more backing for the campaign. We need to publicise the campaign beyond the regular online QGIS community, to the thousands of enterprises and organisations which rely on QGIS for their daily mapping operations. We need community members who can get in contact with these organisations and help convince them that investing back into the open source software they utilise is beneficial (and often will even SAVE them money in the long run, due to the increased productivity that changes like our composer improvements will bring!).

So, while social media reshares have been vital to reaching the current stage, we now need more “hands on” helpers who will take this on. If you know of any organisations which depend on QGIS for their mapping outputs, now’s the time to get in contact with them directly and advise them of this campaign!

 

 

 

QGIS Composer Rewrite and Layout Engine crowdfund launched!

At North Road we believe that crowdfunding is a sustainable way to maintain and enhance open source software, like the QGIS open source GIS package. We’ve run a number of successful crowdfunding campaigns in the past, including support in QGIS for live layer effects, a point cluster renderer, and a unique value renderer for raster layers.

Now, we’re proud to announce our latest crowd funding endeavour, and our biggest to date, the QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine Campaign.

This campaign covers stage 1 of a large, ongoing project to modernise and expand on QGIS’ print composer and layout facilities. Over time QGIS’ composer functionality has grown extensively and now is capable of creating flexible, high quality cartographic outputs. However, we’ve now hit a limit where the current code architecture is prohibiting further improvements and important fixes. In order to add a reporting framework to QGIS, it is necessary for us to refactor and improve large sections of the composer code.

If this campaign is successful, we’ll be adding flexible report generation features to QGIS and cleaning up all the existing composer code. As part of these clean up, we’ll be taking the opportunity to tackle a number of current limitations which cannot be addressed in the current composition code:

  • Layouts will become unit aware, allowing for item placement and properties using millimetres, inches, pixels, centimetres, points, etc.
  • Layouts will have the ability to include mixed page sizes and orientations.
  • Plugins will be able to create custom composer item types (eg allow utilisation of 3rd party graphing and visualisation libraries!).
  • Individual layout items can be rasterised without affecting the rest of the layout. For instance, a map which requires rasterisation due to its use of blend modes will not require all other layout items (such as headings, legends, etc) to be rasterised. This will greatly benefit PDF outputs for complex map layouts.
  • The code refresh will allow more extensive use of data defined layout item properties.
  • A render caching system will be implemented for items, speeding up use of the layout designer and also paving the way for use of live paint effects on layout items (eg dynamic drop shadows).

Full details on what we have planned are available here: QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine Campaign.

To make it possible we need 30,000€ pledged before 31 May 2017. You can help make this a reality by supporting the campaign or by sharing the campaign page and increasing exposure to the campaign. Updates to follow!

Point cluster renderer crowdfunding – successful!

Great news! Thanks in part to some generous last minute pledges, our QGIS Point Cluster Renderer campaign has successfully reached its target. This means that QGIS 3.0 will now include a full feature and flexible cluster renderer.

In the meantime, we’d like to extend our warmest thanks to the following generous contributors, whose pledges have made this work possible:

  • Andreas Neumann
  • Qtibia Engineering (Tudor Barascu)
  • Karl-Magnus Jönsson
  • Geonesia (Nicolas Ponzo)

Plus numerous additional anonymous backers whose generous contributions are also highly valued. If you run into any of these funders at a QGIS user group or conference, make sure you treat them like the GIS rock-stars they are!

Keep an eye out on our social media accounts as we’ll be posting more video demonstrations of this work as it lands in the QGIS codebase.

BOTH

Point cluster renderer crowdfunding – the final countdown!

At North Road we are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to sponsor work on a new “Point Cluster Renderer” for QGIS. This is a really exciting new feature which would help make possible some neat styling effects which just aren’t possible in QGIS at the moment. The campaign is now in its final hours and we’ve still got some way to go to reach the campaign goals. If you’re interested in seeing this feature happen, now’s the time to jump onboard and contribute to the campaign!

Before time runs out we’d like to share some more details on how the cluster renderer can be enhanced through the use of data defined symbol overrides. Data defined overrides are where a huge part of QGIS’ symbology power resides. If you’re not familiar with them, we’d suggest grabbing a copy of Anita Graser and Gretchen Peterson’s reference “QGIS Map Design” (seriously – buy this book. You won’t regret it!). Basically, data defined properties allow you to set rules in place which control exactly how each individual feature in a layer is rendered. So, for instance, you can create an override which makes just a single feature render in a different color, or with a larger label, or so that all features with a value over 100 render with a bold label.

We’ve designed the point cluster renderer to take full advantage of QGIS data defined symbology. What this means is that the cluster symbol (ie, the marker which is rendered when 2 or more points are sufficiently close together) will respect any data defined overrides you set for this symbol, and each individual cluster symbol can have a different appearance as a result.

To make this even more flexible, the clusterer will also provide two additional new variables which can be used in data defined overrides for the symbol. The first of these, @cluster_size, will be preset to equal the number of features which have been clustered together at that point. Eg, if the cluster consists of 4 individual neighbouring features, then @cluster_size will be 4 when the cluster symbol is rendered. This can be used to alter the appearance of the cluster symbol based on the number of associated points. The mockup below shows how this could be used to scale the cluster symbol size so that clusters with more points are rendered larger than clusters with less points:

symbol_sizeIn this mockup we’ve also used a font marker symbol layer to render the actual cluster size inside the symbol too. Of course, because almost every property of symbols in QGIS can be data defined there’s almost no limit how @cluster_size could be used – you could use it to change the symbol color by pairing it with QGIS’ ramp_color function, or alter the symbol opacity, or the outline width… basically anything!

The second new expression variable which would be introduced with the cluster renderer is @cluster_color. This variable allows you to access the color of the points contained within each cluster. Since the cluster renderer is built “on top” of an existing renderer, any point which is NOT contained within a cluster is rendered using the specified renderer. For example, if you use a categorized symbol renderer then all points which aren’t in clusters will be drawn using these categorized classes. In this case isolated points will be drawn using different colors to match the predefined classes.

When multiple points are clustered together, @cluster_color will be set to match the color of any contained points. The points must all have the same color, if they differ then @cluster_color will be null. It’s easiest to illustrate this concept! In the below mockup, we’ve used a categorized render to shade points by an attribute (in this case rail line segment name), and used an uninspiring dark grey circle for the cluster markers:

clusters_categorized

Using @cluster_color together with a data defined color override, we can force these cluster markers to retain the colors from the points within each cluster:

clusters_categorized2

Much nicer! You’ll note that a single dark grey point remains, which is where the cluster consists of stations from multiple different line segments. In this case @cluster_color is null, so the data defined override is not applied and the marker falls back to the dark grey color.

Of course, both @cluster_size and @cluster_color can be combined to create some very nice results:

BOTH

So there we have it – using data defined overrides with the cluster marker renderer allows for extremely flexible, powerful cartography!

Now’s the time to get involved… if you’re wanting to see this feature in QGIS, head over to the crowd funding page to find out how YOU can contribute!

 

Customising the TimeManager time stamp

TimeManager is a fantastic plugin for QGIS which allows you to create animated maps from your data. You can read all about it here and here, and there’s a really nice demonstration of it here.

I’ve been playing with TimeManager a fair bit over the last month, and thought I’d share a quick tip on improving the appearance of TimeManager’s time stamp. TimeManager includes some basic functionality for placing a time stamp in the corner of your outputs, but it’s fairly limited. There’s only some basic appearance options, and no way to control the date or time formats displayed.

Default TimeManager time stamp
Default TimeManager time stamp

But, there’s a trick we can use to get around this: use a temporary point layer for the time stamp label. Let me elaborate:

  1. Create a throwaway point layer. It doesn’t matter what fields or format this layer has.
  2. Add a single point feature to this layer at the place you’d like the improved time stamp to appear at.

    Add a single point feature
    …add a single point feature
  3. We don’t want to see the marker, so hide the symbol for this layer by setting it to use a transparent fill and outline.

    Transparent fill and outline
    Transparent fill and outline
  4. Then, enable labels for this layer. Here’s the trick – set the label expression for the label to use “animation_datetime()” (or for QGIS 2.8, “$animation_datetime”). This is a custom function provided by the TimeManager plugin which evaluates to the current frame’s date and time.

    Setting the layer's label expression
    Setting the layer’s label expression
  5. Now, you can use all the built-in options within QGIS for styling this label. Buffers, drop shadows, background shapes… anything!

    ...tweaking the label appearance
    …tweaking the label appearance
  6. Apply and check. Much nicer!

    Formatted timestamp
    A nicely formatted time stamp
  7. To tweak the formatting of the time stamp’s date and time, you can modify the label expression using the built-in ‘format_date’, ‘year’, ‘month’, etc functions. Let’s try “format_date(animation_datetime(),’ddd dd MMM yyyy’)”:

    Tweaked expression
    Tweaked expression

Now, our final formatted time stamp looks like this:

Final, formatted time stamp
Final, formatted time stamp

…and there we go. Using this simple trick allows you to take advantage of all the possibilities which the QGIS labelling and expression engines allow!

*Bonus points for the first person to use this technique along with data defined controls for animating the label colour/size!

Want to sponsor some QGIS features? Here’s some ideas…

I’ve been working on QGIS for a number of years now and, contrary to what I thought when I started, my wishlist seems to grow longer with every feature I add to QGIS! Unfortunately, almost all of my QGIS development work is done on a volunteer basis and it’s sometimes hard to justify the time required to tackle items on this list. So here’s your chance to help me fix this!

Here’s a quick list of things which I’d love to add to QGIS (or improve), but would need someone to step up and help sponsor their development:

  • Raster marker symbol type: Currently QGIS supports a number of marker symbol types (simple markers, font markers, SVG markers) but there’s no option to just use a raster image file for a symbol. A few versions back I added support for a raster image fill type, and now I’d love to do the same for markers. Options could include overriding the image size, rotation and opacity. And of course, all of these properties would be data-definable.
  • Paint effects for diagrams: The successful Kickstarter campaign meant that QGIS 2.10 includes a powerful framework for applying live effects to layers, including drop shadows, outer glows, blurs, and colour effects (plus lots of others!). I’d like to take this framework and allow effects to be applied to diagrams on a layer. Drop shadows and outer glows would really help aid the readability of diagrams by allowing them to sit on a different visual layer to the rest of the map. The effects framework was designed to allow reuse across all of QGIS, and diagrams would be the next logical step in this.

    Layer effects for diagrams! (Well... a mockup of them...)
    Layer effects for diagrams! (Well… a mockup of them…)
  • Additional diagram types/options: While we’re on the topic of diagrams, there’s lots more that we could do with QGIS’ diagram support. We’ve currently got support for pie charts, text diagrams and histograms, but there’s a lot of really nice diagram styles which we don’t yet support. Everybody loves infographics with nicely designed diagrams… so I’d love the chance to extend what’s possible using QGIS diagram engine. Some ideas include icon arrays, circle packing.
  • Adding a geometry widget in the attribute table: This feature has been on my mind a lot lately. What I’d like to add is a new “geometry widget” as the last column in a layer’s attribute table. This widget would allow you to do all sorts of modifications to the geometry attached to a feature. Possible options include clearing the geometry (resetting it to null), copying the geometry as WKT or GeoJSON, or pasting geometry into the feature from a WKT string (making it super easy to copy the geometry between features). This could also be extended in future to start incorporating the editing capabilities current possible through the Plain Geometry Editor plugin.

    Poor quality mockup of a geometry widget...
    Poor quality mockup of a geometry widget…
  • Options for non square/straight line legend patches: QGIS’ legend currently has no options for customising the shape of legend patches. Polygon layers in the legend are rectangles, line layers are straight lines — that’s it. There’s lots of room for improvement here. I’d like to add options for shapes such as circles, rounded rectangles, jagged lines, and possibly even custom shapes (via a WKT string or something similar).

    Custom legend shapes anyone?
    Custom legend shapes anyone?
  • Improving the heatmap plugin: The current heatmap plugin needs some love. The code and UI could do with a big refresh. I’d love a chance to totally revamp this plugin and move it into QGIS core code, and allow it to be used from within processing models. I’d also like to add additional hotspot techniques, such as Getis Ord Gi* hotspotting, to the plugin.
  • Extending the raster calculator: QGIS’ raster calculator was given a bunch of needed fixes and improvements in 2.10, but there’s more we could do. The major limitation with the calculator is that it currently only supports functions with at most two parameters. This needs to be fixed so that we can add a bunch of much desired functions to the calculator – eg min, max, avg, coalesce, if, etc… Lack of support for multi-parameter functions is really holding back what’s possible in the calculator.

Of course, this list is just a start. I’m always keen to chat about any other features you’d like to see added to QGIS (or even tackle specific pet-hate bugs or frustrations!). Just drop me an email at [email protected] to discuss.

Oh, one last thing – I’m in the process of preparing for my next crowd funded feature for QGIS – and this one is big! More on that shortly.

 

Exploring variables in QGIS pt 3: layer level variables

In part 3 of my exploration of variables in QGIS 2.12, I’m going to dig into how variables are scoped in QGIS and what layer level variables are available (you can read parts 1 and 2 for a general introduction to variables).

Some background

Before we get to the good stuff, a bit of background in how variables work behind-the-scenes is important. Whenever an expression is evaluated in QGIS the context of the expression is considered. The context is built up from a set of scopes, which are all stacked on top of each other in order from least-specific to most-specific. It’s easier to explain with an example. Let’s take an expression used to set the source of a picture in a map composer. When this expression is evaluated, the context will consist of:

  1. The global scope, consisting of variables set in the QGIS options dialog, and other installation-wide properties
  2. The project scope, which includes variables set in the Project Properties dialog and the auto-generated project variables like @project_path, @project_title (you can read more about this in part 2)
  3. composer scope, with any variables set for the current composer, plus variables for @layout_pagewidth, @layout_pageheight, @layout_numpages, etc.
  4. composer item scope for the picture, with item-specific variables including @item_id

The more specific scopes will override any existing clashing variables from less specific scopes. So a global @my_var variable will be overridden by an @my_var variable set for the composer:

overridden

Another example. Let’s consider now an expression set for a data-defined label size. When this expression is evaluated the context will depend on where the map is being rendered. If it’s in the main map canvas then the context will be:

  1. The global scope
  2. The project scope
  3. map settings scope, with variables relating to how the map is being rendered. Eg @map_rotation, @map_scale, etc
  4. layer scope. More on this later, but the layer scope includes layer-level variables plus preset variables for @layer_name and @layer_id

If instead the map is being rendered inside a map item in a map composer, the context will be:

  1. The global scope
  2. The project scope
  3. The composer scope
  4. An atlas scope, if atlas is enabled. This contains variables like @atlas_pagename, @atlas_feature, @atlas_totalfeatures.
  5. composer item scope for the map item
  6. map settings scope (with scale and rotation determined by the map item’s settings)
  7. The layer scope

Using layer level variables

Ok, enough with the details. The reason I’ve explained all this is to help explain when layer level variables come into play. Basically, they’ll be available whenever an expression is evaluated inside of a particular layer. This includes data defined symbology and labeling, field calculator, and diagrams. You can’t use a layer-level variable inside a composer label, because there’s no layer scope used when evaluating this. Make sense? Great! To set a layer level variable, you use the Variables section in the Layer Properties dialog:

Setting a layer variablee
Setting a layer variable

Any layer level variables you set will be saved inside your current project, i.e. layer variables are per-layer and per-project. You can also see in the above screenshot that as well as the layer level variables QGIS also lists the existing variables from the Project and Global scopes. This helps show exactly what variables are accessible by the layer and whether they’ve been overridden by any scopes. You can also see that there’s two automatic variables, @layer_id and @layer_name, which contain the unique layer ID and user-set layer name too.

Potential use cases for layer-level variables

In the screenshot above I’ve set two variables, @class1_threshold and @class2_threshold. I’m going to use these to sync up some manual class breaks between rule based symbology and rule based labeling. Here’s how I’ve set up the rule-based symbols for the layer:

Rule based symbology using layer level variables
Rule based symbology using layer level variables

In a similar way, I’ve also created matching rule-based labeling (another new feature in QGIS 2.12):

Matching rule-based labels
Matching rule-based labels

Here’s what my map looks like now, with label and symbol colors matched:

*Map for illustrative purposes only... not for cartographic/visual design excellence!
*Map for illustrative purposes only… not for cartographic/visual design excellence!

If I’d hard-coded the manual class breaks, it would be a pain to keep the labeling and symbology in sync. I’d have to make sure that the breaks are updated everywhere I’ve used them in both the symbology and labeling settings. Aside from being boring, tedious work, this would also prevent immediate before/after comparisons. Using variables instead means that I can update the break value in a single place (the variables panel) and have all my labeling and symbols immediately reflect this change when I hit apply!

Another recent use case I had was teaming layer-level variables along with Time Manager. I wanted my points to falloff in both transparency and size with age, and this involved data defined symbol settings scattered all throughout my layer symbology. By storing the decay fall-off rate in a variable, I could again tweak this falloff by changing the value in a single place and immediately see the result. It also helps with readability of the data defined expressions. Instead of trying to decipher a random, hard-coded value, it’s instead immediately obvious that this value relates to a decay fall-off rate. Much nicer!

I’m sure there’s going to be hundreds of novel uses of layer-level variables which I never planned for when adding this feature. I’d love to hear about them though – leave a comment if you’d like to share your ideas!

One last thing – the new “layer_property” function

This isn’t strictly related to variables, but another new feature which was introduced in QGIS 2.12 was a new “layer_property” expression function. This function allows you to retrieve any one of a bunch of properties relating to a specific map layer, including the layer CRS, metadata, source path, etc.

This function can be used anywhere in QGIS. For instance, it allows you to insert dynamic metadata about layers into a print composer layout. In the screenshot below I’ve used expressions like layer_property(‘patron’,’crs’) and layer_property(‘patron’,’source’) to insert the CRS and source path of the “patron” layer into the label. If either the CRS or the file path ever changes, this label will be automatically updated to reflect the new values.

Inserting dynamic layer properties into a composer label
Inserting dynamic layer properties into a composer label

 

So there you go – layer level variables and the layer_property function – here in QGIS 2.12 and making your workflow in QGIS easier. In the final part of this series, we’ll explore the magical @value variable. Trust me, I’ve saved the best for last!

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