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Wed Jan 22 10:40:24 2020

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QGIS Snapping improvements

A few months ago, we proposed to the QGIS grant program to make improvements to the snap cache in QGIS. The community vote selected our project which was funded by QGIS.org. Developments are now mostly finished.

In short, snapping is crucial for editing geospatial features. It is the only way to ensuring they are topologically related, ie, connected vertices have exactly the same coordinates even if manual digitizing on screen is imprecise by nature.  Snapping correctly supposes QGIS have in memory an indexed cache of the geometries to snap to. And maintainting this cache when data is modified, sometimes by another user or database logic, can be a real challenge. This it exactly what this work adresses.

The proposal was divided into two different tasks:

  • Manage circular dependencies
  • Relax the snap cache index build

Manage cicular data dependencies

Data dependencies

Data dependency is an existing feature that allows you to configure QGIS to reload layers (and their snapping cache) when a layer is modified.

It is useful when you store your data in a database and you set up triggers to maintain consistency between the different tables of your data model.

For instance, say you have topological informations containing lines and nodes. Nodes are part of lines and lines go through nodes. Then, you move a node in QGIS, and save your modifications to the database. In order to keep the data consistent, a trigger updates the geometry of the line going through the modified node.

Node 2 is modified, Line 1 is updated accordingly

QGIS, as a database client, has no information that the line layer currently displayed in the canvas needs to be refreshed after the trigger. Although the map canvas will be up to date, because QGIS fetches data for display without any caching system, the snapping cache is not and you’ll end up with ghost snapping highlights issues.

Snapping highlights (light red) differ from real line (orange)

Defining a dependency between nodes and lines layers tells QGIS that it has to refresh the line layer when a node is modified.

Dependencies configuration: Lines layer will be refreshed whenever Nodes layer is modified

It also have to work the other way, modifying a line should update the nodes to ensure they still are on the line.

Circular data dependencies

So here we are, lines depend on nodes which depend on lines which depend on nodes which…

That’s what circular dependencies is about. This specific behavior was previously forbidden and needed a special way to deal with it. Thanks to this recent development, it is now possible.

It’s also possible to add the layer itself as one of its own dependencies. It helps dealing with specific cases where one feature modification could lead to a modification of another feature in the same layer (to keep consistency on road networks for instance).

Road 2 is modified, Road 1 is updated accordingly

This feature is available in the next QGIS LTR version 3.10.

Relax the snapping cache index build

If you work in QGIS with huge projects displaying a lot of vector data, and you enable snapping while editing these data, you probably already met this dialog:

Snap indexing dialog

This dialog informs you that data are currently being indexed so you can snap on them while you will edit feature geometry. And for big projects, this dialog can last for a really long time. Let’s work on speeding it up!

What’s a snap index?

Let’s say you want to move a line and snap it onto another one. While you drag your line with the mouse, QGIS will look for an existing geometry beneath the mouse cursor (with a certain pixel tolerance) every time you move your mouse. Without spatial index, QGIS will have to go through every geometry in your layer to check if the given geometry is beneath the cursor position. This would be very ineffective.

In order to prevent this, QGIS keeps an index where vector data are stored in a way that it can quickly find out what geometry is beneath the mouse cursor. The building of this data structure takes time and that is what the progress dialog is about.

Firstly: Parallelize snap index build

If you want to be able to snap on all layers in your project, then QGIS will have to build one snap index for each layer. This operation was made sequentially meaning that if you have for instance 20 layers and the index building last approximatively 3 seconds for each, then the whole index building will last 1 minute. We made modifications to QGIS so that index building could be done in parallel. As a result, the total index building time could theoretically be 3 seconds!

4 layers snap index being built in parallel

However, parallel operations are limited by the number of CPU cores of your machine, meaning that if you have 4 cores (core i7 for instance) then the total time will be up to 4 times faster than when the building is sequential (and last 15 seconds in our example).

Secondly: relax the snap build

For big projects, parallelizing index building is not enough and still takes too much time. Futhermore, to reduce snap index building, an existing optimisation was to build the spatial index for a specific area of interest (determined according to the displayed area and layer size). As a consequence, when you’ve done waiting for an index currently building and you move the map or zoom in/out, you could possibly trigger another snap index building and wait again.

So, the idea was to avoid waiting at all. Snap index is now built whenever it needs to (when you first enable snapping, when you move or zoom) but the user doesn’t have to wait for the build to be over and can continue what it was doing (creating feature, moving…). Snapping highlights will be missing when the index is currently being built and will appear gradually as soon as they finished. That’s what we call the relaxing mode.

No waiting dialog, snapping highlights appears as soon as snap index is ready

This feature has been merged into current QGIS master and will be present in future QGIS 3.12 release. We keep working on this feature in order to make it more stable and efficient.

What’s next

We’ll continue to improve this feature in the coming days, if you have the chance to test it and encounter issues please let us know on the QGIS tracker. If you think about a missing feature or just want to know more about QGIS, feel free to contact us at [email protected]. And please have a look at our support offering for QGIS.

Many thanks to QGIS grant program for funding these new features. Thanks also to all the people involved in reviewing the code and helping to better understand the existing mechanism.

 

QGIS Versioning now supports foreign keys!

QGIS-versioning is a QGIS and PostGIS plugin dedicated to data versioning and history management. It supports :

  • Keeping full table history with all modifications
  • Transparent access to current data
  • Versioning tables with branches
  • Work offline
  • Work on a data subset
  • Conflict management with a GUI

QGIS versioning conflict management

In a previous blog article we detailed how QGIS versioning can manage data history, branches, and work offline with PostGIS-stored data and QGIS. We recently added foreign key support to QGIS versioning so you can now historize any complex database schema.

This QGIS plugin is available in the official QGIS plugin repository, and you can fork it on GitHub too !

Foreign key support

TL;DR

When a user decides to historize its PostgreSQL database with QGIS-versioning, the plugin alters the existing database schema and adds new fields in order to track down the different versions of a single table row. Every access to these versioned tables are subsequently made through updatable views in order to automatically fill in the new versioning fields.

Up to now, it was not possible to deal with primary keys and foreign keys : the original tables had to be constraints-free.  This limitation has been lifted thanks to this contribution.

To make it simple, the solution is to remove all constraints from the original database and transform them into a set of SQL check triggers installed on the working copy databases (SQLite or PostgreSQL). As verifications are made on the client side, it’s impossible to propagate invalid modifications on your base server when you “commit” updates.

Behind the curtains

When you choose to historize an existing database, a few fields are added to the existing table. Among these fields, versioning_ididentifies  one specific version of a row. For one existing row, there are several versions of this row, each with a different versioning_id but with the same original primary key field. As a consequence, that field cannot satisfy the unique constraint, so it cannot be a key, therefore no foreign key neither.

We therefore have to drop the primary key and foreign key constraints when historizing the table. Before removing them, constraints definitions are stored in a dedicated table so that these constraints can be checked later.

When the user checks out a specific table on a specific branch, QGIS-versioning uses that constraint table to build constraint checking triggers in the working copy. The way constraints are built depends on the checkout type (you can checkout in a SQLite file, in the master PostgreSQL database or in another PostgreSQL database).

What do we check ?

That’s where the fun begins ! The first thing we have to check is key uniqueness or foreign key referencing an existing key on insert or update. Remember that there are no primary key and foreign key anymore, we dropped them when activating historization. We keep the term for better understanding.

You also have to deal with deleting or updating a referenced row and the different ways of propagating the modification : cascade, set default, set null, or simply failure, as explained in PostgreSQL Foreign keys documentation .

Nevermind all that, this problem has been solved for you and everything is done automatically in QGIS-versioning. Before you ask, yes foreign keys spanning on multiple fields are also supported.

What’s new in QGIS ?

You will get a new message you probably already know about, when you try to make an invalid modification committing your changes to the master database

Error when foreign key constraint is violated

Partial checkout

One existing Qgis-versioning feature is partial checkout. It allows a user to select a subset of data to checkout in its working copy. It avoids downloading gigabytes of data you do not care about. You can, for instance, checkout features within a given spatial extent.

So far, so good. But if you have only a part of your data, you cannot ensure that modifying a data field as primary key will keep uniqueness. In this particular case, QGIS-versioning will trigger errors on commit, pointing out the invalid rows you have to modify so the unique constraint remains valid.

Error when committing non unique key after a partial checkout

Tests

There is a lot to check when you intend to replace the existing constraint system with your own constraint system based on triggers. In order to ensure QGIS-Versioning stability and reliability, we put some special effort on building a test set that cover all use cases and possible exceptions.

What’s next

There is now no known limitations on using QGIS-versioning on any of your database. If you think about a missing feature or just want to know more about QGIS and QGIS-versioning, feel free to contact us at [email protected]. And please have a look at our support offering for QGIS.

Many thanks to eHealth Africa who helped us develop these new features. eHealth Africa is a non-governmental organization based in Nigeria. Their mission is to build stronger health systems through the design and implementation of data-driven solutions.

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