Editing attributes

Learning QGIS 2.0

September 2013


This book takes you through every stage you need to create superb maps using QGIS 2.0 – from installation on your favorite OS to data editing and spatial analysis right through to designing your print maps.

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

There are three main use cases for attribute editing. First, we might want to edit the attributes of one specific feature, for example, to fix a wrong name. Second, we might want to edit attributes of a group of features. Or third, we might want to change the attributes of all the features within a layer. All these use cases are covered by functionality available through the attribute table. We can access it by going to Layer | Open Attribute Table, the Open Attribute Table button present in the Attributes toolbar, or in the layer name context menu.

To change attribute values, we always have to first enable editing. Then we can double-click on any cell in the attribute table to activate the input mode. Clicking on Enter confirms the change, but to save the new value permanently, we have to also click on the Save Edit(s) button or press Ctrl + S. In the bottom-right corner of the attribute table dialog, we can switch from the table to the form view, as shown in the following screenshot, and start editing there.

Another option for editing the attributes of one feature is to open the attribute form directly by clicking on the feature on the map using the Identify tool. By default, the Identify tool displays the attribute values in the read mode, but we can enable Open feature form if a single feature is identified by going to Settings | Options | Map Tools.

In the attribute table, we also find tools to handle selections (from left to right starting at the third button): Delete selected features, Select by expression, Cancel the selection, Move selected features to the top of the table, Invert the selection, Pan to the selected features, Zoom to the selected features, and Copy the selected features. Another way to select features in the attribute table is to click on the row number.

The next two buttons allow us to add and remove columns. When we click on the delete column button, we get a list of columns to choose from. Similarly, the add columns button brings up a dialog to specify the name and data type of the new column.

If we want to change attributes of multiple or all features in a layer, editing them manually usually isn't an option. That is what Field Calculator is good for. We can access it using the Open field calculator button in the attribute table or using the Ctrl + I keys. In Field Calculator, we can choose to only update selected features or to update all the features in the layer. Besides updating an existing field, we can also create a new field. The function list is the same one we already explored when we selected features by expression. We can use any of these functions to populate a new field or update an existing one. Here are some example expressions that are used often:

  • We can create an id column using the $rownum function, which populates a column with the row numbers as shown in the following screenshot

  • Another common use case is to calculate line length or polygon area using the geometry functions $length and $area respectively

  • Similarly, we can get point coordinates using $x and $y

  • If we want to get the start or end points of a line, we can use xat(0) and yat(0) or xat(-1) and yat(-1)


Thus, in this article we have learned how to edit the attributes in QGIS.

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