Search icon
Cart icon
Close icon
You have no products in your basket yet
Save more on your purchases!
Savings automatically calculated. No voucher code required
Arrow left icon
All Products
Best Sellers
New Releases
Learning Hub
Free Learning
Arrow right icon
Over 7,000 tech titles at $9.99 each with AI-powered learning assistants on new releases
Programming ArcGIS 10.1 with Python Cookbook
Programming ArcGIS 10.1 with Python Cookbook

Programming ArcGIS 10.1 with Python Cookbook: This book provides the recipes you need to use Python with AcrGIS for more effective geoprocessing. Shortcuts, scripts, tools, and customizations put you in the driving seat and can dramatically speed up your workflow.

By Donald Eric Pimpler , Eric Pimpler
$28.99 $9.99
Book Feb 2013 304 pages 1st Edition
$28.99 $9.99
$15.99 Monthly
$28.99 $9.99
$15.99 Monthly

What do you get with eBook?

Product feature icon Instant access to your Digital eBook purchase
Product feature icon Download this book in EPUB and PDF formats
Product feature icon Access this title in our online reader with advanced features
Product feature icon DRM FREE - Read whenever, wherever and however you want
Buy Now
Table of content icon View table of contents Preview book icon Preview Book

Programming ArcGIS 10.1 with Python Cookbook

Chapter 1. Fundamentals of the Python Language for ArcGIS

Python supports many of the programming constructs found in other languages. In this chapter, we'll cover many of the basic language constructs found in Python. Initially, we'll cover how to create new Python scripts and edit existing scripts. From there, we'll delve into language features, such as adding comments to your code, creating and assigning data to variables, and built-in variable typing with Python, which makes coding with Python easy and compact.

Next, we'll look at the various built-in data-types that Python offers, such as strings, numbers, lists, and dictionaries. Classes and objects are a fundamental concept in object-oriented programming and in the Python language. We'll introduce you to these complex data structures, which you'll use extensively when you write geoprocessing scripts with ArcGIS.

In addition, we'll cover statements including decision support and looping structures for making decisions in your code and/or looping through a code block multiple times along with with statements, which are used extensively with the new cursor objects in the Arcpy Data Access module. Finally, you'll learn how to access modules that provide additional functionality to the Python language. By the end of this chapter, you will have learned the following:

  • How to create and edit new Python scripts

  • Python language features

  • Comments and data variables

  • Built-in datatypes (Strings, Numbers, Lists, and Dictionaries)

  • Complex data structures

  • Looping structures

  • Additional Python functionality

Using IDLE for Python script development

As I mentioned in the preface, when you install ArcGIS Desktop, Python is also installed along with a tool called IDLE that allows you to write your own code. IDLE stands for Integrated DeveLopment Environment. Because it is available with every ArcGIS Desktop installation, we'll use the IDLE development environment for many of the scripts that we write in this book along with the Python window embedded in ArcGIS Desktop. As you progress as a programmer, you may find other development tools that you prefer over IDLE. You can write your code in any of these tools.

The Python shell window

To start the IDLE development environment for Python, you can go to Start | Programs | ArcGIS | Python 2.7 | IDLE. Please note that the version of Python installed with ArcGIS will differ depending upon the ArcGIS version that you have installed. For example, ArcGIS 10.0 uses Python 2.6 while ArcGIS 10.1 uses Python 2.7.

A Python shell window similar to the screenshot will be displayed:

The Python shell window is used for output and error messages generated by scripts. A common mistake for beginners is to assume that the geoprocessing scripts will be written in this shell window. That is not the case. You will need to create a separate code window to hold your scripts.

Although the shell window isn't used to write entire scripts, it can be used to interactively write code and get immediate feedback. ArcGIS has a built-in Python shell window that you can use in much the same way. We'll examine the ArcGIS Python window in the next chapter.

The Python script window

Your scripts will be written in IDLE inside a separate window known as the Python script window. To create a new code window, select File | New Window from the IDLE shell window. A window similar to that in the following screenshot will be displayed:

Your Python scripts will be written inside this new code window. Each script will need to be saved to a local or network drive. By default, scripts are saved with a .py file extension.

Editing existing Python scripts

Existing Python script files can be opened from Windows Explorer by right-clicking on the file and selecting Edit with IDLE, which brings up a new shell window along with the script loaded in the Python script editor. You can see an example of this in the following screenshot:

In this instance, we have loaded the script with IDLE. The code is loaded inside the script window:

Now that the code window is open, you can begin writing or editing code. You can also perform some basic script debugging with the IDLE interface. Debugging is the process of identifying and fixing errors in your code.

Executing scripts from IDLE

Once you've written a geoprocessing script in the IDLE code window or opened an existing script, you can execute the code from the interface. IDLE does provide functionality that allows you to check the syntax of your code before running the script. In the code window, select Run | Check Module to perform a syntax check of your code.

Any syntax errors will be displayed in the shell window. If there aren't any syntax errors, you should just see the prompt in the shell window. While the IDLE interface can be used to check for syntax errors, it doesn't provide a way of checking for logical errors in your code nor does it provide more advanced debugging tools found in other development environments, such as PythonWin or Wingware.

Once you're satisfied that no syntax errors exist in your code, you can run the script. Select Run | Run Module to execute the script:

Any error messages will be written to the shell window along with output from print statements and system-generated messages. The print statement simply outputs a string to the shell window. It is often used for updating the status of a running script or for debugging the code.

Python language fundamentals

To effectively write geoprocessing scripts for ArcGIS, you are going to need to understand at least the basic constructs of the Python language. Python is easier to learn than most other programming languages, but it does take some time to learn and effectively use it. This section will teach you how to create variables, assign various datatypes to variables, understand the different types of data that can be assigned to variables, use different types of statements, use objects, read and write files, and import third-party Python modules.

Commenting code

Python scripts should follow a common structure. The beginning of each script should serve as documentation detailing the script name, author, and a general description of the processing provided by the script. This documentation is accomplished in Python through the use of comments. Comments are lines of code that you add to your script that serve as a documentation of what functionality the script provides. These lines of code begin with a single pound sign (#) or a double pound sign (##), and are followed by whatever text you need to document the code. The Python interpreter does not execute these lines of code. They are simply used for documenting your code. In the next screenshot, the commented lines of code are displayed in red. You should also strive to include comments throughout your script to describe important sections of your script. This will be useful to you (or another programmer) when the time comes to update your scripts.


Downloading the example code

You can download the example code files for all Packt books you have purchased from your account at If you purchased this book elsewhere, you can visit and register to have the files e-mailed directly to you.

Importing modules

Although Python includes many built-in functions, you will frequently need to access specific bundles of functionality, which are stored in external modules. For instance, the Math module stores specific functions related to processing numeric values and the R module provides statistical analysis functions. Modules are imported through the use of the import statement. When writing geoprocessing scripts with ArcGIS, you will always need to import the ArcPy module, which is the Python package for accessing GIS tools and functions provided by ArcGIS. import statements will be the first lines of code (not including comments) in your scripts:

import arcpy, os


At a high level, you can think of a variable as an area in your computer's memory reserved for storing values while the script is running. Variables that you define in Python are given a name and a value. The values assigned to variables can then be accessed by different areas of your script as needed, simply by referring to the variable name. For example, you might create a variable that contains a feature class name, which is then used by the Buffer tool to create a new output dataset. To create a variable, simply give it a name followed by the assignment operator, which is just an equal sign (=), and then a value:

fcParcels = "Parcels"
fcStreets = "Streets"

The following table illustrates the variable name and values assigned to the variable using the preceding code example:

Variable name

Variable value





There are certain naming rules that you must follow when creating variables, including the following:

  • Can contain letters, numbers, and underscores

  • First character must be a letter

  • No special characters in variable name other an underscore

  • Can't use Python keywords

There are a few dozen Python keywords that must be avoided including class, if, for, while, and others.

Some examples of legal variable names in Python:

  • featureClassParcel

  • fieldPopulation

  • field2

  • ssn

  • my_name

Some examples of illegal variable names in Python:

  • class (Python keyword)

  • return (Python keyword)

  • $featureClass (illegal character, must start with a letter)

  • 2fields (must start with a letter)

  • parcels&Streets (illegal character)

Python is a case-sensitive language, so pay particular attention to the capitalization and naming of variables in your scripts. Case-sensitivity issues are probably the most common source of errors for new Python programmers, so always consider this as a possibility when you encounter errors in your code. Let's look at an example. The following is a list of three variables; note that although each variable name is the same, the casing is different, resulting in three distinct variables.

  • mapsize = "22x34"

  • MapSize = "8x11"

  • Mapsize = "36x48"

If you print these variables, you will get the following output:

print mapsize
>>> 22x34

print MapSize
>>> 8x11

print Mapsize

Python variable names need to be consistent throughout the script. Best practice is to use camel casing, wherein the first word of a variable name is all lowercase and then each successive word begins with an uppercase letter. This concept is illustrated in the following example with the variable name fieldOwnerName. The first word (field) is all lower case followed by an uppercase letter for the second word (Owner) and third word (Name):


In Python, variables are dynamically typed. Dynamic typing means that you can define a variable and assign data to it without specifically defining that a variable name will contain a specific type of data. Commonly used datatypes that can be assigned to variables include the following:


Example value

Code example



fcName = "Streets"



percChange = 3.14



ftrChanged = true


Streets, Parcels, Streams

lstFC = ["Streets", "Parcels", "Streams"]



dictFC = {'0':Streets,'1':Parcels]



spatialExt = map.extent

We will discuss each of these data-types in greater detail in the coming sections.

For instance, in C# you would need to define a variable's name and type before using it. This is not necessary in Python. To use a variable, simply give it a name and value, and you can begin using it right away. Python does the work behind the scenes to figure out what type of data is being held in the variable.

For example, in C# .NET you would need to name and define the datatype for a variable before working with the variable. In the following code example, we've created a new variable called aTouchdown, which is defined as an integer variable, meaning that it can contain only integer data. We then assign the value 6 to the variable:

int aTouchdown;
aTouchdown = 6;

In Python, this same variable can be created and assigned data through dynamic typing. The Python interpreter is tasked with dynamically figuring out what type of data is assigned to the variable:

aTouchdown = 6

Your Python geoprocessing scripts for ArcGIS will often need to reference the location of a dataset on your computer or perhaps a shared server. References to these datasets will often consist of paths stored in a variable. In Python, pathnames are a special case that deserve some extra mention. The backslash character in Python is a reserved escape character and a line continuation character, thus there is a need to define paths using two back slashes, a single forward slash, or a regular single backslash prefixed with the letter r. These pathnames are always stored as strings in Python. You'll see an example of this in the following section.

Illegal path reference:

fcParcels = "c:\Data\Parcels.shp"

Legal path references:

fcParcels = "c:/Data/Parcels.shp"
fcParcels = "c:\\Data\\Parcels.shp"
fcParcels = r"c:\Data\Parcels.shp"

There may be times when you know that your script will need a variable, but don't necessarily know ahead of time what data will be assigned to the variable. In these cases, you could simply define a variable without assigning data to it. Data that is assigned to the variable can also be changed while the script is running.

Variables can hold many different kinds of data including primitive datatypes such as strings and numbers along with more complex data, such as lists, dictionaries and even objects. We're going to examine the different types of data that can be assigned to a variable along with various functions that are provided by Python for manipulating the data.

Built-in datatypes

Python has a number of built-in data-types. The first built-in type that we will discuss is the string data-type. We've already seen several examples of string variables, but these types of variables can be manipulated in a lot of ways, so let's take a closer look at this data-type.


Strings are ordered collections of characters used to store and represent text-based information. This is a rather dry way of saying that string variables hold text. String variables are surrounded by single or double quotes when being assigned to a variable. Examples could include a name, feature class name, a Where clause, or anything else that can be encoded as text.

String manipulation

Strings can be manipulated in a number of ways in Python. String concatenation is one of the more commonly used functions and is simple to accomplish. The + operator is used with string variables on either side of the operator to produce a new string variable that ties the two string variables together:

shpStreets = "c:\\GISData\\Streets" + ".shp"
print shpStreets

Running this code example produces the following result:


String equality can be tested using Python's == operator, which is simply two equal signs placed together. Don't confuse the equality operator with the assignment operator, which is a single equal to sign. The equality operator tests two variables for equality, while the assignment operator assigns a value to a variable:

firstName = "Eric"
lastName = "Pimpler"
firstName == lastname

Running this code example produces the following result:


Strings can be tested for containment using the in operator, which returns True if the first operand is contained in the second.

fcName = "Floodplain.shp"
print ".shp" in fcName

I briefly mentioned that strings are an ordered collection of characters. What does this mean? It simply means that we can access individual characters or a series of characters from the string. In Python, this is referred to as indexing in the case of accessing an individual character, and slicing in the case of accessing a series of characters.

Characters in a string are obtained by providing the numeric offset contained within square brackets after a string. For example, you could obtain the first string character in the fc variable by using the syntax fc[0]. Negative offsets can be used to search backwards from the end of a string. In this case, the last character in a string is stored at index -1. Indexing always creates a new variable to hold the character:

fc = "Floodplain.shp"
print fc[0]
print fc[10]
print fc[13]

The following image illustrates how strings are an ordered collection of characters with the first character occupying position 0, the second character occupying position 1, and each successive character occupying the next index number:

While string indexing allows you to obtain a single character from a string variable, string slicing enables you to extract a contiguous sequence of strings. The format and syntax is similar to indexing, but with the addition of a second offset, which is used to tell Python how many characters to return.

The following code example provides an example of string slicing. The theString variable has been assigned a value of Floodplain.shp. To obtain a sliced variable with the contents of Flood, you would use the theString[0:5] syntax:

theString = "Floodplain.shp"
print theString[0:5]


Python slicing returns the characters beginning with the first offset up to, but not including, the second offset. This can be particularly confusing for new Python programmers and is a common source of error. In our example, the returned variable will contain the characters Flood. The first character, which occupies position 0, is F. The last character returned is index 4, which corresponds to the character d. Notice that index number 5 is not included since Python slicing only returns characters up to but not including the second offset.

Either of the offsets can be left off. This in effect creates a wild card. In the case of theString[1:], you are telling Python to return all characters starting from the second character to the end of the string. In the second case, theString[:-1], you are telling Python to start at character zero and return all characters except the last.

Python is an excellent language for manipulating strings and there are many additional functions that you can use to process this type of data. Most of these are beyond the scope of this text, but in general all of the following string manipulation functions are available:

  • String length

  • Casing functions for conversion to upper and lower case

  • Removal of leading and trailing whitespace

  • Finding a character within a string

  • Replacement of text

  • Splitting into a list of words based on a delimiter

  • Formatting


Python also has built-in support for numeric data including int, long, float, and complex values. Numbers are assigned to variables in much the same way as strings, with the exception that you do not enclose the value in quotes and obviously it must be a numeric value.

Python supports all the commonly used numeric operators including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and modulus or remainder. In addition, functions for returning the absolute value, conversion of strings to numeric datatypes, and rounding are also available.

Although Python provides a few built-in mathematical functions, the math module can be used to access a wide variety of more advanced math functions. To use these functions, you must specifically import the math module as follows:

import math

Functions provided by the math module include those for returning the ceiling and floor of a number, the absolute value, trigonometric functions, logarithmic functions, angular conversion, and hyperbolic functions.


A third built-in datatype provided by Python is the list. A list is an ordered collection of objects that can hold any type of data supported by Python as well as being able to hold multiple datatypes at the same time. This could be numbers, strings, other lists, dictionaries, or objects. So, for instance, a list variable could hold numeric and string data at the same time. Lists are zero-based, with the first element in the list occupying position 0. Each successive object in the list is incremented by one. In addition, lists have the special capability of dynamically growing and shrinking.

Lists are created by assigning a series of values enclosed by brackets. To pull a value from a list, simply use an integer value in brackets along with the variable name. The following code example provides an illustration of this. You can also use slicing with lists to return multiple values. Slicing a list always returns a new list variable.

fcList = ["Hydrants", "Water Mains", "Valves", "Wells"]
fc = fcList[0]
print fc
fc = fcList[3]
print fc

Lists are dynamic in nature, enabling them to grow, shrink, and change contents. This is all done without the need to create a new copy of the list. Changing values in a list can be accomplished either through indexing or slicing. Indexing allows you to change a single value, while slicing allows you to change multiple list items.

Lists have a number of methods that allow you to manipulate the values that are part of the list. You can sort the contents of the list in either an ascending or descending order through the use of the sort() method. Items can be added to a list with the append() method, which adds an object to the end of the list, and with the insert() method which inserts an object at a position within the list. Items can be removed from a list with the remove() method which removes the first occurrence of a value from the list, or the pop() method which removes and returns the object last added to the list. The contents of the list can also be reversed with the reverse() method.


Tuples are similar to lists but with some important differences. Just like lists, tuples contain a sequence of values. The only difference is that tuples can't be changed, and they are referred to with parentheses instead of square brackets. Creating a tuple is as simple as placing a number of comma-separated values inside parentheses, as shown in the following code example:

fcTuples = ("Hydrants", "Water Mains", "Valves", "Wells")

Like lists, tuple indices start with an index value of 0. Access to values stored in a tuple occurs in the same way as lists. This is illustrated in the following code example:

fcTuples = ("Hydrants", "Water Mains", "Valves", "Wells")
print fcTuples[1]
>>>Water Mains

Tuples are typically used in place of a list when it is important for the contents of the structure to be static. You can't insure this with a list, but you can with a tuple.


Dictionaries are a second type of collection object in Python. They are similar to lists, except that dictionaries are an unordered collection of objects. Instead of fetching objects from the collection through the use of an offset, items in a dictionary are stored and fetched by a key. Each key in a dictionary has an associated value. Similar to lists, dictionaries can grow and shrink in place through the use of methods on the dictionary class. In the following code example, you will learn to create and populate a dictionary and see how values can be accessed through the use of a key. Dictionaries are created with the use of curly braces. Inside these braces each key is surrounded by quotes followed by a colon and then a value that is associated with the key. These key/value pairs are separated by commas:

##create the dictionary
dictLayers = {'Roads': 0, 'Airports': 1, 'Rail': 2}

##access the dictionary by key

Basic dictionary operations include getting the number of items in a dictionary, getting a value using the key, determining if a key exists, converting the keys to a list, and getting a list of values. Dictionary objects can be changed, expanded, and shrunk in place. What this means is that Python does not have to create a new dictionary object to hold the altered version of the dictionary. Assigning values to a dictionary key is accomplished by stating the key value in brackets and setting it equal to some value.


Unlike lists, dictionaries can't be sliced due to the fact that their contents are unordered. Should you have the need to iterate over all values in a dictionary, simply use the keys() method, which returns a collection of all the keys in the dictionary and which can then be used individually to set or get the value.

Classes and objects

Classes and objects are a fundamental concept in object-oriented programming. While Python is more of a procedural language, it also supports object-oriented programming. In object-oriented programming, classes are used to create object instances. You can think of classes as blueprints for the creation of one or more objects. Each object instance has the same properties and methods, but the data contained in an object can and usually will differ. Objects are complex datatypes in Python composed of properties and methods, and can be assigned to variables just like any other datatype. Properties contain data associated with an object, while methods are actions that an object can perform.

These concepts are best illustrated with an example. In ArcPy, the Extent class is a rectangle specified by providing the coordinate of the lower-left corner and the coordinate of the upper-right corner in map units. The Extent class contains a number of properties and methods. Properties include XMin, XMax, YMin, and YMax, spatialReference, and others. The minimum and maximum of x and y properties provide the coordinates for the extent rectangle. The spatialReference property holds a reference to a SpatialReference object for the Extent. Object instances of the Extent class can be used both to set and get the values of these properties through dot notation. An example of this is seen in the following code example:

import arcpy
fc = "c:/ArcpyBook/data/TravisCounty/TravisCounty.shp"

# Fetch each feature from the cursor and examine the extent properties and spatial reference
for row in arcpy.da.SearchCursor(fc, ["SHAPE@"]):
  # get the extent of the county boundary
  ext = row[0].extent
  # print out the bounding coordinates and spatial reference
  print "XMin: " + ext.XMin
  print "XMax: " + ext.XMax
  print "YMin: " + ext.YMin
  print "YMax: " + ext.YMax
  print "Spatial Reference: " +

Running this script yields the following output:

XMin: 2977896.74002
XMax: 3230651.20622
YMin: 9981999.27708
Spatial Reference: NAD_1983_StatePlane_Texas_Central_FIPS_4203_Feet

The Extent class also has a number of methods, which are actions that an object can perform. In the case of this particular object, most of the methods are related to performing some sort of geometric test between the Extent object and another geometry. Examples include contains(), crosses(), disjoint(), equals(), overlaps(), touches(),and within().

One additional object-oriented concept that you need to understand is dot notation. Dot notation provides a way of accessing the properties and methods of an object. It is used to indicate that a property or method belongs to a particular class.

The syntax for using the dot notation includes an object instance followed by a dot and then the property or method. The syntax is the same regardless of whether you're accessing a property or a method. A parenthesis, and zero or more parameters, at the end of the word following the dot indicates that a method is being accessed. Here are a couple of examples to better illustrate this concept:

Property: extent.XMin
Method: extent.touches()


Each line of code that you write with Python is known as a statement. There are many different kinds of statements, including those that create and assign data to variables, decision support statements that branch your code based on a test, looping statements that execute a code block multiple times, and others. There are various rules that your code will need to follow as you create the statements that are part of your script. You've already encountered one type of statement: variable creation and assignment.

Decision support statements

The if/elif/else statement is the primary decision making statement in Python and tests for a true/false condition. Decision statements enable you to control the flow of your programs. Here are some example decisions that you can make in your code: if the variable holds a point feature class, get the X, Y coordinates; if the feature class name equals Roads then get the Name field.

Decision statements such as if/elif/else test for a true/false condition. In Python, a "true" value means any nonzero number or nonempty object. A "false" value indicates "not true" and is represented in Python with a zero number or empty object. Comparison tests return values of one or zero (true or false). Boolean and/or operators return a true or false operand value.

if fcName == 'Roads':
  gp.Buffer_analysis(fc, "c:\\temp\\roads.shp", 100)
elif fcName == 'Rail':
  gp.Buffer_analysis(fc, "c:\\temp\\rail.shp", 50)
  print "Can't buffer this layer"

Python code must follow certain syntax rules. Statements execute one after another, until your code branches. Branching typically occurs through the use of if/elif/else. In addition, the use of looping structures, such as for and while, can alter the statement flow. Python automatically detects statement and block boundaries, so there is no need for braces or delimiters around your blocks of code. Instead, indentation is used to group statements in a block. Many languages terminate statements with the use of a semicolon, but Python simply uses the end of line character to mark the end of a statement. Compound statements include a ":" character. Compound statements follow the pattern: header terminated by a colon. Blocks of code are then written as individual statements and are indented underneath the header.

Statement indentation deserves a special mention as it is critical to the way Python interprets code. As I mentioned, a contiguous section of code is detected by Python through the use of indentation. By default, all Python statements should be left-justified until looping, decision support, try/except, and with statements are used. This includes for and while loops, if/else statements, try/except statements, and with statements. All statements indented with the same distance belong to the same block of code until that block is ended by a line less indented.

Looping statements

Looping statements allow your program to repeat lines of code over and over as necessary. while loops repeatedly execute a block of statements as long as the test at the top of the loop evaluates to true. When the condition test evaluates to false, Python begins interpreting code immediately after the while loop. In the next code example, a value of 10 has been assigned to the variable x. The test for the while loop then checks to see if x is less than 100. If x is less than 100 the current value of x is printed to the screen and the value of x is incremented by 10. Processing then continues with the while loop test. The second time, the value of x will be 20; so the test evaluates to true once again. This process continues until x is larger than 100. At this time, the test will evaluate to false and processing will stop. It is very important that your while statements have some way of breaking out of the loop. Otherwise, you will wind up in an infinite loop. An infinite loop is a sequence of instructions in a computer program that loops endlessly, either due to the loop having no terminating condition, having one that can never be met, or one that causes the loop to start over:

x = 10
while x < 100:
 print x
 x = x + 10

for loops execute a block of statements a predetermined number of times. They come in two varieties—a counted loop for running a block of code a set number of times, and a list loop that enables you to loop through all objects in a list. The list loop in the following example executes once for each value in the dictionary and then stops looping:

dictLayers = {"Roads":"Line","Rail":"Line","Parks":"Polygon"}
lstLayers = dictLayers.keys()
for x in lstLayers:
  print dictLayers[x]

There are times when it will be necessary for you to break out of the execution of a loop. The break and continue statements can be used to do this. break jumps out of the closest enclosing loop while continue jumps back to the top of the closest enclosing loop. These statements can appear anywhere inside the block of code.

Try statements

A try statement is a complete, compound statement that is used to handle exceptions. Exceptions are a high-level control device used primarily for error interception or triggering. Exceptions in Python can either be intercepted or triggered. When an error condition occurs in your code, Python automatically triggers an exception, which may or may not be handled by your code. It is up to you as a programmer to catch an automatically triggered exception. Exceptions can also be triggered manually by your code. In this case, you would also provide an exception handling routine to catch these manually triggered exceptions.

There are two basic types of try statements: try/except/else and try/finally. The basic try statement starts with a try header line followed by a block of indented statements, then one or more optional except clauses that name exceptions to be caught, and an optional else clause at the end:

import arcpy
import sys

inFeatureClass = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(0)
outFeatureClass = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(1)

  # If the output feature class exists, raise an error
  if arcpy.Exists(inFeatureClass):
    raise overwriteError(outFeatureClass)
    # Additional processing steps

except overwriteError as e:
  # Use message ID 12, and provide the output feature class
  #  to complete the message.
  arcpy.AddIDMessage("Error", 12, str(e))

The try/except/else statement works as follows. Once inside a try statement, Python marks the fact that you are in a try block and knows that any exception condition that occurs at this point will be sent to the various except statements for handling. If a matching exception is found, the code block inside the except block is executed. The code then picks up below the full try statement. The else statements are not executed in this case. Each statement inside the try block is executed. Assuming that no exception conditions occur, the code pointer will then jump to the else statement and execute the code block contained by the else statement before moving to the next line of code below the try block.

The other type of try statement is the try/finally statement which allows for finalization actions. When a finally clause is used in a try statement, its block of statements always run at the very end, whether an error condition occurs or not.

The try/finally statement works as follows. If an exception occurs, Python runs the try block, then the finally block, and then execution continues past the entire try statement. If an exception does not occur during execution, Python runs the try block, then the finally block. This is useful when you want to make sure an action happens after a code block runs, regardless of whether an error condition occurs. Cleanup operations, such as closing a file or a connection to a database are commonly placed inside a finally block to ensure that they are executed regardless of whether an exception occurs in your code:

import arcpy
from arcpy import env

  if arcpy.CheckExtension("3D") == "Available":
    # Raise a custom exception
    raise LicenseError
  env.workspace = "D:/GrosMorne"
  arcpy.HillShade_3d("WesternBrook", "westbrook_hill", 300)
  arcpy.Aspect_3d("WesternBrook", "westbrook_aspect")

except LicenseError:
  print "3D Analyst license is unavailable" 
  print arcpy.GetMessages(2)
  # Check in the 3D Analyst extension

with statements

The with statement is handy when you have two related operations that need to be executed as a pair with a block of code in between. A common scenario for using with statements is opening, reading, and closing a file. Opening and closing a file are the related operations, and reading a file and doing something with the contents is the block of code in between. When writing geoprocessing scripts with ArcGIS, the new cursor objects introduced with version 10.1 of ArcGIS are ideal for using with statements. We'll discuss cursor objects in great detail in a later chapter, but I'll briefly describe these objects now. Cursors are an in-memory copy of records from the attribute table of a feature class or table. There are various types of cursors. Insert cursors allow you to insert new records, search cursors are a read-only copy of records, and update cursors allow you to edit or delete records. Cursor objects are opened, processed in some way, and closed automatically using a with statement.

The closure of a file or cursor object is handled automatically by the with statement resulting in cleaner, more efficient coding. It's basically like using a try/finally block but with fewer lines of code. In the following code example, the with block is used to create a new search cursor, read information from the cursor, and implicitly close the cursor:

import arcpy

fc = "c:/data/city.gdb/streets"

# For each row print the Object ID field, and use the SHAPE@AREA
# token to access geometry properties

with arcpy.da.SearchCursor(fc, ("OID@", "SHAPE@AREA")) as cursor:
  for row in cursor:
    print("Feature {0} has an area of {1}".format(row[0], row[1]))

File I/O

You will often find it necessary to retrieve or write information to files on your computer. Python has a built-in object type that provides a way to access files for many tasks. We're only going to cover a small subset of the file manipulation functionality provided, but we'll touch on the most commonly used functions including opening and closing files, and reading and writing data to a file.

Python's open() function creates a file object, which serves as a link to a file residing on your computer. You must call the open() function on a file before reading and/or writing data to a file. The first parameter for the open() function is a path to the file you'd like to open. The second parameter corresponds to a mode, which is typically read (r), write (w), or append (a). A value of r indicates that you'd like to open the file for read only operations, while a value of w indicates you'd like to open the file for write operations. In the event that you open a file that already exists for write operations, this will overwrite any data currently in the file, so you must be careful with write mode. Append mode (a) will open a file for write operations, but instead of overwriting any existing data, it will append the new data to the end of the file. The following code example shows the use of the open() function for opening a text file in a read-only mode:

f = open('Wildfires.txt','r')

After you've completed read/write operations on a file, you should always close the file with the close() method.

After a file has been opened, data can be read from it in a number of ways and using various methods. The most typical scenario would be to read data one line at a time from a file through the readline() method. readline() can be used to read the file one line at a time into a string variable. You would need to create a looping mechanism in your Python code to read the entire file line by line. If you would prefer to read the entire file into a variable, you can use the read() method, which will read the file up to the end of file (EOF) marker. You can also use the readlines() method to read the entire contents of a file, separating each line into individual strings, until the EOF is found.

In the following code example, we have opened a text file called Wildfires.txt in read-only mode and used the readlines() method on the file to read its entire contents into a variable called lstFires, which is a Python list containing each line of the file as a separate string value in the list. In this case, the Wildfire.txt file is a comma-delimited text file containing the latitude and longitude of the fire along with the confidence values for each file. We then loop through each line of text in lstFires and use the split() function to extract the values based on a comma as the delimiter, including the latitude, longitude, and confidence values. The latitude and longitude values are used to create a new Point object, which is then inserted into the feature class using an insert cursor:

import arcpy, os
  arcpy.env.workspace = "C:/data/WildlandFires.mdb"
  # open the file to read
  f = open('Wildfires.txt','r')

  lstFires = f.readlines()
  cur = arcpy.InsertCursor("FireIncidents")
  for fire in lstFires:
    if 'Latitude' in fire:
    vals = fire.split(",")
    latitude = float(vals[0])
    longitude = float(vals[1])
    confid = int(vals[2])
    pnt = arcpy.Point(longitude,latitude)
    feat = cur.newRow()
    feat.shape = pnt
    feat.setValue("CONFIDENCEVALUE", confid)
  print arcpy.GetMessages()
	del cur

Just as is the case with reading files, there are a number of methods that you can use to write data to a file. The write() function is probably the easiest to use and takes a single string argument and writes it to a file. The writelines() function can be used to write out the contents of a list structure to a file. In the following code example, we have created a list structure called fcList, which contains a list of feature classes. We can write this list to a file using the writelines() method:

outfile = open('c:\\temp\\data.txt','w')
fcList = ["Streams", "Roads", "Counties"]


In this chapter, we covered some of the fundamental Python programming concepts that you'll need to understand before you can write effective geoprocessing scripts. We began the chapter with an overview of the IDLE development environment for writing and debugging Python scripts. You learned how to create a new script, edit existing scripts, check for syntax errors, and execute the script. We also covered the basic language constructs including importing modules, creating and assigning variables, if/else statements, looping statements, and the various data-types including strings, numbers, Booleans, lists, dictionaries, and objects. You also learned how to read and write text files.

In the next chapter, you will learn the basic techniques for writing geoprocessing scripts for ArcGIS with Python. You'll learn how to use the embedded Python window in ArcGIS Desktop, import the ArcPy package to your scripts, execute ArcToolbox tools from your scripts, use the help system when writing scripts, use variables to store data, and access the various ArcPy modules.

Left arrow icon Right arrow icon

Key benefits

  • Learn how to create geoprocessing scripts with ArcPy
  • Customize and modify ArcGIS with Python
  • Create time-saving tools and scripts for ArcGIS


ArcGIS is an industry standard geographic information system from ESRI.This book will show you how to use the Python programming language to create geoprocessing scripts, tools, and shortcuts for the ArcGIS Desktop environment.This book will make you a more effective and efficient GIS professional by showing you how to use the Python programming language with ArcGIS Desktop to automate geoprocessing tasks, manage map documents and layers, find and fix broken data links, edit data in feature classes and tables, and much more."Programming ArcGIS 10.1 with Python Cookbook" starts by covering fundamental Python programming concepts in an ArcGIS Desktop context. Using a how-to instruction style you'll then learn how to use Python to automate common important ArcGIS geoprocessing tasks.In this book you will also cover specific ArcGIS scripting topics which will help save you time and effort when working with ArcGIS. Topics include managing map document files, automating map production and printing, finding and fixing broken data sources, creating custom geoprocessing tools, and working with feature classes and tables, among others.In "Python ArcGIS 10.1 Programming Cookbook" you'll learn how to write geoprocessing scripts using a pragmatic approach designed around an approach of accomplishing specific tasks in a Cookbook style format.

What you will learn

Fundamental Python programming skills Update layer properties and symbology Automate map production, printing, and the creation of PDF map books Find and fix broken data links in your map document files Create custom geoprocessing tools that can be shared with others Schedule your geoprocessing scripts to run after hours Create new feature classes or tables and add records, as well as edit feature classes and tables Customize the ArcGIS Desktop interface with Python add-ons

Product Details

Country selected

Publication date : Feb 22, 2013
Length 304 pages
Edition : 1st Edition
Language : English
ISBN-13 : 9781849694445
Vendor :
Category :

What do you get with eBook?

Product feature icon Instant access to your Digital eBook purchase
Product feature icon Download this book in EPUB and PDF formats
Product feature icon Access this title in our online reader with advanced features
Product feature icon DRM FREE - Read whenever, wherever and however you want
Buy Now

Product Details

Publication date : Feb 22, 2013
Length 304 pages
Edition : 1st Edition
Language : English
ISBN-13 : 9781849694445
Vendor :
Category :

Table of Contents

21 Chapters
Programming ArcGIS 10.1 with Python Cookbook Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
Credits Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
About the Author Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
About the Reviewers Chevron down icon Chevron up icon Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
Preface Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
1. Fundamentals of the Python Language for ArcGIS Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
2. Writing Basic Geoprocessing Scripts with ArcPy Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
3. Managing Map Documents and Layers Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
4. Finding and Fixing Broken Data Links Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
5. Automating Map Production and Printing Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
6. Executing Geoprocessing Tools from Scripts Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
7. Creating Custom Geoprocessing Tools Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
8. Querying and Selecting Data Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
9. Using the ArcPy Data Access Module to Select, Insert, and Update Geographic Data and Tables Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
10. Listing and Describing GIS Data Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
11. Customizing the ArcGIS Interface with Add-Ins Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
12. Error Handling and Troubleshooting Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
Automating Python Scripts Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
Five Things Every GIS Programmer Should Know How to Do with Python Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
Index Chevron down icon Chevron up icon

Customer reviews

Top Reviews
Rating distribution
Empty star icon Empty star icon Empty star icon Empty star icon Empty star icon 0
(0 Ratings)
5 star 0%
4 star 0%
3 star 0%
2 star 0%
1 star 0%
Filter icon Filter
Top Reviews

Filter reviews by

No reviews found
Get free access to Packt library with over 7500+ books and video courses for 7 days!
Start Free Trial


How do I buy and download an eBook? Chevron down icon Chevron up icon

Where there is an eBook version of a title available, you can buy it from the book details for that title. Add either the standalone eBook or the eBook and print book bundle to your shopping cart. Your eBook will show in your cart as a product on its own. After completing checkout and payment in the normal way, you will receive your receipt on the screen containing a link to a personalised PDF download file. This link will remain active for 30 days. You can download backup copies of the file by logging in to your account at any time.

If you already have Adobe reader installed, then clicking on the link will download and open the PDF file directly. If you don't, then save the PDF file on your machine and download the Reader to view it.

Please Note: Packt eBooks are non-returnable and non-refundable.

Packt eBook and Licensing When you buy an eBook from Packt Publishing, completing your purchase means you accept the terms of our licence agreement. Please read the full text of the agreement. In it we have tried to balance the need for the ebook to be usable for you the reader with our needs to protect the rights of us as Publishers and of our authors. In summary, the agreement says:

  • You may make copies of your eBook for your own use onto any machine
  • You may not pass copies of the eBook on to anyone else
How can I make a purchase on your website? Chevron down icon Chevron up icon

If you want to purchase a video course, eBook or Bundle (Print+eBook) please follow below steps:

  1. Register on our website using your email address and the password.
  2. Search for the title by name or ISBN using the search option.
  3. Select the title you want to purchase.
  4. Choose the format you wish to purchase the title in; if you order the Print Book, you get a free eBook copy of the same title. 
  5. Proceed with the checkout process (payment to be made using Credit Card, Debit Cart, or PayPal)
Where can I access support around an eBook? Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
  • If you experience a problem with using or installing Adobe Reader, the contact Adobe directly.
  • To view the errata for the book, see and view the pages for the title you have.
  • To view your account details or to download a new copy of the book go to
  • To contact us directly if a problem is not resolved, use
What eBook formats do Packt support? Chevron down icon Chevron up icon

Our eBooks are currently available in a variety of formats such as PDF and ePubs. In the future, this may well change with trends and development in technology, but please note that our PDFs are not Adobe eBook Reader format, which has greater restrictions on security.

You will need to use Adobe Reader v9 or later in order to read Packt's PDF eBooks.

What are the benefits of eBooks? Chevron down icon Chevron up icon
  • You can get the information you need immediately
  • You can easily take them with you on a laptop
  • You can download them an unlimited number of times
  • You can print them out
  • They are copy-paste enabled
  • They are searchable
  • There is no password protection
  • They are lower price than print
  • They save resources and space
What is an eBook? Chevron down icon Chevron up icon

Packt eBooks are a complete electronic version of the print edition, available in PDF and ePub formats. Every piece of content down to the page numbering is the same. Because we save the costs of printing and shipping the book to you, we are able to offer eBooks at a lower cost than print editions.

When you have purchased an eBook, simply login to your account and click on the link in Your Download Area. We recommend you saving the file to your hard drive before opening it.

For optimal viewing of our eBooks, we recommend you download and install the free Adobe Reader version 9.