GRASS GIS 7 Programmer's Manual  7.5.svn(2018)-r72272
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Vector libraries

Table of Contents

by GRASS Development Team (


Besides internal library functions there are two main libraries:

  • Vlib (Vector library), see Introduction
  • DGLib (Directed Graph Library)

For historical reasons, there are two internal libraries:

  • diglib (with dig_*() functions), GRASS 3.x/4.x
  • Vlib (with V1_*(), V2_*() and Vect_*() functions), since GRASS 4.x (except for the 5.7 interim version)

The vector library was introduced in GRASS 4.0 to hide internal vector files' formats and structures. In GRASS 6/7, everything is accessed via Vect_*() functions, for example:

Old 4.x code:

xx = Map.Att[Map.Area[area_num].att].x;

New 6.x/7.x functions:

centroid = Vect_get_area_centroid(Map, area_num);
Vect_read_line(Map, line_p, NULL, centroid);
Vect_line_get_point(line_p, 0, &xx, NULL, NULL);

In GRASS 6/7, all internal, mostly non-topological vector functions are hidden from the modules' API (mainly dig_*(), V1_*() and V2_*() functions). All available Vect_*() functions are topological vector functions.

The following include file contains definitions and structures required by some of the routines in this library. The programmer should therefore include this file in any code that uses the vector library:

#include <grass/vector.h>

Note: For details please read Blazek et al. 2002 (see below) as well as the references in this document.

Historical notes

The vector library in GRASS 4.0 changed significantly from the Digit Library (diglib) used in GRASS 3.1. Below is an overview of why the changes were made.

The Digit Library was a collage of subroutines created for developing the map development programs. Few of these subroutines were actually designed as a user access library. They required individuals to assume too much responsibility and control over what happened to the data file. Thus when it came time to change vector data file formats for GRASS 4.0, many modules also required modification. The two different access levels for 3.0 vector files provided very different ways of calling the library; they offered little consistency for the user.

The Digit Library was originally designed to only have one file open for read or write at a time. Although it was possible in some cases to get around this, one restriction was the global head structure. Since there was only one instance of this, there could only be one copy of that information, and thus, only one open vector file.

The solution to these problems was to design a new user library as an interface to the vector data files. This new library was designed to provide a simple consistent interface, which hides as much of the details of the data format as possible. It also could be extended for future enhancements without the need to change existing programs.

The new vector library in GRASS 4 provided routines for opening, closing, reading, and writing vector files, as well as several support functions. The Digit Library has been replaced, so that all existing modules was converted to use the new library. Those routines that existed in the Digit Library and were not affected by these changes continue to exist in unmodified form, and were included in the vector library. Most of the commonly used routines have been discarded, and replaced by the new vector routines.

Instead the global head structure was used own local version of it. The structure that replaced structure head is structure dig_head. There were still two levels of interface to the vector files (future releases may include more). Level one provided access only to arc (i.e. polyline) information and to the type of line (AREA, LINE, DOT). Level two provided access to polygons (areas), attributes, and network topology.