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Note: This document is for an older version of GRASS GIS that will be discontinued soon. You should upgrade, and read the current manual page.

Note: This addon document is for an older version of GRASS GIS that will be discontinued soon. You should upgrade your GRASS GIS installation, and read the current addon manual page.


v.db.pyupdate - Updates a column in a vector attribute table using Python code


vector, attribute table, database, attribute update, Python


v.db.pyupdate --help
v.db.pyupdate [-su] map=name layer=string [where=sql_query] column=name expression=string [condition=string] [packages=string[,string,...]] [functions=name] [--help] [--verbose] [--quiet] [--ui]


Import all functions from specificed packages
Packages will be additionally imported using star imports (from package import *)
Do not provide the additional lower-cased column names
Attributes will be accessible only using the original (often uppercase) column name
Print usage summary
Verbose module output
Quiet module output
Force launching GUI dialog


map=name [required]
Name of vector map
Or data source for direct OGR access
layer=string [required]
Layer number or name
Vector features can have category values in different layers. This number determines which layer to use. When used with direct OGR access this is the layer name.
Default: 1
WHERE condition of the initial SQL statement
A standard SQL which will reduce the number of rows processed in Python
column=name [required]
Name of attribute column to update
expression=string [required]
Python expression to compute the new value
Example: name.replace('-', ' ')
Python expression to select only subset of rows
Example: name.startswith('North')
Python packages to import
The math package is always imported for convenience
Name of Python file defining functions for expression and condition
This file can contain imports and it will loaded before expression and condition are evaluated

Table of contents


v.db.pyupdate assigns a new value to a column in the attribute table connected to a given map. The new value is a result of a Python expression. In other words, this module allows updating attribute values using Python. Existing column values and, if specified, any installed Python packages can be used to compute the new value. The module works similarly to UPDATE statement from SQL, but it allows to use Python syntax and functions for the cost of longer processing time.

The Python expression is specified by the expression option. Existing attribute values can be accessed in this expression using the column names. For example, an expression place_name.split(",")[0] would uses Python string function split on a value from column place_name assuming that column place_name is of SQL type TEXT.


Attributes are accessible as variables using the column names as specified in the attribute table. By default, all attributes will be also accessible using the column name in all lower case. If this is not desired, -k flag can be used to keep only the original name and not provide the additional lower-cased version.

The types of variables in Python are int and float according if the attribute value can be represented by int and float respectively. The str type is used for all other values. If other types (objects) are desired, they need to be constructed in explicitly. The result of the expression needs to be something which can be converted into string by the Python format function such as int, float, or str.


The Python math package is loaded by default for convenience, so expressions such as math.cos(column_name) are possible without further settings. Additional packages can be loaded using the option packages. Multiple packages can be specified as a comma separated list, for example, os,cmath,json.

If the -s flag is specified, the imports of the packages specified by option packages are additionally imported using a star import, i.e., import *. This is considered a bad practice for general Python code, but doing this might be helpful for constructing concise expressions. The star import makes all functions (and other objects) from the package available without the need to specify a package name. For example, packages set to math with -s allows us to write cos(column_name) bringing the syntax closer to, e.g., raster algebra with r.mapcalc.

An arbitrary form of import statements, such as from math import cos, can be used with the Python file provided using the function option (see below).

Selecting rows to update

A subset of rows from the attribute table to update can be selected (filtered) using the SQL-based where option and the Python-based condition option. The where option uses SQL syntax and will lower the number of rows processed by this module in Python thus making the processing faster. On the other hand, the condition option uses Python syntax and all the rows still need to be processed by this module in Python. In other words, although both options selected a subset of rows to update, the where option lowers also the number of rows to process in Python. Using condition for expressions which could be expressed using SQL will be always slower than using the where option with SQL. The where option is a great fit for conditions such as name is null. The condition option is advantageous for more complex computations where SQL does not provide enough functionality or in case consistency with the Python syntax in the expression option is more desired than speed. The code in the condition option has access to the same variables, functions, and packages as the expression for computing the new value. Syntactically, the where option is the SQL WHERE clause without the WHERE keyword, while the condition option is Python if statement without the if keyword and the trailing colon (:). Similarly to the SQL WHERE clause which selects the rows to be processed, the condition option, when evaluated as True for a given row, selects that row to be processed. If the condition evaluates as False, the row is skipped (filtered out). Both options can be used together. When none is specified, all rows (records) are updated.


v.db.pyupdate is loading the attribute table into memory, computing the new values in Python, and then executing SQL transaction to update the attribute table. Thus, it is only suitable when memory consumption or time are not an issue, for example for small datasets.

For simple expressions, SQL-based v.db.update is much more advantageous.

The module uses only GRASS GIS interfaces to access the database, so it works for all database backends used for attribute tables in GRASS GIS. A future or alternative version may use, e.g., a more direct create_function function from Connection from the sqlite3 Python package.

If you are calling this module from Python, it is worth noting that you cannot pass directly functions defined or imported in your current Python file (Python module) nor access any of the variables. However, you can use string substitution to pass the variable values and a separate file with function definitions which you can also import into your code.


The examples are using the full North Carolina sample data set unless noted otherwise.

Using a mathematical function

First, we create a copy of the vector map in the current mapset, so we can modify it. Then, we add a new column log_july for a logarithm of values for July.
g.copy vector=precip_30ynormals,my_precip_30ynormals
v.db.addcolumn map=my_precip_30ynormals columns="log_july double precision"
Now, we compute the values for the new column using the Python log function from the math Python package (which is imported by default):
v.db.pyupdate map=my_precip_30ynormals column="log_july" expression="math.log(jul)"
We can examine the result, e.g., with map=my_precip_30ynormals columns=jul,log_july

Shortening expressions

In case we want to make the expression more succinct, the above example can be modified using the -s flag in combination with packages to enable star imports:
v.db.pyupdate map=my_precip_30ynormals column="log_july" expression="log(jul)" packages=math -s
The expression can be now shorter, but the math package needs to be explicitly requested.

Replacing of NULL values

In this example, we assume we have a vector map of buildings. These buildings have attribute name, but some are missing value for the name attribute, but have a building number. We use SQL WHERE clause to identify those and Python expression with an f-string to generate a name from the building number in format Building num. N:
v.db.pyupdate map=buildings column="name" expression="f'Building num. {building_number}'" where="name is null"



Vaclav Petras, NCSU Center for Geospatial Analytics


Available at: v.db.pyupdate source code (history)

Latest change: Monday Jun 28 07:54:09 2021 in commit: 1cfc0af029a35a5d6c7dae5ca7204d0eb85dbc55

Note: This document is for an older version of GRASS GIS that will be discontinued soon. You should upgrade, and read the current manual page.

Note: This addon document is for an older version of GRASS GIS that will be discontinued soon. You should upgrade your GRASS GIS installation, and read the current addon manual page.

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