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I need to apply the four colors theorem in a polygonal shape in a way that I do not need to choose manually each color to put in each region. I wish to knows if there is any extension, plug-in, script or data base that may be used with ArcGIS and ArcToolBox to do it mathematically or programatically, so I could use it for now on with every map I come to create.

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I also would like to know if there is this functionality in other systems other than ArcGIS, like QuantumGIS... – EASI Mar 10 '13 at 17:45
I posted a suboptimal solution on GIS (with working R code) and an optimal solution (which will use three or even two colors if they can be found to work) on Mathematica. That solution is recursive; the reply to my post gives a linear programming solution. Manifold GIS has long had a five-color algorithm built in. (Four-coloring is hard to do; five-coloring is relatively simple to achieve.) – whuber Mar 11 '13 at 17:02
If you have no "code so far" my ArcGIS for Desktop recommendation would be to start with the Polygon Neighbors tool to get a table listing all neighbours of each polygon. – PolyGeo Jan 8 '14 at 9:25
@PolyGeo: thanks for the tools (I didn't know it) but I could not use it to solve my problem – radouxju Jan 8 '14 at 9:45
up vote 4 down vote accepted

There is a VB6 developer sample and an ArcGIS 9.x geoprocessing tool but from the comments on this ArcGIS Idea they don't work at 10.0+.

Perhaps someone would be interested in porting it.

A QGIS solution called TopoColour is given in the comments of this related question: Color polygons so each is distinct from its neighbors

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First of all, thanks for all answers and comments. Unfortunetaly, the existing tools were not fully compatible with the latest versions of QGIS and ArcGIS. Therefore I made my own solution using the tool indicated by @polygeo, the QGIS plugin from @Alexandre and the name of the algorithm (four color map) from @Jens.

Here is my code for those interested (for ArcGIS but the second part could be used in QGIS as well).

arcpy.MakeFeatureLayer_management(fc, fc[:-4]+ "_lyr" )
    arcpy.AddField_management(fc[:-4] + "_lyr", "color", "SHORT")
    print "field alread exists"   
arcpy.CalculateField_management(fc[:-4] + "_lyr", "color",  "10" , "PYTHON")

arcpy.PolygonNeighbors_analysis(fc[:-4] + "_lyr", fc[:-4] + "_tb.dbf" )
graph = []
cursor=arcpy.da.SearchCursor( fc[:-4] + "_tb.dbf" , ("src_FID","nbr_FID") )
for row in cursor:

pols = arcpy.da.UpdateCursor(fc[:-4] + "_lyr", ("OID@","color"))
colored = []
for pol in pols:
    nbrs = [ second for first, second in graph if first == pol[0]]
    usedcolors = []
    for nbr in nbrs:
        usedcolors += [second for first, second in colored if first == nbr]
    pol[1]=[color for color in range(10) if color not in usedcolors][0]

Note that the algorithm does not guarantee that only 4 colors are used: though it has been proven that the solution exists, the "brute force" is necessary to achieve it. In my case, I got 7 colors which is small enough. The script could have an additional loop until the solution is found, but I need to do it for hundreds of maps and 7 colors is OK.

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This is brilliant - thanks so much for sharing it. I noticed at ArcGIS 10.2 the field names on the PolygonNeighbors output table have changed slightly - the fields are now called src_OBJECT and nbr_OBJECT – Stephen Lead May 15 '14 at 1:01

If you are using QGIS, I believe that what you need is the Coloring a map plugin.

Unfortunatly, the plugin is only available for QGIS 1.8 version, but you can always download and see how the code works!

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