I am looking for guidance regrading the usage or meaning of the square brackets in arcpy update cursor (Win 7, ArcGIS 10.2, Python 2.7.5) Although I have serched long and hard with various web searches, incl https://docs.python.org/2/library/index.html, I have not been able to find a descriptive answer.

So, in the example below (from post Help with Python Update Cursor syntax) I am trying to figure what the numbers within the [] actually mean?

Is it the column number?

If so, does the count start from 0 and from the left?

if(row[4] == crow.STTYPE and row[15]=="B":
    crow.FIELD1 = "HI"
    crow.FIELD1 = "BYE"
  • 1
    They are your field indexes. If you haven't subsetted your fields when creating the cursor they are the feature class field indexes in order. Each row emulates a list object which can be indexed via square brackets, when creating a row using the insert cursor a row can be inserted into a table using a list. Note: this only applies to arcpy.da. cursors and not arcpy. cursors... does that help? Aug 19, 2015 at 22:46
  • Thnaks @MichaelMiles-Stimson , I think so but just to confirm, [4] would be field 4 from my fc and [15] would be field 15.? (unless I subset them like [this, that, the_other, red, blue, green] in which case [4] would = 'red'?) Cheers, Peter Aug 19, 2015 at 22:57
  • 1
    The indices are 0 based, usually [0] is OBJECTID/FID. So if your table has the fields FID, SHAPE, Red, Green, Blue then row[2] is the 'Red' field. Should you want to only access Red, Green and Blue fields declare your cursor like arcpy.da.UpdateCursor(YourData,fields=['Red','Green','Blue']) then row[0] is red. Aug 20, 2015 at 0:04

1 Answer 1


Square brackets aren't used for the old version of cursors. Note that in the link your provided, the brackets are indexing a python list (alpha), not a cursor. For the newer data access version of cursors (da.SearchCursor, etc.), the brackets are used to reference the field index. For example, say you have a feature class and you want to iterate through its rows and find the information stored in three fields, such as:

inFc = r"c:\test\test.gdb\test" #feature class
fld1 = "field1" #field 1 name 
fld2 = "field2"
fld3 = "field3"

The cursor would be generated in the data access cursor as such:

cursor = arcpy.da.SearchCursor (inFc, [fld1, fld2, fld3])

You can then iterate through your rows and print the row's values in the three fields as such:

for row in cursor:
    print row[0] #prints first field's value
    print row[1] #prints second field's value
    print row[2] #prints third field's value

The same thing is accomplished in the older version of the cursor with:

cursor = arcpy.SearchCursor (fc)
for row in cursor:
    print row.getValue (fld1) #print first field's value

The overarching concept is that square brackets in python reference indexes in an object that can be iterated. The indexing starts at 0 for the first item.

>>> ["a","b","c","d"] [2]
>>> "abcd"[3]

I hope this helps.

  • Perfect explanation thanks @EmilBrundage particulalry as I have existing scripts, some using SearchCursor and somme using da.SearchCursor. Aug 19, 2015 at 23:28

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