I would like to show the borders of the areas of a given ASCII DTM file for which there is data. This problem has been discussed here previously but the recommended solution, the Image Boundary plugin for QGIS, is now considered deprecated. Furthermore, I need to be able to script it, so using the GDAL tools from the command line is probably a better plan for me.

I also have an additional restriction: I need to be able to serve this file on GeoServer, and ultimately display it using Leaflet, so a shapefile or GeoJSON could be good choices for the file format of the final output.

What command should I use?

  • Sounds simpler than my approach, can you post your gdal_calc --calc syntax please @Luke? I'm getting nonsense output with --calc="A/A" with my test data.
    – obrl_soil
    Nov 6, 2016 at 12:23
  • 1
    @obrl_soil - gis.stackexchange.com/a/216797/2856
    – user2856
    Nov 6, 2016 at 23:04
  • Ah cool, that's a lot simpler than my workflow.
    – obrl_soil
    Nov 6, 2016 at 23:12

1 Answer 1


I have a GRASS/R workflow below that involves GDAL. Its a lot more involved and messy than I recall, but it works so whatever. Blog post here with extra commentary, plain instructions for a Windows environment with OSGeo4W64, R 3.3.1 and GRASS 7.0.5 below.

1: Get all your target rasters into one folder. Make sure that:

  • files are named in a logical sequence that does not start with a number.
  • files are all in the same projection
  • files should be spatially aligned; i.e. the pixels should be all on the same overarching grid system.

2: Go to System > Advanced System Settings > Environment Variables and set the following (adjust as necessary if you installed elsewhere or have an older copy of GRASS):

  • GDAL_DATA: C:\OSGeo4W64\share\gdal
  • GISBASE: C:\OSGeo4W64\apps\grass\grass-7.0.5
  • GISRC: C:\Users\YOUR LOGON HERE\AppData\Roaming\GRASS7\rc
  • GRASS_PYTHON: C:\OSGeo4W64\bin\pythonw.exe
  • PROJ_LIB: C:\OSGeo4W64\share\proj
  • PYTHONPATH: C:\OSGeo4W64\apps\grass\grass-7.0.5\etc\python
  • PATH: add the following paths, in the same order as below

    • C:\OSGeo4W64\bin
    • C:\OSGeo4W64\apps\grass\grass-7.0.5\bin
    • C:\OSGeo4W64\apps\grass\grass-7.0.5\lib
    • C:\OSGeo4W64\apps\qgis
    • C:\OSGeo4W64\apps\Python27

3: Set up GRASS location

Open GRASS and establish a new location with the same CRS as your target rasters. Don’t worry about region settings for now, and there’s no need to create any extra mapsets beyond ‘PERMANENT’. Open the PERMANENT mapset in your new location, and then just exit GRASS. This will update the file that GISRC points to.

R code:

Load libraries and list your target files


rasters <- list.files(getwd(), pattern = '\\.tif$', full.names = T)  

Import data

grassnames_list <- list()  
for (item in rasters) {  
  grass_name <- substr(basename(item), 1, nchar(basename(item)) - 4)  
            flags = 'overwrite',  
            parameters = list(input  = item,  
                              output = grass_name))  
  grassnames_list[[item]] <- grass_name  

extend region to cover imported data

execGRASS('g.region', parameters= list(raster=paste(grassnames_list, collapse=",")))

write an instruction file for r.mapcalc

exp_list <- list()
fpname_list <- list()
for (item in rasters) {
  grassname <- substr(basename(item), 1, nchar(basename(item)) -4)
  fp_name   <- paste0(grassname, '_foot')
  exp       <- paste0(fp_name, ' = if(isnull(', grassname, '), null() , 1)')

  exp_list[[item]]    <- exp
  fpname_list[[item]] <- fp_name

write(c(paste(exp_list, collapse = '\n'), 'end'),
      file = paste0(getwd(), '/rmc_instructions.txt'),
      ncolumns = 1)

use the instruction file to make data presence/absence footprint rasters

rmc   <- 'C:/OSGeo4W64/apps/grass/grass-7.0.5/bin/r.mapcalc.exe'
calcs <- 'C:/footprint_test/rmc_instructions.txt'
system2(rmc, paste0('file=', calcs, ' --overwrite'))

vectorise the footprints

vname_list <- list()
for (fp in fpname_list) {
  v_name <- paste0(fp, '_v')
            flags = 'overwrite',
            parameters = list(input  = fp,
                              output = v_name,
                              type   = 'area'))
 vname_list[[fp]] <- v_name  

write the footprints to file (JSON is also supported)

outname_list <- list()
for (vn in vname_list) {
  out_name <- paste0(getwd(), '/', vn, '.shp')
            flags = 'overwrite', 
            parameters = list(input  = vn,
                              output = out_name,
                              format = 'ESRI_Shapefile'))
  outname_list[[vn]] <- out_name

If you want multipart polygons

dissname_list <- list()
for (vn in vname_list) {
  diss_name <- paste0(vn, '_sp')
            flags = 'overwrite',
            parameters = list(input  = vn,
                              column = 'value',
                              output = diss_name))
  dissname_list[[vn]] <- diss_name

outname_list2 <- list()
for (dn in dissname_list) {
  out_name2 <- paste0(getwd(), '/', dn, '.shp')
            flags = c('m', 'overwrite'), 
            parameters = list(input  = dn,
                              output = out_name2,
                              format = 'ESRI_Shapefile'))
  outname_list2[[dn]] <- out_name2

Let me know how you go with that.

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