I just want to add direction (Bearing: i.e N 25 35 E) and Distance (Length: 125 meters) as my new field in polyline/line data.

Is there a Plugin to generate these fields?

I tried to used Export/Add geometry columns in my line data, but only "Length" value was added.

  • So far I can use the mmqgis plugin to give me distance. Am exploring the direction problem.
    – Willy
    Apr 28, 2012 at 10:03
  • 1
    What does your polyline data look like? Distance is relatively easy to calculate - however, 'bearing' may change over the length of a polyline. Are you looking for bearing from start point to endpoint?
    – Simbamangu
    Apr 28, 2012 at 14:07
  • Yes, im looking for bearing from start point to end point... thanks
    – arzandia
    Apr 29, 2012 at 8:52
  • 1
    Do you want straight-line distance from startpoint to endpoint, or length of line following the path of the line? These could vary widely if the line segment has intermediate curves or other changes of direction. Apr 30, 2012 at 15:09

3 Answers 3


You can calculate bearing in the Field Calculator in QGIS. This works in UTM (metric) coordinates over small distances (hundreds of km), but something more sophisticated would be needed for large distances or for decimal degrees.

Open the attribute table for your line layer, toggle editing, and click the Field Calculator button to open the dialog:

enter image description here

Create a new field as decimal with 1 or 2 precision.

Paste this code into the "Expression" box, and click "OK": (atan((xat(-1)-xat(0))/(yat(-1)-yat(0)))) * 180/3.14159 + (180 *(((yat(-1)-yat(0)) < 0) + (((xat(-1)-xat(0)) < 0 AND (yat(-1) - yat(0)) >0)*2)))

The first part calculates the inverse tangent of the x and y differences and converts it to degrees (180/pi). The second part adds either 180 or 360 to the resulting figure to give a bearing from 0-360°.

Edit - updated formula as per suggestion

   WHEN ((yat(-1)-yat(0)) = 0 and (xat(-1) - xat(0)) >0) THEN 90
   WHEN ((yat(-1)-yat(0)) = 0 and (xat(-1) - xat(0)) <0) THEN 270
   ELSE (atan((xat(-1)-xat(0))/(yat(-1)-yat(0)))) * 180/pi() + 
       (180 * (((yat(-1)-yat(0)) < 0) + (((xat(-1)-xat(0)) < 0 AND (yat(-1) - yat(0)) > 0)*2)))
  • 2
    A most elegant solution, thanks. I'd mention that if you need to determine the bearing for each segment of a polyline you can do this by splitting the line shapefile with the 'Split Feature' plug-in. Then load the new (split) shapefile and follow the above procedure.
    – nhopton
    Apr 29, 2012 at 11:17
  • 1
    @arzandia - note that you MUST be using QGIS 1.9 (see the home page for beta downloads) as the xat() and yat() functions don't work in 1.7, which you are using!
    – Simbamangu
    Apr 29, 2012 at 11:31
  • i already used the plug in you have mentioned. as you can see the image, the layer's name is "splitted"...
    – arzandia
    Apr 29, 2012 at 12:10
  • 1
    To answer my own question, "Yes you can insert field values for yat(0)/yat(-1) and xat(0)/xat(-1)."
    – cbunn
    Oct 8, 2015 at 20:54
  • 1
    For me I had to do some changes to the script to get it to work: (atan((xat(0)-xat(1))/(yat(0)-yat(1)))) * 180/3.14159 + (180 *(((yat(0)-yat(1)) < 0) + (((xat(0)-xat(1)) < 0 AND (yat(0) - yat(1)) >0)*2)))
    – oskarlin
    Feb 8, 2016 at 10:43

You do not need a plugin. Everything is in the class QgsPoint of PyQGIS

If you examine the contents of a QGIS point class with the Python built-in function dir() in the Python Console.

['__class__', '__delattr__', '__dict__', '__doc__', '__eq__', '__format__', '__ge__', '__getattribute__'
, '__getitem__', '__gt__', '__hash__', '__init__', '__le__', '__len__', '__lt__', '__module__', 
'__ne__', '__new__', '__reduce__', '__reduce_ex__', '__repr__', '__setattr__', '__sizeof__', 
'__str__', '__subclasshook__', '__weakref__', 'azimuth', 
'multiply', 'set', 'setX', 'setY', 'sqrDist', 'sqrDistToSegment', 'toDegreesMinutesSeconds', 'toString', 'wellKnownText', 'x', 'y']

You can see there are azimuth and sqrDist functions and after a few tries:

- xy[0].azimuth(xy[1]) or xy[1].azimuth(xy[0]) gives the azimuth direction between two points(in degrees, +/- 180°)
- xy[0].sqrDist(xy[1]) give the square distance between two points (in the unit of the project)

The problem enter image description here

So in the Python console

def select_all(layer):
     layer.setSelectedFeatures([obj.id() for obj in layer])

myline = qgis.utils.iface.activeLayer()
for elem in myline.selectedFeatures():
      xy = elem.geometry().asPolyline()

now xy contains all the nodes (points) of the line

# first point
print "x=%2d y=%2d" % (xy[0].x(),xy[0].y())
x=112935 y=117784
# and others...

Using all node points of the line:

1) azimuth point i to point i + 1 (+/- 180°) (nodes of a line)

for i in range(len(xy)-1):
     print "x=%2d y=%2d azim=%6.1f azim2=%6.1f" % (xy[i].x(), xy[i].y(), xy[i].azimuth(xy[i+1]), xy[i+1].azimuth(xy[i]))

x=112935 y=117784 azim= 168.4 azim2= -11.6
x=113032 y=117312 azim=-167.5 azim2=  12.5
x=112926 y=116835 azim= 177.3 azim2=  -2.7
x=112943 y=116472 azim= 145.1 azim2= -34.9

2) euclidean distance between point i and point i + 1

for i in range(len(xy)-1):
     print "x=%2d y=%2d dist=%6.1f" % (xy[i].x(), xy[i].y(), xy[i].sqrDist(xy[i+1]))

x=112935 y=117784 dist=232533.9
x=113032 y=117311 dist=238243.6
x=112926 y=116835 dist=131839.8
x=112943 y=116472 dist=209268.1

After, it is not very difficult to add these values to the attribute table.

I use this technique to analyze the lineaments (geology) with matplotlib and the Script Runner plugin

enter image description here

  • 5
    +1 - Nice solution! Must ... learn ... Python ...
    – Simbamangu
    May 1, 2012 at 4:08
  • This is a great solution and super valuable for geologists.. but also sooo complicated
    – Shawn
    Sep 5, 2019 at 21:49

The solution provided by @Simbamangu is pretty effective but not cover all cases. For example,applying the formula with an horizontal displacament will NULL the result, so you must use this formulate in Field Calculator of QGIS

   when yat(-1)-yat(0) < 0 or yat(-1)-yat(0) > 0
       then (atan((xat(-1)-xat(0))/(yat(-1)-yat(0)))) * 180/3.14159 + 
       (180 * (((yat(-1)-yat(0)) < 0) + (((xat(-1)-xat(0)) < 0 AND (yat(-1) - yat(0)) > 0)*2)))
   when ((yat(-1)-yat(0)) = 0 and (xat(-1) - xat(0)) >0) then 90
   when ((yat(-1)-yat(0)) = 0 and (xat(-1) - xat(0)) <0) then 270
  • is it possible to do this in postgis? The postGIS command called ST_Azimuth only works on points, and I have not been able to find any examples of this same process in postgresql, postgis. Apr 4, 2022 at 15:35

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