There are two connected lines (EPSG:4326 line1, line2). When the direction of the two lines is from line1 to line2, I want to do a calculation to determine whether the direction is left or right.

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  • I've answered for simple cartesian geometric lines. This will work in ESPG4326 as long as you consider it a cartesian system and not a sphere. I'm not sure that left and right are well-defined for great circle line segments on a sphere. – Spacedman Aug 10 '18 at 7:39

The dot product of two vectors, A and B, A.B, is the component of vector A in the direction of vector B. If this is positive then A is going forward with respect to B, and if it is negative then A is going backwards with respect to B.

If you rotate A by 90 degrees clockwise, to create A', then the dot product of A' with B tells you if A' is on the right or left of vector B, which is your turn status. Computing A' and A`.B is fairly simple arithmetic.

Here's an R function that takes two vector and return R (right turn) L (left turn) or S (straight ahead or straight back):

# helper function that returns the length:
d <- function(v){

turn <- function(v1, v2){
    ## v1 and v2 are vectors with (x,y) components.

    ## scale to unit length
    v1 = v1 / d(v1)
    v2 = v2 / d(v2)

    ## rotate 90 degrees
    v1r = c(v1[2], -v1[1])

    ## compute dot product
    v1r.v2 = v1r[1]*v2[1] + v1r[2]*v2[2]
    if(v1r.v2 > 0){
    if(v1r.v2 < 0){


Here's the output from my test plot which colours red arrows for right turns from the black direction, and green for left turns:

test plot

If you want to do this with simple line segments defined as (x1,y1)->(x2, y2), use the vectors (x2-x1, y2-y1).

You can use the magnitude as well as the sign of the dot product to decide if a turn is "slight left" (perhaps 0 to 45 degrees left) or "sharp left" (more than 135 degrees, ie almost back on yourself).

  • what is mean 'd()' function? – myskbj Aug 13 '18 at 3:03
  • Good spot! d(x) returns the distance length of x using Pythagoras' theorem. I've included it now. – Spacedman Aug 13 '18 at 6:46
  • it looks like R code. for example... can I run it like this # inputV1= cbind(c(0, 0), c(2, 2)); # inputV2= cbind(c(2, 2), c(3, 0)); # turn(inputV1, inputV2) but.. answer is 'S' (expected value is 'R') – myskbj Aug 13 '18 at 9:41
  • No - in this context a "vector" has two components, like it's a line starting from (0,0). Because you didn't say if you were interested in a particular implementation, or say what your data looked like, I explained the calculation, I explained the calculation and did not spend much time explaining the code. Subtract your "start" coordinate from your "end" coordinate to get the vector. turn(c(2,2)-c(0,0), c(3,0)-c(2,2)) is "R". The turn direction doesn't matter where the line segments start, only their direction. – Spacedman Aug 13 '18 at 14:01

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