How can one extract the bearings from a set of lines in a vector file?

I'm trying to find the bearings of several straight vector line segments (simplified contour lines, actually) and can't figure out how to do it. The QGIS measure tool can tell me individual line bearing if I use a N/S grid overlay to provide a 0º reference, but my mouse precision is probably questionable, and doing that for every line in our sample is going to take longer than I can devote to this project.

Even if there is just a way to automatically pair line end-point nodes, get the XY data, and then let excel calculate the bearings for me, I would love to know.

I really like using QGIS, but am also OK with GRASS (though shaky on text interface), SAGA, and ArcGIS (but only if I really have no other choice), so if any of the programs have a clever way to do this, let me know.

  • Depending on the quantity of line segments, you could use this very simple (but with some manual work) approach: - In QGIS select the desired line segments and copy them; - Paste it to any text editor, and you will have your features in WKT (Now comes the bad part) - Now you can edit the text to transform it into a csv to import into a spreadsheet. Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 10:02

3 Answers 3

  1. With PyQGIS in the Python console, see How to add Direction and Distance to attribute table? for the azimuths of the segments of a line (with the azimuth functions of Points: point1.azimuth(point2))
  2. but you can use many other Python modules like Shapely and Fiona without using QGIS see Python: traitement des couches vectorielles dans une perspective géologique, lecture et enregistrement des couches sous forme de dictionnaires avec le module Fiona (in French)
    from shapely.geometry import Point, LineString, mapping
    import fiona
    import math

    def azimuth(point1, point2):
       '''azimuth between 2 shapely points (interval 0 - 180°, for my work)'''
       angle = math.atan2(point2.x - point1.x, point2.y - point1.y)
       return math.degrees(angle)if angle>0 else math.degrees(angle) + 180

    def pair(list):
       '''Iterate over pairs in a list '''
        for i in range(1, len(list)):
            yield list[i-1], list[i]

    with fiona.collection('testline.shp', 'r') as input:
        # copy of the input schema'
        schema = input.schema.copy()
        # creation of a new field for storing azimuth
        schema['properties']['azimuth'] = 'int'
        # copy of the original shapefile with the field azimuth to a new shapefile
        with fiona.collection('testline_azim.shp', 'w', 'ESRI Shapefile', schema) as output:
            for line in input:
            # use of pair function to extract the line segments
                for seg_start, seg_end in pair(line['geometry']['coordinates']):
                   line_start = Point(seg_start)
                   line_end = Point(seg_end)
                   segment = LineString([line_start.coords[0],line_end.coords[0]])
                   elem = {}                  
                   elem['properties'] = line['properties'] 
                   elem['properties']['azimuth'] = azimuth(line_start, line_end)
                   elem['geometry'] = mapping(segment)

Result from Portail SIG image from PortailSIG


  1. split the polyline into individual segments with v.split vertices=1
  2. upload the azimuth of each segment into the attribute table with v.to.db option=azimuth columns=azimuth

see Angle between segments of a polyline or azimuth of lines with v.to.db?


in the Python console of QGIS with only PyQGIS

from PyQt4.QtCore import *
import math

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

# theoretical azimuth function but you can use `point1.azimuth(point2)`, look below 
def azimut(point1, point2):
    '''azimuth between 2 QGIS points ->must be adapted to 0-360°'''
    angle = math.atan2(point2.x() - point1.x(), point2.y() - point1.y())
    return math.degrees(angle)

def pair(list):
    '''Iterate over pairs in a list '''
    for i in range(1, len(list)):
        yield list[i-1], list[i]

mylayer = qgis.utils.iface.activeLayer()
# select all the elements of the layer

# Memory layer
v_layer = QgsVectorLayer("LineString", "azimuth_lines", "memory")
pr = v_layer.dataProvider()
pr.addAttributes( [ QgsField("azimuth", QVariant.Int), QgsField("az_pt1pt2",QVariant.Int),QgsField("az_pt2-1",QVariant.Int)])

for elem in mylayer.selectedFeatures():
    line = elem.geometry().asPolyline()
    for seg_start, seg_end in pair(line):
        line_start = QgsPoint(seg_start)
        line_end = QgsPoint(seg_end)
        seg = QgsFeature()
        seg.addAttribute(0, QVariant(int(azimut(line_start,line_end))))
        # with the functions of PyQGIS
        seg.addAttribute(1, QVariant(int(line_start.azimuth(line_end))))
        seg.addAttribute(2, QVariant(int(line_end.azimuth(line_start))))
        seg.setGeometry(QgsGeometry.fromPolyline([line_start, line_end]))
        pr.addFeatures( [ seg ] )


Result enter image description here

and 360 -159 = 201 -180 = 21

  • Thanks guys. The GRASS solution does the trick- just takes a little vector trimming to get the bits I'm interesting in.
    – Nick_W
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 19:35
  • @gene Thanks for these code snippets. I'm trying to adapt your PyQGIS example and get "NameError: name 'azimuth' is not defined" Is this some sort of import error or other on my part?
    – user25976
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 21:50
  • Thanks, I've corrected the script def azimut(point1,point2)is the theoretical azimuth calculation, point1.azimuth(point2)is the PyQGIS function
    – gene
    Commented May 4, 2014 at 8:44
  • I tried the PyQGIS (only) approach with QGIS 2.18.x. I had to make some changes to get it work. Change the 3 seg.addAttribute(...) statements to one statement seg.setAttributes([int(azimut(line_start,line_end)), int(line_start.azimuth(line_end)), int(line_end.azimuth(line_start))]) and change v_layer.updateFieldMap() to v_layer.updateFields().
    – Stefan
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 7:05

For the record - You can now do this easily with QGIS alone (since later QGIS versions): first use the "Explode lines" tool, yielding all line segments, then calculate azimuth with the Field Calculator:

degrees(azimuth(start_point($geometry), end_point($geometry)))

And now it is even easier than @Kay's answer -first use "Explode lines" tool, yielding all line segments, then calculate azimuth with Field Calculator: main_angle($geometry)

  • This appears to be buggy in some versions: github.com/qgis/QGIS/issues/41022. It returns an incorrect value for me in v3.16.14, whereas the formula from @Kay returns the correct value.
    – kentr
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 1:56

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