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Editing Attribute Values in QGIS

A Beginner’s Guide to Editing Attribute Values in QGIS


Navigating the intricate landscape of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can be a daunting task for beginners. Among the myriad of functionalities, editing attribute values stands out as a fundamental skill every GIS enthusiast must master. In this guide, we’ll demystify the process of editing attribute values in QGIS, one of the most powerful open-source GIS tools available.

From understanding what attributes are to exploring the various editing methods, we’ll provide a comprehensive roadmap to empower both novices and seasoned users alike. Dive in and discover the art of attribute editing in QGIS!

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Understanding Attribute Values

In the realm of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), every spatial feature, whether it’s a point, line, or polygon, is often accompanied by a set of data known as attributes. These attributes provide a deeper understanding and context to the spatial features, making them more than just shapes on a map.

What are Attributes?

Attributes are essentially the descriptive information tied to each spatial feature. Think of them as the columns in a spreadsheet where each row represents a different feature. For instance, if you have a map layer of cities, each city (point feature) might have attributes like its name, population, area, elevation, and more.

Significance of Attributes in GIS

  1. Data Enrichment: Attributes enrich the spatial data by adding context. A point on a map becomes a city with a name, history, and population when paired with its attributes.
  2. Analysis and Decision Making: Attributes are crucial for spatial analysis. For instance, planners might use population attributes to decide where to build new infrastructure.
  3. Visualization: Using attributes, one can symbolize and categorize features differently. A simple map can be transformed into a thematic map, like a population density map, using attribute data.
  4. Data Management: Attributes help in organizing and managing spatial data. They can be used to filter, sort, and classify features, making data handling more efficient.

Examples of Attributes

  • Points (e.g., Cities): Name, population, GDP, elevation.
  • Lines (e.g., Roads): Type (highway, arterial, residential), length, surface material.
  • Polygons (e.g., Countries): Name, capital, area, population density, GDP per capita.

Attributes are the backbone of GIS data, bridging the gap between geometry and information. They transform simple spatial features into meaningful data entities, paving the way for insightful analysis and informed decision-making.

Options for Editing Attribute Values in QGIS

Editing attribute values is a fundamental task in QGIS, allowing users to update, modify, or enrich the data associated with spatial features. QGIS offers a variety of methods to cater to different editing needs, ensuring flexibility and precision in data management. Let’s delve into the primary options available for editing attribute values in QGIS.

Direct Typing

Description: The most straightforward method, direct typing allows users to manually input or modify values in the attribute table, much like editing a cell in a spreadsheet.

When to Use:

  • For quick edits or corrections.
  • When dealing with a small number of features.

Field Calculator

Description: The Field Calculator is a powerful tool in QGIS, designed for more complex edits. It can perform calculations, generate new fields based on existing data, or update current fields using a combination of functions, operators, and expressions.

When to Use:

  • When needing to derive new fields from existing data (e.g., calculating area or length).
  • For batch updates based on specific criteria or formulas.
  • When working with virtual fields that are dynamically calculated.

Quick Field Calculation Bar

Description: A streamlined version of the Field Calculator, the Quick Field Calculation Bar is designed for on-the-fly edits to existing fields. It provides a simpler interface for quick calculations without the need to open a separate dialog box.

When to Use:

  • For rapid updates to existing fields.
  • When applying a single formula or expression to multiple records.

Multi Edit Mode

Description: Multi Edit Mode is a specialized feature in QGIS that allows users to simultaneously edit multiple fields across multiple features. This mode is particularly useful when needing to apply consistent changes to a batch of records.

When to Use:

  • When updating attributes for a group of selected features.
  • For bulk edits where the same value or formula needs to be applied to multiple records.

Step-by-Step Guide to Editing Methods

Here’s a detailed step-by-step guide to each of the editing methods we’ve discussed:

Direct Typing


  1. Open the Attribute Table: Select your layer in the Layers panel and right-click. Choose ‘Open Attribute Table’ from the dropdown.
  2. Locate the Cell: Navigate to the cell you wish to edit.
  3. Edit: Double-click on the cell. This will allow you to type or modify the value directly.
  4. Save: After making your changes, click the ‘Save Edits’ button (represented by a floppy disk icon) to save your edits.

Using the Field Calculator


  1. Toggle Editing Mode: With your layer selected, open the attribute table and click on the ‘Toggle Editing’ button (a pencil icon).
  2. Access Field Calculator: Click on the ‘Field Calculator’ button (an abacus icon).
  3. Choose Action: In the dialog box, decide whether you want to update an existing field or create a new one.
  4. Define Parameters: If creating a new field, specify its name, type, length, and precision.
  5. Enter Expression: Craft your calculation or expression using the available functions, fields, and operators.
  6. Apply Changes: Click ‘OK’ to execute the changes.
  7. Save: Don’t forget to save your edits using the ‘Save Edits’ button.

Quick Field Calculation Bar


  1. Ensure Edit Mode: Make sure your layer is in edit mode.
  2. Open Attribute Table: Access the attribute table of your layer.
  3. Use the Calculation Bar: At the top of the table, you’ll find the Quick Field Calculation Bar.
  4. Select Field: Choose the field you wish to update from the dropdown menu.
  5. Enter Value/Expression: Type in the desired value or expression.
  6. Define Scope: Decide if you want to update all values, only selected values, or values that match a filter.
  7. Update: Click the ‘Update’ button corresponding to your choice in the previous step.
  8. Save: As always, remember to save your edits.

Multi Edit Mode


  1. Open Attribute Table: Access the attribute table of your chosen layer.
  2. Activate Multi Edit Mode: Click on the ‘Toggle Multi Edit Mode’ button.
  3. Select Features: Highlight the features you intend to edit.
  4. Edit Values: On the right side of the table, you’ll see fields and values for the selected features. Modify the values as necessary.
  5. Apply: Click ‘Apply Changes’ at the top or simply select another feature to apply the changes automatically.
  6. Save: Conclude by saving your edits.

Tips and Best Practices

Editing attribute values in QGIS is a routine yet crucial task. To ensure accuracy, efficiency, and data integrity, it’s essential to follow certain best practices and be aware of handy tips. Here’s a compilation to guide you through the process:

1. Always Backup Your Data

Before making any significant edits or changes, always create a backup of your original data. This ensures you have a fallback option in case of mistakes or data corruption.

2. Use the Undo Feature

QGIS provides an ‘Undo’ button (represented by a backward arrow) in the attribute table. If you make an error, you can quickly revert to the previous state without having to start over.

3. Validate Data Types

Ensure that the data you’re entering or calculating matches the field’s data type. For instance, don’t input text into a field designated for numbers.

4. Leverage Expressions

The Field Calculator in QGIS supports a wide range of expressions and functions. Familiarize yourself with these to automate and streamline your editing tasks.

5. Be Cautious with Global Edits

When using the Quick Field Calculation Bar or Multi Edit Mode to update multiple records, double-check your criteria and expressions. Global edits can inadvertently modify a large number of records.

6. Regularly Save Your Edits

While working in the attribute table, periodically save your edits. This not only secures your changes but also reduces the risk of data loss in case of unexpected software crashes.

7. Use Filters for Targeted Edits

If you need to edit a subset of features, use the filter option in the attribute table. This allows you to narrow down records based on specific criteria, ensuring you’re only editing the relevant features.

8. Stay Updated

QGIS is an evolving software with regular updates and enhancements. Keep your software updated to benefit from the latest features, improvements, and bug fixes.

9. Explore Plugins

The QGIS community offers a plethora of plugins that can enhance your editing capabilities. Explore the QGIS plugin repository to find tools that cater to your specific needs.

Recommended Resources

About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.

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