Port your R scripts to QGIS using SEXTANTE

has grown a lot in the past years and is increasingly used as GIS. For many spatial operations and even spatial statistics certain R packages are simply the best choice up to date. For instance Home-range analysis are kinda impossible to perform (at least for me) without looking at the adehabitat packages. You want to perform a spatial operation in a script and do not know how to code python: Just use R. Francisco Rodriguez-Sanchez has posted very nice examples how to perform GIS tasks completely within R.

However R as GIS lacks the simplicity in matters of design and it requires quite an effort to make a good-looking map. Therefore using QGIS for map-design and output is always the favored choice for me. But why use R and QGIS independently? Through the SEXTANTE Toolbox for QGIS it is possible to execute fast and precise r-scripts for your spatial data just in QGIS.

What you need to do:

  • Download the current QGIS dev. and R.
  • Enable SEXTANTE in QGIS and activate the R-scripts in the SEXTANTE options provider window. Furthermore specify a R-scripts folder where you store your scripts.
  • Also make sure that your scripts are logged (it is in the SEXTANTE options as well)
  • Execute one of the Example R-scripts to test if the scripts are working.

If the above steps all turned out as expected you could start formatting your own r-scripts into a so-called .rsx file (R SEXTANTE script).

Here is a little info-graphic how to use R in a SEXTANTE context:


So open your favorite text-editor (or the new r-script dialog in QGIS) and create a new file. Save it into the rscripts folder inside your QGIS profile directory (“~/.qgis2/sextante/rscripts” on Linux based systems. Similar structure under Windows inside of your Documents folder). All .rsx scripts start with defining a group (where to save the script in SEXTANTE) and continue with additional inputs specified by the user. All Input data comes with two hashs in front. Furthermore you need to specify if the script output should show plots (add “#showplots” at the beginning of the script) and/or console output (start a command with “>”).

After you wrote your script, startup QGIS, open the SEXTANTE toolbox and have fun executing it. All things are possible, but it isn’t really easy to debug .rsx scripts in QGIS as the output is limited and sometimes you just wonder why it isn’t working.

To get you started here is the basic script to do the nice-looking levelplot from the rasterVis r-package:

##[Own Scripts] = group
##layer = raster
myPal <- terrain.colors(20)

Script is stored in the “Own Scripts” group. It just requires a raster (best is a DEM) as input.
You could extend the scripts by saving the output to a user defined folder or by creating just a plot for a specific extent (for instance the current QGIS extent). Output looks like this for the country of Skane in south Sweden:

output_LevelplotRight now this is just for show, but of course you could also generate for example contours of the raster DEM and save them in GDAL supported format after script execution.


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About Martin Jung

PhD researcher at the University of Sussex. Interested in nature conservation, ecology and biodiversity as well as statistics, GIS and 'big data'

2 responses to “Port your R scripts to QGIS using SEXTANTE”

  1. pvanb says :

    Thanks for the info :-). I definately going to try this out

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