Introduction to Formulas

Cartographica supports formulas in columns, providing a way to compute new values from existing columns or from geometric attributes of the feature for which the column is being calculated. The formula interpreter uses an embedded python interpreter with the basic functions plus the math library imported at the base. This chapter lists the functions and constants available.

Cartographica uses an embedded Python 3 interpreter to interpret the formulas, or "expressions" that make up the Column Formulas. This provides an enormous amount of flexibility in these expressions and although we detail the key aspects of python expressions, basically anything that can be executed as a python expression is fair game in a Column Formula in Cartographica.

The simplest expression is just a replacement value. Although it's not the best use of processing power, it is an effective way to put a constant value in a column as a placeholder.

The most common use of Column Formulas is to create a new value based on the values of another column or columns in Cartographica. To create these simple relationships, use standard arithmatic operators (below) to combine fields.

For example, a population column and an area column can be combined to determine density.


Another use of Column Formulas is to create new columns by splitting data that has been encoded into a string.  For example: a column named CITYSTATE containing  'Washington, DC' may be appropriate for an address line, but may not be appropriate for your needs, so you could use


to grab the city and


to grab the state from the CITYSTATE column.  Breaking this down, the split method splits a string into an array of substrings that were previously separated by the character in quotes (','), then that array is dereferenced to it's 2nd element (python's understanding of the world is based on the 0 being the first position) and then that string has the strip method run against it, which removes spaces from the start and end of the string.  Thus, you get the state.

Or if you had a column BLOCKGROUP containing a block group identifier "210670001001" and wanted to pull out the FIPS State and county code from it, you could use:


(pulling the first 5 characters, starting at position 0 from the text string). 

Version 1.5 Change

Versions of Cartographica prior to Version 1.5 used the built-in Python 2.7 interpreter on macOS to interpret functions.  In versions, 1.5 and later, a version 3.8+ interpreter is used.  For most uses in Cartographica, this does not change the behavior, however string functions are now mostly methods on string objects (as shown in the CITYSTATE example above), and thus must be called on the text string objects, as opposed to called directly.

Cartographica will attempt to warn you when you have an old-form function in use, so that you may change it to the new method-based invocation.

Fortunately, the 1.5 methods are compatible with 1.4.x, so you can safely change the formulas and save them for MapSets that are in use by both.

Creating a Column Formula
  1. Select the layer in which you want to create a formula in the layer stack
  2. Choose  Window > Show Layer Info to bring up the  Layer Info window.
  3. To create a new column in the layer do one of the following:
    • click on the + button or choose
    • Layer > Add Column
  4. Click on the new column name and change its name to something meaningful
  5. Click the  Set Formula‚Ķ button to bring up the formula sheet

    Formula Sheet
  6. Drag a column name from the bottom pane to add a reference to another column to this formula. Colors of the column names denote the type of data.
  7. Now add the rest of the formula by typing in the formula area and dragging other column references to it.
  8. When you are done, click OK to set the formula
    While you enter the formula, Cartographica is constantly evaluating it looking for potential problems and providing you guidance in how to solve those problems. Unfortunately, there are some errors for which Cartographica cannot determine the problem and can only tell you that the result would be invalid.

For other cases, consult the Expression Warnings table for meanings and suggested solutions to problems detected by Cartographica.

Warning Message


No result value for test data

This expression results in no value. Generally this is the result of calling a function that doesn't return a value

Math error-some fields may be wrong/missing

This expression evaluates to an arithmetic error using the test data. This warning indicates that under some circumstances (possibly all), field values will not be set. A common cause of this is an expression that results in infinity or attempts to divide by zero using the test data.

Syntax error in formula

This expression is invalid. This is often displayed during typing due to issues such as missing parenthesis, missing operators and other errors.

Interpreter exception

This expression is invalid in a way that we cannot determine.

Geometries can't be stored in columns

The result of the expression will be a geometry. The most common cause of this is a missing final expression when evaluating a centroid or other geometric value.

Unknown type

The result of this expression will be an unknown type. Because of this, no data will be stored in the resultant column. Check that any functions used in the expression don't return complex types, such as geometries

Unknown attribute

The result of this expression references an attribute (using dot notation) that is not known to the interpreter. Check the spelling of anything after a dot.

Unknown symbol:

The referenced symbol is unknown to the interpreter. This is generally caused either by putting two column references next to each other without an operator or by a typo

Wrong geometry type

A function in this expression that works on a geometry is being used with the wrong type of geometry. For example: you are trying to take the area of a point.

Other geometry error

The expression uses some geometry function incorrectly, resulting in confusion for the geometry processor

Can't initialize interpreter

Internal error, please report to ClueTrust

Expression Warnings

Cartographica does not resolve circular references or directional references. Each column is executed in column order when they are loaded and are updated when they are changed. As such, if you have a Column Formula that is dependent on another Column Formula, you may experience unexpected results.

To refresh an individual value, just set the formula again.