MS RFC 61: Enhance MapServer Feature Style Support

Author:Tamas Szekeres
Contact:szekerest at
Status:Adopted (Implemented on 2010/09/29, Documentation added)

Description: This RFC proposes a generic implementation for rendering the feature styles retrieved from the various data sources. In this regard we intend to enhance the existing STYLEITEM option which could now be specified for all layer types and not restricted to the OGR driver.


Currently only the OGR driver supports rendering the styles attached to a feature in the OGR data sources. Theoretically only a few data sources support storing the styles along with the features (like MapInfo, AutoCAD DXF, Microstation DGN), however those styles can easily be transferred to many other data sources as a separate attribute by using the ogr2ogr SQL option as follows:

ogr2ogr -sql "select *, OGR_STYLE from srclayer" "dstlayer" "srclayer"

As a result of the transfer, the OGR style string is added to the destination layer as a separate attribute. We could also rename this attribute during the transfer according to the following example:

ogr2ogr -sql "select *, OGR_STYLE as mystyleattribute from srclayer" "dstlayer" "srclayer"

Currently the style string transferred this way can only be rendered by the MapServer OGR driver, however it would be reasonable to implement such option for all layer types in MapServer.

Proposed New Syntax

This RFC wouldn’t alter the current behaviour of STYLEITEM “AUTO” option, which causes the driver specific LayerGetAutoStyle vtable method to be called as before. If LayerGetAutoStyle is not implemented by a driver an error message is provided to the user “‘STYLEITEM AUTO’ not supported for this data source.”

We will however add support for specifying the feature attribute containing the style string in the form: STYLEITEM “mystyleattribute” which will tell mapserver to initialize the style from the specified attribute in a generic way.

Supported Style Representations

We will implement support for either the current mapserver and OGR specific style representations.

The mapserver style representation follows the syntax of the STYLE and CLASS entries in the mapfile format like the following sample:


By specifying the entire CLASS instead of a single style allows to use further options (like setting expressions, label attributes, multiple styles) on a per feature basis.

In addition to the mapserver style the OGR style string format will also be supported as described in the following documentation:

The actual style format will be identifyed at run-time according to the first characters of the style strings. This solution will allow to specify multiple style formats within the same layer.

Implementation Details

In order to implement this enhancement the following changes should be made in the MapServer codebase:

  1. Modify msDrawVectorLayer (in mapdraw.cpp) to invoke a new method (msLayerGetFeatureStyle) when STYLEITEM is set for a particular layer.
  2. Implement msLayerGetFeatureStyle in maplayer.c which will call either msUpdateStyleFromString, msUpdateClassFromString or the new method: msOGRUpdateStyleFromString according to the actual style format retrieved from the layer.
  3. Modify msOGRLayerGetAutoStyle (in mapogr.cpp) and extract the bulk of the style initialization into a separate function (msOGRUpdateStyle). We will add a new function (msOGRUpdateStyleFromString) where the style manager will be initialized by using OGRStyleMgr::InitStyleString instead of OGRStyleMgr::InitFromFeature
  4. Modify msLayerWhichItems in (maplayer.c) to retrieve the attribute containing the style string specified in the STYLEITEM parameter. By using STYLEITEM “AUTO” no additional attribute will be retrieved just as before.

MapScript Issues

There’s no need to modify the MapScript interface since the styleitem parameter has already been exposed. However this attribute will now support the name of the style attribute not only the “AUTO” value.

Files affected

To implement the solution the following files would require to be changed:

  • mapserver.h => Add the declaration for msLayerGetFeatureStyle and msOGRUpdateStyleFromString
  • mapogr.cpp => Add msOGRUpdateStyleFromString and msOGRUpdateStyle
  • maplayer.c => Modify msLayerWhichItems and implement msLayerGetFeatureStyle
  • mapdraw.c => Call msLayerGetFeatureStyle in addition to msLayerGetAutoStyle

Backwards Compatibilty Issues

Currently ‘STYLEITEM “AUTO”’ has only been implemented in the OGR driver which overrides LayerGetAutoStyle with a custom implementation. This behaviour would continue to work as previously since the generic implementation would not affect those drivers which provide custom auto style implementation.

When using the ‘STYLEITEM “mystyleattribute”’ setting, we provide a generic implementation to set the style directly from the feature attribute and no driver specific function will be called. This option will work for all drivers in the same way.

Further Considerations

In the future we may provide support further style representations in addition to the mapserver and OGR style strings. Each new representation will require a proper (and fast) method to identify the format from the style string itself.

Using the OGR style format will require the OGR driver to be compiled in. If we compile MapServer without OGR support and the ‘STYLEITEM “mystyleattribute”’ option is used, those features may not be rendered correctly where the actual style format is OGR style string.

Bug ID

The ticket for RFC-61 (containing the implementation) can be found here.

Bug 3544

Voting history

+1 from SteveW, DanielM, SteveL, PericlesN, AssefaY, FrankW, ThomasB, HowardB and TamasS