Mapfile Manipulation


Sean Gillies


Seth Girvin


sethg at

Last Updated:



The MapScript HowTo docs are intended to complement the API reference with examples of usage for specific subjects. All examples in this document refer to the Mapfile and testing layers distributed with MapServer and found in source control under Mapserver/tests.

The examples below are written in Python. All MapScript languages use the same API, but will need to be rewritten using the relevant language’s syntax.

Mapfile Overview

By «Mapfile» here, I mean all the elements that can occur in (nearly) arbitrary numbers within a MapScript mapObj: Layers, Classes, and Styles.

The mapObj Class

An instance of mapObj is a parent for zero to many layerObj children.

New instances

The mapfile path argument to the mapObj constructor is optional. The following generates a default mapObj with no layers.

empty_map = mapscript.mapObj()

A mapObj is initialized from a Mapfile on disk in the usual manner:

test_map = mapscript.mapObj('tests/')


If you receive the following error msProcessProjection(): Projection library error. proj error "No such file or directory" for "init=epsg:4326" then make sure you have set the PROJ_LIB environment variable correctly


An independent copy, less result and label caches, of a mapObj can be produced by the mapObj.clone() method:

clone_map = test_map.clone()


the Java MapScript module implements a «cloneMap» method to avoid conflict with the clone method of Java’s Object class.


A mapObj can be saved to disk using the save method:'')

Children of mapObj

There is a common parent/child object API for Layers, Classes, and Styles in MapServer.

Referencing a Child

References to Layer, Class, and Style children are obtained by «getChild»-like methods of their parent:

i, j, k = 1, 0, 0
layer_i = test_map.getLayer(i)
class_ij =  layer_i.getClass(j)
style_ijk = class_ij.getStyle(k)

These references are for convenience only. MapScript doesn’t have any reference counting, and you are certain to run into trouble if you try to use these references after the parent mapObj has been deleted and freed from memory.

Cloning a Child

A completely independent Layer, Class, or Style can be created using the clone methods of layerObj, classObj, and styleObj:

clone_layer = layer_i.clone()

This instance has no parent, and is self-owned.

New Children

Uninitialized instances of layerObj, classObj, and styleObj can be created with the new constructors:

new_layer = mapscript.layerObj()
new_class = mapscript.classObj()
new_style = mapscript.styleObj()

They are added to a parent object using «insertChild»-like methods of the parent which returns the index at which the child was inserted:

li = test_map.insertLayer(new_layer)
ci = test_map.getLayer(li).insertClass(new_class)
si = test_map.getLayer(li).getClass(ci).insertStyle(new_style)

The insert* methods create a completely new copy of the object and stores it in the parent with all ownership taken on by the parent. See the SWIG API reference for more details.

Backwards Compatibility

The old style child object constructors with the parent object as a single argument remain in MapServer:

new_layer = mapscript.layerObj(test_map)
new_class = mapscript.classObj(new_layer)
new_style = mapscript.styleObj(new_class)

Removing Children

Child objects can be removed with «removeChild»-like methods of parents, which return independent copies of the removed object:

# following from the insertion example ...
# remove the inserted style, returns a copy of the original new_style
removed_style = test_map.getLayer(li).getClass(ci).removeStyle(si)
removed_class = test_map.getLayer(li).removeClass(ci)
removed_layer = test_map.removeLayer(li)


Map, Layer, and Class metadata are the other arbitrarily numbered elements (well, up to the built-in limit of 41) of a mapfile.

The metadata attributes of webObj, layerObj, and classObj are instances of hashTableObj, a class which functions like a limited dictionary:

layer = test_map.getLayerByName('POLYGON')
layer.metadata.set('wms_name', 'foo')
name = layer.metadata.get('wms_name')   # returns 'foo'

You can iterate over all keys in a class:hashTableObj as follows:

key = None

while (1):
    key = layer.metadata.nextKey(key)
    if key == None:
    value = layer.metadata.get(key)
    print(key, value)

Note in Python the hashTableObj can be treated as a dictionary. See Python MapScript Appendix.