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Hands-on GRASS: First steps

The object of this page is to start using Grass and to get familiar with some general GIS operations. We are going to use a command line approach. This is to enable carrying out stand-alone processes in the future, and understand step by step each function and the options per function which are available. Let´s start using grass.

download the script or VM@: ~/ost4sem/exercise/basic_adv_grass/

Starting Grass

Every Grass project has a predefined data structure

  • GISDBASE - Grass data are stored in a directory referred to as a DATABASE “GISDBASE”. This directory has to be created with mkdir or a file manager, before starting to work with GRASS. Within this DATABASE, the projects are organized by project areas stored in subdirectories called LOCATIONs.
  • LOCATION - A Location is defined by its coordinate system, map projection and geographical boundaries. The subdirectories and files defining a LOCATION are created automatically when GRASS is started for the first time with a new LOCATION.
  • MAPSET - Locations can have many MAPSETs. Each MAPSET is a LOCATION's subdirectory. A new MAPSET can be added at GRASS startup.
    A common problem of basic users is not really using grass but starting a grass section. The main reason is due to the grass data structure and the way a grass section has to be set up before starting!

    To remove a MAPSET, remove it's directory using your file manager or by

    rm -rf /path/./mapsettodelete The wxGUI graphical user interface provides options to rename/remove LOCATIONs and MAPSETs.

    There are several ways to use and open Grass. The simplest way is to open a terminal and type: grass74 -text

A second option is to use the Python GUI by typing in the terminal:

grass74 -wxpython

the Graphical User Interface GUI will ask you to define the GISDBASE, LOCATION and MAPSET to use. If you want you can select the Location wizard to create a new location with newest projection parameters or the Create mapset button to create a new mapset inside a pre-existing location.

To enter grass in command line:

 grass74 -text ~/ost4sem/grassdb/europe/PERMANENT

Using the above command line we have already entered into the Grass environment with the GISDBASE, LOCATION and MAPSET defined by the ~/ost4sem/grassdb/europe/PCEM path

Once you are running Grass through the bash shell terminal you can always start the graphical user interface with:
 g.gui wxpython &


prefix function class type of command example
d.* display graphical output d.rast: views raster map
d.vect: views vector map
db.* database database management selects value(s) from table
g.* general general file operations g.rename: renames map
i.* imagery image processing i.smap: image classifier
ps.* postscript map creation format map creation in Postscript
r.* raster raster data processing r.buffer: buffer around raster features
r.mapcalc: map algebra
r3.* voxel raster voxel data processing r3.mapcalc: volume map algebra
v.* vector vector data processing v.overlay: vector map intersections

For detailed instructions on grass command syntax and use, go to the GRASSonline manual or type man and function name. As an example

Grass working environment

The g.gisenv command informs you of your current grass environment settings


If you started grass correctly you should visualize the following lines on your terminal

GRASS 7.4.0 (europe):~ > 
Running grass through the bash shell terminal allows you to use all command line functionality of both grass and shell. As an example you can type

and visualize all files available in your shell current working directory. This means that all your output files produced by bash command lines functionality will be saved in the current working directory (if not specified differently). Many non-geographical grass output features such as text file reports or images will be saved as well in the current working directory. The GRASS 7.4.0 (europe):~ > inform you are currently working in the home folder. See


for double checking the same information using a bash command instead of the grass g.gisenv command.

It is a good working habit within Grass to set bash shell working directory the same as your GRASS LOCATION folder.
cd ~/ost4sem/grassdb/europe/

On the terminal you will no longer see

 GRASS 7.4.0 (europe):~ >

GRASS 7.4.0 (europe):~/ost4sem/grassdb/europe > and you will be aware tif your current bash shell working directory match your grass location directory.


We have explained that grass projects can be organised in MAPSETs by users, by themes, by extent or locations, and grouped within the same grass LOCATION. This LOCATION will group several MAPSETS defined by a common projection and is able to access a common set of maps in the PERMANENT MAPSET forlder. When we work in a specific MAPSET we will have no rights to write or delete maps in a different MAPSET. For doing so you will have to change your working MAPSET directory and then delete or produce new maps.

The g.mapset command allows you to change the Grass working directory and successively generate, delete or modify maps as you wish.

g.mapset -l
g.mapset mapset=PCEM

Now you should see the following settings:

GRASS 7.4.0 (europe):~/ost4sem/grassdb/europe > g.gisenv
GRASS 7.4.0 (europe):~/ost4sem/grassdb/europe >
From grass 6.3 only the -c flag creates a new mapset if it doesn't exist.; -l List available mapsets (!)

Manage maps

To list your available maps:

g.list type=vect -p
g.list vect  -p
g.list rast -p

The user can add, modify, and delete data layers that exist under his current mapset. Although the user can also access (i.e., use) data that are stored under other mapsets in the same GRASS location, the user can only make permanent changes (create or modify data) located in the current mapset.

Now we can access the fnfpc_crop mapset and eventually copy a map from the PCEMstat mapset to our current mapset directory using the g.copy function:

g.copy rast=fnfpc_crop@PCEMstat,fnfpc_crop
g.list rast -p

And delete a map with the g.remove command

g.remove -f type=rast name=fnfpc_crop
g.list rast

You can access but not delete or modify a map in a different mapset from your current

  g.remove -f type=rast name=fnfpc_crop@PCEMstat
We have to be careful in Grass to understand the possible differences existing in the same MAPSET between the whole extent and resolution of the MAPSET itself, the extent, resolution and geographic location of our working region, and the extent and location of what we are visualising.

Region settings

In GRASS, a region refers to a geographic area with some defined boundaries, based on a specific map coordinate system and map projection. Grass region definition and details. This crucial Grass setting will allow us to define within MAPSET settings a particular region of work.
Once defined the grass region, grass modules (or programs) will operate within this region. The user can create, modify, and store as many geographic region definitions as desired for any given mapset. However, only one of these geographic region definitions will be current at any given moment, for a specified mapset. GRASS programs that respect the geographic region settings will use the current geographic region settings.

To query your current region settings type

 g.region -p

and to reset region settings to their original extent type

 g.region -d
-p stands for “print” ; -d stands for default

You can modify your default g. region with a -s flag within the PERMANENT directory.

Now we will define a new study area for the Scandinavia region.

g.region -p
g.region n=6015390 e=5676400 s=3303955 w=3876180 res=1000 save=scandinavia --overwrite
g.region -p

You will visualize the current and newest region settings saved as scandinavia

If you open the GRASS gui

 g.gui wxpython  

You can visualize the Computational Region in the Display menu by cliking “Show computation Extent” and you will see the Scandinavia area within a red frame.

Back to GRASS if you reset the default grass region

g.region -d

Clipping maps and changing resolution use

g.region allow us to do two basic GIS function: resample and clip.
We would like to have 3 new maps of forest/non-forest percentage clipped and resampled with a different resolution from a forest/non-forest map. The original forest/non-forest map has the European extent and 1km resolution. We need to generate:

  • Italian extent map at 20km resolution,
  • Alpine extent map at 10km resolution
  • Alpine and Carpathians extent map at 5km reslution.

In the europe LOCATION different g.region exists:

ls PERMANENT/windows/ 
ls */windows/

The g.region are saved in the following folders and named as follow:

  • EUforest/windows/: europe
  • PCEMstat/windows/: alpine
  • PCEM/windows/: alp_car
  • PERMANENT/windows/: scandinavia

We now resample the g.region at 20km using the res=new_res option and will set 75 x 57 pixels of 20k resolution

  g.region res=20000 -p 
#  projection: 99 (Lambert Azimuthal Equal Area)
#  zone:       0
#  datum:      ** unknown (default: WGS84) **
#  ellipsoid:  grs80
#  north:      2900000
#  south:      1400000
#  west:       3960000
#  east:       5100000
#  nsres:      20000
#  ewres:      20000
#  rows:       75
#  cols:       57
#  cells:      4275

we can create a new forest/non-forest map with the new extent and resolution using r.mapcalc function r.mapcalc details

r.mapcalc "fnfpc_italy20k = fnfpc" 

Now create the two other maps:

  g.region alpine@PCEMstat res=10000 -p
#projection: 99 (Lambert Azimuthal Equal Area)
#zone:       0
#datum:      ** unknown (default: WGS84) **
#ellipsoid:  grs80
#north:      2751000
#south:      2310000
#west:       3960000
#east:       4700000
#nsres:      10022.72727273
#ewres:      10000
#rows:       44
#cols:       74
#cells:      3256
  r.mapcalc "fnfpc_alpine10k = fnfpc" 
  g.region alp_car@PCEM res=5000 -p
#projection: 99 (Lambert Azimuthal Equal Area)
#zone:       0
#datum:      ** unknown (default: WGS84) **
#ellipsoid:  grs80
#north:      3070000
#south:      2270000
#west:       3900000
#east:       5660000
#nsres:      5000
#ewres:      5000
#rows:       160
#cols:       352
#cells:      56320
  r.mapcalc "fnfpc_alpine_carpatien5k = fnfpc" 
You can save a new extent and resolution as g.mapset with the save=namenew option
g.region alp_car@PCEM res=5000 -p save=alp_car_5km_res

Visualize maps

In the forest non forest map fnfpc each pixel value corresponds to ha of tree cover or percentage cover within each sq km pixel.
Lets visualise the map in different ways.


The Qgis is a very simple and practical tools for visualising maps. Open Qgis and visualize the maps you just created: Plugin GRASS > add GRASS raster layer >

  • Gisdbase : /home/user/ost4sem/grassdb
  • Location : europe
  • Mapset : PERMANENT
  • Map name : fnfpcalpinecarpatien5k

Also grass has a GUI for vitalising maps. Open it and charge the maps just created

 g.gui tcltk     

Click on: add raster layer > Base map (select your maps and refresh the Map display window.

Generating multiple maps with standardized settings

Lets rename our maps for simplification

g.copy rast=fnfpc,eu1 
g.copy rast=fnfpc_alpine_carpatien5k,ac5 
g.copy rast=fnfpc_alpine10k,a10
g.copy rast=fnfpc_italy20k,i20

And remove rasters with old names

g.remove -f type=raster name=fnfpc_alpine_carpatien5k
g.remove -f type=raster name=fnfpc_alpine10k
g.remove -f type=raster name=fnfpc_italy20k
You can use the g.rename rast=oldname,newname function instead of g.copy and g.remove if you are dealing with maps in the same mapsets and you hgave rights to rename them

We also need to convert vector topology from grass 6 to grass 7 version

  g.copy vect=EUcountry@EUforest,EUcountry
for map in a10 ac5 eu1 i20 ; do
 g.region rast=$map
 cat ~/ost4sem/exercise/basic_adv_grass/green_palett_5class | r.colors map=$map  rules="-" 
 d.mon start=png 
 d.rast $map 
 d.vect map=EUcountry fcolor="none" color=red
 d.mon stop=png
 mv  map.png ~/ost4sem/exercise/basic_adv_grass/output_map_$map.png

below the whole procedure in a script to generate multiple maps with different resolution and extents.

grass -text ~/ost4sem/grassdb/europe/PCEM
g.mapsets mapset=Vmodel operation=add
g.region n=6015390 e=5676400 s=3303955 w=3876180 res=1000 save=scandinavia --overwrite
g.region italy@Vmodel -p 
g.region res=20000 -p 
r.mapcalc "fnfpc_italy20k = fnfpc" --overwrite
g.region alpine@PCEMstat res=10000 -p
r.mapcalc "fnfpc_alpine10k = fnfpc" --overwrite
g.region alp_car@PCEM res=5000 -p
r.mapcalc "fnfpc_alpine_carpatien5k = fnfpc" --overwrite
g.copy rast=fnfpc,eu1 
g.copy rast=fnfpc_alpine_carpatien5k,ac5 
g.copy rast=fnfpc_alpine10k,a10
g.copy rast=fnfpc_italy20k,i20
g.remove -f type=raster name=fnfpc 
g.remove -f type=raster name=fnfpc_alpine_carpatien5k 
g.remove -f type=raster name=fnfpc_alpine10k
g.remove -f type=raster name=fnfpc_italy20k
g.copy vect=EUcountry@EUforest,EUcountry
for map in a10 ac5 eu1 i20 ; do
 g.region rast=$map
 cat ~/ost4sem/exercise/basic_adv_grass/green_palett_5class | r.colors map=$map  rules="-" 
 d.mon start=png 
 d.rast $map 
 d.vect map=EUcountry fcolor="none" color=red
 d.mon stop=png
 mv  map.png ~/ost4sem/exercise/basic_adv_grass/output_map_$map.png
wiki/basicgrass7.txt · Last modified: 2020/05/12 19:50 by new_ost4sem_admin