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MapServer Python MapScript bindings

Project description

Author: MapServer Team
Last Updated:2020-03-02


The Python mapscript module provides users an interface to MapServer classes on any platform, and has been tested on Python versions 2.7 and 3.5+.

The Python mapscript module is created using SWIG the the Simplified Wrapper and Interface Generator. This is used to create MapServer bindings in many different programming languages.

When working with Mapfiles in Python the mappyfile project can also be used, this allows creating, parsing, formatting, and validating Mapfiles without any dependencies on MapServer.

Wheels and PyPI

Python wheels for Windows are automatically and uploaded to PyPI - the Python Package Index on each MapServer release. Note - MapServer binaries still need to be installed on the system, and are not included in the wheel itself, see the Installation section below.

Advantages of ready-made wheels on PyPI include:

  • easy installation using pip
  • mapscript can be added as a dependency to Requirements Files
  • mapscript can be easily added to a Python Virtual Environment
  • Python2 or Python3 versions of mapscript can be installed and work with a single installation of MapServer

Wheels are built based on the Appveyor build environments. These are as follows at the time of writing:

  • Python 2.7 x32
  • Python 2.7 x64
  • Python 3.6 x64

The mapscript wheels have been compiled using Visual Studio 2017 version 15 (MSVC++ 14.11 _MSC_VER == 1911). Linux Wheels may also be available in the future using the manylinux project.

No source distributions will be provided on PyPI - to build from source requires the full MapServer source code, in which case it is easiest to take a copy of the full MapServer project and run the CMake process detailed below.

The Wheels contain a full test suite and sample data that can be run to check that the installed MapServer is running correctly.

Installation on Windows

To use mapscript you will need to add the MapServer binaries to your system path. On Windows you can use the following, replacing C:\MapServer\bin with the location of your MapServer binaries.

SET PATH=C:\MapServer\bin;%PATH%

Windows binary packages can be downloaded from GIS Internals. To ensure compatibility with the wheels, please use identical release packages, e.g. release-1911-x64-gdal-2-3-mapserver-7-4 for mapscript 7.4.

When using these packages the MapServer path will be similar to C:\release-1911-x64-gdal-2-3-mapserver-7-2\bin.

Prior to installing mapscript it is recommended to update pip to the latest version with the following command:

python -m pip install --upgrade pip

If there are binary wheels available for your system, mapscript can be installed using:

pip install mapscript

If you already have mapscript installed and wish to upgrade it to a newer version you can use:

pip install mapscript --upgrade

Now you should be able to import mapscript:

python -c "import mapscript;print(mapscript.msGetVersion())"

If you failed to add the MapServer binaries to your system path you may see one of the following errors:

ImportError: No module named _mapscript # Python 2.x
ModuleNotFoundError: No module named '_mapscript' # Python 3.x

If your version of mapscript does not match your version of MapServer you may instead one of the following messages:

ImportError: DLL load failed: The specified module could not be found.
ImportError: DLL load failed: The specified procedure could not be found.

Installation on Unix

For Unix users there are two approaches to installing mapscript. The first is to install the python-mapscript package using a package manager. For example on Ubuntu the following command can be used:

sudo apt-get install python-mapscript

The second approach is to build and install the Python mapscript module from source. Full details on compiling MapServer from source are detailed on the Compiling on Unix page. To make sure Python mapscript is built alongside MapServer the following flag needs to be set:


To configure the path of the mapscript installation location -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX can be set, e.g.

sudo cmake .. -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=/usr

When installing the DESTDIR variable can be set (note DESTDIR is not used on Windows) to install mapscript to a non-default location. E.g.

make install DESTDIR=/tmp

In summary the install target runs the install command using custom paths (when set) similar to below:

python install –root=${DESTDIR} –prefix={CMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX}


Some basic examples of what can be done with mapscript are shown below. Note - before running any scripts using mapscript, you will need to add the MapServer binaries to your system path, see the Installation section above.

To open an existing Mapfile:

>>> import mapscript
>>> test_map = mapscript.mapObj(r"C:\Maps\")
>>> extent = test_map.extent

Create a layer from a string:

>>> import mapscript
>>> layer = mapscript.fromstring("""LAYER NAME "test" TYPE POINT END""")
>>> layer
<mapscript.layerObj; proxy of C layerObj instance at ...>
>>> layer.type == mapscript.MS_LAYER_POINT

Building the Mapscript Module

The mapscript module is built as part of the MapServer CMake build process. This is configured using the mapserver/mapscript/CMakeLists.txt file.

Before the switch to CMake MapServer mapscript was built using distutils and Now the file is used as a template that is filled with the MapServer version number and used to created wheel files for distribution, or install mapscript directly on the build machine.

The build process works as follows.

  • CMake runs SWIG. This uses the SWIG interface files to create a mapscriptPYTHON_wrap.c file, and a file containing the Python wrapper to the mapscript binary module.
  • CMake then uses the appropriate compiler on the system to compile the mapscriptPYTHON_wrap.c file into a Python binary module - _mapscript.pyd file on Windows, and a file on Unix.

CMakeLists.txt is configured with a pythonmapscript-wheel target that copies all the required files to the output build folder where they are then packaged into a Python wheel. The wheel can be built using the following command:

cmake --build . --target pythonmapscript-wheel

The pythonmapscript-wheel target creates a virtual environment, creates the Python wheel, installs it to the virtual environment and finally runs the test suite. This process runs commands similar to the following:

python -m pip install virtualenv
virtualenv mapscriptvenv
python -m pip install --upgrade pip
pip install -r requirements-dev.txt
python bdist_wheel
pip install --no-index --find-links=dist mapscript
python -m pytest --pyargs mapscript.tests

SWIG can also be run manually, without using CMake. This may allow further optimizations and control on the output.

cd C:\Projects\mapserver\build
SET PATH=C:\MapServerBuild\swigwin-4.0.1;%PATH%
swig -python -shadow -o mapscript_wrap.c ../mapscript.i

SWIG has several command line options to control the output, examples of which are shown below:

swig -python -shadow -modern -templatereduce -fastdispatch -fvirtual -fastproxy
-modernargs -castmode -dirvtable -fastinit -fastquery -noproxydel -nobuildnone
-o mapscript_wrap.c ../mapscript.i


The mapscript module includes a test suite and a small sample dataset to check the output and MapServer installation. It is recommended pytest is used to run the tests. This can be installed using:

pip install pytest

Make sure the MapServer binaries are on the system path, and that the PROJ_LIB variable has been set as this is required for many of the tests.

SET PATH=C:\release-1911-x64-gdal-2-3-mapserver-7-4\bin;%PATH%
SET PROJ_LIB=C:\release-1911-x64-gdal-2-3-mapserver-7-4\bin\proj\SHARE

Finally run the command below to run the test suite:

pytest --pyargs mapscript.tests


  • Steve Lime (developer)
  • Sean Gillies (developer)
  • Frank Warmerdam (developer)
  • Howard Butler (developer)
  • Norman Vine (cygwin and distutils guru)
  • Tim Cera (install)
  • Michael Schultz (documentation)
  • Thomas Bonfort (developer)
  • Even Rouault (developer)
  • Seth Girvin (Python3 migration, documentation and builds)
  • Claude Paroz (Python3 migration)

Project details

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