Not every dataset you want to use comes as a shapefile, or in a spatial format. Often the data would come as a table or a spreadsheet and you would need to link it with your existing spatial data for use in your analysis. This operation is known as a Table Join and this tutorial will cover how to carry out table joins in QGIS.
is a repository of all census data for the US. You can use Advanced Search and
query for the Topic - Total Population and
Geographies - All Census Tracts in California to create a custom CSV and
download it. This tutorial uses Total Population 2010 Census Summary File 1
For convenience, you may directly download a copy of both the datasets from the
We will first load the census tracts shapefile. Go to Layer
‣ Add Vector Layer.
Browse to the downloaded zip file tl_2013_06_tract.zip and select it. QGIS
can open zip files directly so no need to uncompress it first.
Select the tl_2013_06_tract.shp layer and click OK.
You will see the census tracts loaded into QGIS.
Right-click on the layer and select Open Attribute Table.
Examine the attributes of the tracts shapefile. To join a table with this shapefile, we need a unique and common attribute for each feature. In this case, the GEOID field is a unique identifier for each tract and can be used to link this shapefile with any other table containing the same ID.
Open the CSV file ca_tracts_pop.csv in a text editor. You will notice that each row of the file contains information about a tract along with the unique identifier we saw in the previous step. Note that this field is called GEO.id2 in the CSV. You will also note that the D001 column has population value for each of the census tract.
We could import this csv file without any further action and it would be
imported. But, the default type of each column would be a String (text).
That is ok except for the D001 field which contains numbers for the
population. Having those imported as text would not allow us to run any
mathematical operations on this column. To tell QGIS to import the field as
a number, we need to create a sidecar file with a .csvt extension. This
file will have only 1 row specifying data types for each column. Save this
file as ca_tracts_pop.csvt in the same directory as the original .csv
file. You can also download the csvt file from here.
Now we are ready to import the CSV file to QGIS. Go to Layer
‣ Add Delimited Text Layer.
Browse to the folder containing the CSV file and select it. Make sure you
have selected File format as CSV (comma separated
values). Since we are importing this as a table, we must specify that our
file contains no geometry. Select the No geometry (attribute
only table) option. Click OK.
The CSV will now be imported as a table to QGIS.
Select the tl_2013_06_tract layer. Right-click on it and select
In the Layer Properties dialog, select the Joins
tab. Click on the + button at the bottom to create a new table join.
In the Add vector join dialog, select ca_tracts_pop as the
Join layer. Next we have to select the field with unique ids in
both the shapefile and the CSV. Select GEO.id2 and GEOID as the
Join field and Target field respectively. Click
Close the Layer Properties dialog and return to the main QGIS
window. At this point, the fields from the CSV file are joined with the
shapefile. Right-click on the tl_2013_06_tract layer and select
Open Attribute Table.
You can now see a new set of fields, including
ca_tracts_pop_D001 field added to each feature. Now you have
access to the population value of each tract from the CSV file. Close the
attribute table and return to the main QGIS window.
Right-click the tl_2013_06_tract layer and select Properties.
Select the Style tab. Select the Graduated from the
drop-down menu. As we are looking to create a population map, we want to
assign different color to each census tract feature based on the population
count. Select ca_tracts_pop_D001 as the Column.
Select a color ramp of your liking from the Color ramp
drop-down. In the Mode, select Quantile (Equal
Count). Next click Classify. You will see a different color
assigned to certain population ranges. Click OK.
You will now see a nice visualization of the census tracts as styled using
population values. Use the Zoom in tool to select a smaller
area from the layer.
You have a detailed and accurate population map of California. You can use
the same technique to create maps based on variety of census data.