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SLYR Update — June 2023

Welcome back, SLYR enthusiasts! We’re thrilled to share the latest updates and enhancements for our SLYR ESRI to QGIS Compatibility Suite that will dramatically streamline the use of ESRI documents within QGIS (and vice versa!). Our team has been hard at work, expanding the capabilities of SLYR to ensure seamless compatibility between the latest QGIS and ArcGIS releases. We’ve also got some exciting news for users of the Community Edition of SLYR! Let’s dive right in and explore the exciting new features that have been added to SLYR since our previous update

Converting Raster Layers in Geodatabases

We’re pleased to announce that SLYR now offers support for converting raster layers within Geodatabases. With this update, users can effortlessly migrate their raster data from ESRI’s Geodatabases to QGIS, enabling more efficient data management and analysis.

This enhancement is only possible thanks to work in the fantastic GDAL library which underpins QGIS’ raster data support. Please ensure that you have the latest version of QGIS (3.30.3 or 3.28.7 at a minimum) to make the most of this feature.

Annotation and Graphic Layer Improvements

Text Annotations along Curves

For those working with curved annotations, we’ve got you covered! SLYR now supports the conversion of text annotations along curves in QGIS. With this enhancement, you’ll get accurate conversion of any curved text and text-along-line annotations from MXD and APRX documents. This has been a long-requested feature which we can now introduce thanks to enhancements coming in QGIS 3.32.

ArcGIS Pro Graphics Layer Support

SLYR now supports the conversion of ArcGIS Pro graphics layers, converting all graphic elements to their QGIS “Annotation Layer” equivalents. If you’ve spent hours carefully designing cartographic markup on your maps, you can be sure that SLYR will allow you to re-use this work within QGIS!

Curved text graphic conversion

Enhanced Page Layout Support

We’ve further improved the results of converting ArcGIS Pro page layouts to QGIS print layouts, with dozens of refinements to the conversion results. The highlights here include:

  • Support for converting measured grids and graticules to QGIS map grids
  • Enhanced dynamic text conversions:  Now, when migrating your projects, you can expect a smoother transition for dynamic text ensuring your layouts correctly show generated metadata and text correctly
  • Support for north arrows, grouped elements, legends and table frames.

Rest assured that your carefully crafted map layouts will retain their visual appeal and functionality when transitioning to QGIS!

Improved QGIS to ArcGIS Pro Conversions

SVG Marker Exports and Symbology Size

SLYR has introduced initial support for exporting SVG markers from QGIS to ArcGIS Pro formats. SVG graphics are a component of QGIS’ cartography, and are frequently used to create custom marker symbols. Unfortunately, ArcGIS Pro doesn’t have any native support for SVG graphics for marker symbols, instead relying on a one-off conversion from SVG to multiple separate marker graphics whenever an SVG is imported into ArcGIS Pro. Accordingly, we’ve implemented a similar logic in SLYR in order to convert SVG graphics to ArcGIS Pro marker graphics transparently whenever QGIS symbology is exported to ArcGIS. This enhancement allows for a seamless transfer of symbology from QGIS, ensuring that your converted maps retain their visual integrity.

Furthermore, the update includes support for exporting QGIS symbology sizes based on “map unit” measurements to ArcGIS Pro, resulting in ArcGIS Pro symbology which more accurately matches the original QGIS versions.

Rule-Based Renderer Conversion

The “Rule Based Renderer” is QGIS’ ultimate powerhouse for advanced layer styling. It’s extremely flexible, thanks to its support for nested rules and filtering using QGIS expressions. However, this flexibility comes with a cost — there’s just no way to reproduce the same results within ArcGIS Pro’s symbology options! Newer SLYR releases will now attempt to work around this by implementing basic conversion of QGIS rule-based renderers to ArcGIS Pro layers with “display filters” attached. This allows us to convert some basic rule-based configuration to ArcGIS Pro formats.

There’s some limitations to be aware of:

  1. Only “flat” rule structures can be converted. It’s not possible to convert a nested rule structure into something representable by ArcGIS Pro.
  2. While the QGIS expression language is very rich and offers hundreds of functions for use in expressions, only basic QGIS filter expressions can be converted to ArcGIS Pro rules.

Improved Conversion of Raster and Mesh Layers

Based on user feedback, we’ve made significant improvements to the conversion of QGIS rasters and mesh layers to ArcGIS Pro formats. Expect enhanced accuracy when migrating these types of data, ensuring a closer match between your QGIS projects and their ArcGIS Pro equivalents.

New tools

The latest SLYR release introduces some brand new tools for automating your conversion workflows:

Convert LYR/LYRX Files Directly to SLD

To facilitate interoperability, SLYR has introduced algorithms that directly convert ESRI LYR or LYRX files to the “SLD” format (Styled Layer Descriptor). This feature simplifies the process of sharing and utilizing symbology between different GIS software, allowing for direct conversion of ESRI symbology for use in Geoserver or Mapserver.

Convert File Geodatabases to Geopackage

We’re thrilled to introduce a powerful new tool in SLYR that enables a comprehensive conversion of a File Geodatabase to the Geopackage format. With this feature, you can seamlessly migrate your data from ESRI’s File Geodatabase format to the versatile and widely supported GeoPackage format. As well as the raw data conversion, this tool also ensures the conversion of field domains and other advanced Geodatabase functionality to their GeoPackage equivalent, preserving valuable metadata and maintaining data integrity throughout the transition. (Please note that this tool requires QGIS version 3.28 or later.)


All these exciting additions to SLYR are available today to SLYR license holders. If you’re after one-click, accurate conversion of projects from ESRI to QGIS, contact us to discuss your licensing needs.

As described on our SLYR page, we also provide some of the conversion tools for free use via the SLYR “Community Edition”. We’re proud to announce that we’ve just hit the next milestone in the Community Edition funding, and will now be releasing all of SLYR’s support for raster LYR files to the community edition! This complements the existing support for vector LYR files and ESRI style files available in the community edition. For more details on the differences between the licensed and community editions, see our product comparison.

Announcing SLYR Community Edition

North Road are proud to announce the official release of SLYR Community Edition, a new open-source version of our powerful SLYR ESRI to Open Source compatibility suite. The Community Edition is available for download from the official QGIS plugin repository today, for QGIS versions 3.4 and above. It supports automated conversion of ESRI .style symbol databases, including conversion of markers, fills, line styles and color ramps to their closest QGIS symbology equivalent, allowing users to instantly transition their style libraries into QGIS!

If you’ve followed our work in the past, it will come as no surprise to hear that North Road are passionate about open source geospatial, and for reducing the barriers which users encounter when moving to open-source software. We see our SLYR tool as an integral part of this process, and the licensed version of the plugin currently supports automated conversion of MXD, LYR, PMF, and other ESRI-specific formats to QGIS documents.

Our intention all along has been to make this tool freely available for all users of open-source geospatial software, and to release our work under a permissive, open-source license so that other projects can take advantage of our reverse engineering efforts. That’s why we made an “open source pledge” a fundamental part of our SLYR tool development! By the terms of this pledge, exactly six months after we hit staged preset funding levels we will open-source more components of the code and update the community version of the plugin accordingly. (This approach gives motivated organisations instant access to the full functionality of the SLYR tool via a license purchase, or free access to a subset of this functionality via the community edition of the plugin. It allows us to heavily invest in further reverse-engineering efforts and improvements to the plugin, to QGIS, and to the wider open-source geospatial community.)

If you’re keen to explore transitioning your workplace from ESRI to open-source, send us an email to discuss what we can offer! North Road staff have years of experience in implementing open-source geospatial solutions within commercial workplaces, and for setting up dual commercial-and-open-source friendly environments.

SLYR ESRI to QGIS compatibility suite – November 2019 update

It’s a been a month full of huge improvements since the last update, and we have some exciting news to share about our SLYR ESRI to QGIS compatibility suite. With the recently published plugin version 3.7, MXD conversion has moved from a “beta” state to being fully supported and available out-of-the-box for all users!

Based on our massive library of reference files (almost 10,000 files covering a huge range of ArcGIS versions and features!), the tool is now able to successfully convert 96% of LYR files and 94.5% of MXD documents. This is a significant milestone, and with it we decided that MXD conversion support is now stable enough to move out of its previous beta state.

Aside from this milestone, the 3.7 release brings many more enhancements and improvements, including:

  • SLYR now has full support for PMF published map documents created by ArcGIS Publisher, along with a new Processing algorithm to convert from a PMF document to a QGS projects
  • We’ve also added support for converting ArcScene SXD scenes to QGS projects. This conversion is 2-dimensional only for now, but we plan on adding 3D conversion when QGIS’ 3D support further matures.
  • We now convert all data frames contained within MXD documents, instead of just the first data frame. Currently, these are exposed as their own individual groups within the project layer tree (when we enable support for page layout conversion we’ll be automatically creating corresponding map themes from each data frame).
  • We’ve added support for reading many more layer types, including raster catalog layers, topology layers, terrain layers, and LAS dataset layers. While QGIS doesn’t have support for these layer types, we need to fully parse them in order to convert the rest of the MXD document contents. Whenever an unsupported layer type like these are encountered the plugin shows a warning advising users which layers could not be successfully converted.
  • We’ve also added support for reading TIN layers. Although previous QGIS versions had no means to read ESRI tin layers, thanks to work done in the MDAL library the upcoming QGIS 3.10.1 release adds full support for reading these data files! Accordingly, we’ll be unlocking support for converting TIN layers contained within MXD documents following the 3.10.1 release.
  • Full support for WMTS and tiled internet layers
  • Support for reading MXD documents which have repaired by the MXD Doctor utility
  • Support for layers with a geopackage source
  • Conversion of ImageServer based layers (since QGIS only has basic support for ESRI ImageServers, we convert these layers to their equivalent MapServer versions wherever possible)
  • Basic support for representation renderers. Although QGIS has no capability to utilise the symbology linked with a representation renderer, we’ve added support for rendering these layers using any geometry overrides which may be present for the features.
  • Conversion support for simple scale dependent renderers (these are a funny beast, which can’t be created directly through the ArcMap interface and which require custom ArcObjects code to create! That said, we’ve encountered a few examples of these inside our test library so have added support for converting them to the equivalent QGIS rule based renderer).
  • We added a new “random marker fill” symbol type to the upstream QGIS project, which will be available in QGIS 3.12 along with support in SLYR for conversion of ESRI random marker fills.

So what’s next for SLYR? Over the remainder of 2019 we’ll be working furiously toward 100% conversion rates for LYR and MXD files. We’ll also start rolling out conversion support for page layouts to QGIS print layouts, and support for automatic conversion of ArcMap TIN layers to QGIS mesh layers.

Keep an eye on this blog and our Twitter channel for further updates!


SLYR ESRI to QGIS compatibility suite – October 2019 update

Recently, staff at North Road have been hard at work on our SLYR “ESRI to QGIS compatiblity suite“, and we thought it’s time to share some of the latest exciting updates with you.

While SLYR begun life as a simple “LYR to QGIS conversion tool”, it quickly matured into a full ArcGIS compatibility suite for QGIS. Aside from its original task of converting ESRI LYR files, SLYR now extends the QGIS interface and adds seamless support for working with all kinds of ArcGIS projects and data files. It’s rapidly becoming a must-have tool for any organisation which uses a mix of ESRI and open source tools, or for any organisation exploring a transition away from ArcGIS to QGIS.

Accordingly, we thought it’s well past time we posted an update detailing the latest functionality and support we’ve added to SLYR over the past couple of months! Let’s dive in…

  • Full support for raster LYR file conversion, including unique value renderers, color map renderers, classified renderers, RGB renderers and stretched color ramp renderers:

    From ArcMap…

    …to QGIS!
  • Support for conversion of fill symbol outlines with complex offsets, decorations and dashed line templates
  • Conversion of 3D marker and simple 3D lines to their 2d equivalent, matching ArcMap’s 2D rendering of these symbol types
  • Beta support for converting map annotations and drawings, including custom text labels and reference scale support
  • Label and annotation callout support*
  • Support for converting bookmarks stored in MXD documents*
  • Support for converting ESRI bookmark “.dat” files via drag and drop to QGIS*
  • Correct conversion of OpenStreetMap and bing maps basemap layers
  • SLYR now presents users with a friendly summary of warnings generated during the LYR or MXD conversion process (e.g. due to settings which can’t be matched in QGIS)
  • Added support for MXD documents generated in very early ArcMap versions
  • We’ve added QGIS Processing algorithms allowing for bulk LYR to QLR and MXD to QGS conversion. Now you can run a batch conversion process of ALL MXD/LYR files held at your organisation in one go!
  • Greatly improved matching of converted symbols to their original ArcGIS appearance, including more support for undocumented ArcGIS symbol rendering behavior
  • Support for conversion of text symbols and label settings stored in .style databases*
  • Directly drag and drop layers and layer groups from ArcMap to QGIS to add them to the current QGIS project (maintaining their ArcGIS symbology and layer settings!)*
  • Directly drag and drop layers from ArcCatalog to QGIS windows to open in QGIS*
  • Support for ESRI MapServer layers

(*requires QGIS 3.10 or later)

Over the remainder of 2019, we’ll be hard at work further improving SLYR’s support for MXD document conversion, and adding support for automatic conversion of ArcMap print layouts to QGIS print layouts.

While SLYR is not currently an open-source tool, we believe strongly in the power of open source software, and accordingly we’ve been using a significant portion of the funds generated from SLYR sales to extend the core QGIS application itself. This has directly resulted in many exciting improvements to QGIS, which will become widely available in the upcoming QGIS 3.10 release. Some of the features directly funded by SLYR sales include:

  • A “Segment Center” placement mode for marker line symbols
  • Reworked bookmark handling in QGIS, with a greatly enhanced workflow and usability, and a stable API for 3rd party plugins and scripts to hook into
  • Improved handling of layer symbology for layers with broken paths
  • Auto repair of all other broken layers with a matching data source whenever a single layer path is fixed in a project
  • Support for managing text formats and label settings in QGIS style libraries, allowing storage and management of label and text format presets
  • A new Processing algorithm “Combine Style Databases“, allowing multiple QGIS style databases to be merged to one
  • Adding a “Save layer styles into GeoPackage” option for the “Package Layers” algorithm
  • New expression functions which return file info, such as file paths and base file names
  • Adding new options to autofill the batch Processing dialog, including adding input files using recursive filter based file searches
  • Coming in QGIS 3.12: A new option to set the color to use when rendering nodata pixels in raster layers
  • Coming in QGIS 3.12: A new “random marker fill” symbol layer type, which fills polygons by placing point markers in random locations

You can read more about our SLYR ESRI to QGIS compatibility tool here, or email [email protected] to discuss licensing arrangements for your organisation! Alternatively, send us an email if you’d like to discuss your organisations approach to open-source GIS and for assistance in making this transition as painless as possible.

Announcing our SLYR (MXD to QGIS) funding drive!

One product which North Road had the chance to develop last year, and which we are super-proud of, is our SLYR ESRI style to QGIS conversion tool. If you haven’t heard of it before, this tool allows automatic conversion of ESRI .style database files to their equivalent QGIS symbology equivalent. It works well for the most part, and now we’re keen to take this to the next stage.

The good news is that North Road have been conducting extensive research and development over the past 12 months, and we’re pleased to announce our plans for extending SLYR to support ESRI LYR and MXD documents. The LYR and MXD formats are proprietary ESRI-only formats, with no public specifications allowing their use. This is a huge issue for organisations who want to move from an ESRI environment to the open geospatial world, yet are held back by hundreds (or thousands!) of existing ESRI MXD map documents and layer styles which they currently cannot utilise outside of the ESRI software ecosystem. Furthermore, many providers of spatial data only include ESRI specific layer formatting files with their data supplies. This leaves users with no means of utilising these official, pre-defined styles in non-ESRI tools.

In order for us to continue development of the SLYR tool and unlock use of LYR and MXD formats outside of ESRI tools, we are conducting a funding campaign. Sponsors of the campaign will receive access to the tools as they are developed and gain access to official support channels covering their use. At the conclusion of this drive we’ll be releasing all the tools and specifications under a free, open-source license.

You can read the full details of the campaign here, including pricing to become a project sponsor and gain access to the tools as they develop. As a campaign launch promo, we’re offering the first 10 sponsors a super-special discounted rate (as a reward for jumping on the development early).

The mockup below shows what the end goal is: seamless, fully integrated, automatic conversion of MXD and LYR files directly within the QGIS desktop application!

Converting MXD to QGIS Project File

On Wednesday, Allan Maungu – announced MXD2QGS, a converter that exports layers from an Arcmap 10 document into a Quantum GIS project file. The tool is built as an ArcToolbox and can be downloaded from the blog.

I’d be very interested to hear whether this tool works for you.

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