TOPCAT is an interactive graphical program which can examine, analyse, combine, edit and write out tables. A table is, roughly, something with columns and rows; each column contains objects of the same type (for instance floating point numbers) and each row has an entry for each of the columns (though some entries might be blank). A common astronomical example of a table is an object catalogue.
TOPCAT can read in tables in a number of formats from various sources, allow you to inspect and manipulate them in various ways, and if you have edited them optionally write them out in the modified state for later use, again in a variety of formats. Here is a summary of its main capabilities:
Considerable effort has gone into making it work with large tables; a few million rows and hundreds of columns is usually quite manageable.
The general idea of the program is quite straightforward. At any time, it has a list of tables it knows about - these are displayed in the Control Window which is the first thing you see when you start up the program. You can add to the list by loading tables in, or by some actions which create new tables from the existing ones. When you select a table in the list by clicking on it, you can see general information about it in the control window, and you can also open more specialised view windows which allow you to inspect it in more detail or edit it. Some of the actions you can take, such as changing the current Sort Order, Row Subset or Column Set change the Apparent Table, which is a view of the table used for things such as saving it and performing row matches. Changes that you make do not directly modify the tables on disk (or wherever they came from), but if you want to save the changes you have made, you can write the modified table(s) to a new location.
The main body of this document explains these ideas and capabilities in more detail, and Appendix A gives a full description of all the windows which form the application. While the program is running, this document is available via the online help system - clicking the Help () toolbar button in any window will pop up a help browser open at the page which describes that window. This document is heavily hyperlinked, so you may find it easier to read in its HTML form than on paper.
Recent news about the program can be found on the TOPCAT web page. It was initially developed within the now-terminated Starlink and then AstroGrid projects, and has subsequently been supported by the UK's PPARC and STFC research councils, various Euro-VO and FP7 projects, GAVO and ESA. The underlying table handling facilities are supplied by the Starlink Tables Infrastructure Library STIL, which is documented more fully in SUN/252. The software is written in pure Java, and should run on any J2SE platform version 1.6 or later. This makes it highly portable, since it can run on any machine which has a suitable Java installation, which is available for MS Windows, Mac OS X and most flavours of Unix amongst others. Some of the external viewer applications it talks to rely on non-Java code however so one or two facilities, such as displaying spectra, may be absent in some cases.
The TOPCAT application is available under the terms of the GNU General Public License, since some of the libraries it uses are also GPL. However, all of the original code and many of the libraries it uses may alternatively be used under more permissive licenses such as the GNU Lesser General Public License, see documentation of the STILTS package for more details.