Open Source GIS Applications

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R is a programming language and software environment for statistical computing and graphics supported by the R Foundation for Statistical Computing. R and its libraries implement a wide variety of statistical and graphical techniques, including linear and nonlinear modeling, classical statistical tests, time-series analysis, classification, clustering, and others. The R-ArcGIS Community, for example, is a community-driven collection of free, open source projects making it easier and faster for R users to work with ArcGIS data, and ArcGIS users to leverage the analysis capabilities of R. Click on for additional details.


QGIS is a free and open source GIS software licensed under the GNU General Public License. QGIS is an official project of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo). It is a cross-platform GIS solution, supporting a variety of operating systems like Linux, Mac OSX, Windows and Android. QGIS allows users to create maps with many layers using different projections and to view, edit and analyze raster or vector data.

QGIS also integrates with other open-source GIS packages, including PostGIS, GRASS, and MapServer to give users additional functionality. Plugins written in Python or C++ extend QGIS’s capabilities. Plugins can geocode using the Google Geocoding API, perform geoprocessing using fTools, which are similar to the standard tools found in ArcGIS, and interface with the PostgreSQL/PostGIS, SpatiaLite and MySQL datases to access additional data formats.

For Mac users, the advantage of QGIS over the GRASS GIS described below is that it does not require the X11 windowing system in order to run, and the interface is much cleaner and faster. QGIS also can be used as a graphical user interface to GRASS and requires less RAM and processing power; hence, it can be used on older hardware or running simultaneously with other applications where CPU power may be limited.

For more information, please click here. To download the latest version of QGIS, go to QGIS.


The Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS) is a free and open source GIS software licensed under the GNU General Public License. It is a cross-platform GIS solution, supporting a variety of operating systems like Mac OSX, Windows and Linux. It is used for GIS data management and analysis, image processing, spatial and temporal modeling and visualization.

To learn more about GRASS GIS, please visit their documentation. To download the latest version of GRASS GIS, go to GRASS GIS.


The System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses (SAGA) GIS is a free and open source GIS program, licensed under the GNU General Public License. SAGA does not require installation on the computer, and it runs on Windows, Linux and FreeBSD.

SAGA GIS provides a learnable platform for implementing geoscientific methods, through the implementation of an Application Programming Interface (API). It is used for geostatistics, grid calculation and discretization, projections, dynamic process simulation, and terrain analysis. SAGA is maintained by an international developer community.

To learn more about SAGA GIS, please visit their site. To download the latest version of SAGA GIS, click here.


GeoServer is an open-source server written in Java that allows users to share, process and edit geospatial data. Designed for interoperability, it publishes data from any major spatial data source using open standards. GeoServer has evolved to become an easy method of connecting existing information to Virtual Globes such as Google Earth and NASA World Wind, as well as to web-based maps such as OpenLayers, Google Maps and Bing Maps. GeoServer aims to operate as a node within a free and open Spatial Data infrastructure. Similar to how the Apache HTTP Server has offered a free and open web server to publish HTML, GeoServer aims to do the same for geospatial data.

To learn more about GeoServer and to download the latest version, go to GeoServer.


OpenLayers is an open source (provided under the 2-clause BSD License) JavaScript library for displaying map data in web browsers. It provides an API for building rich web-based geographic applications similar to Google Maps and Bing Maps. OpenLayers supports GeoRSS, Keyhole Markup Language (KML), Geography Markup Language (GML), GeoJSON and map data from any source using OGC-standards as Web Map Service (WMS) or Web Feature Service (WFS).

To learn more about OpenLayers and to download the latest version, go to OpenLayers.


MapServer is an open source platform for publishing spatial data and interactive mapping applications to the web. Originally developed in the mid-1990s at the University of Minnesota, MapServer is released under an MIT-style license, and runs on all major platforms (WindowsLinuxMac OS X). MapServer is not a full-featured GIS system, nor does it aspire to be.

To learn more about MapServer and to download the latest version, go to MapServer.


PostGIS is an open source software program that adds support for geographic objects to the PostgreSQL object-relational database. PostGIS follows the Simple Features for SQL specification from the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC).

To learn more about PostGIS and to download the latest version, go to PostGIS.


PostgreSQL, often called Postgres, is an object-relational database management system (ORDBMS) that can handle workloads ranging from small single-machine applications to large Internet-facing applications with many concurrent users.

PostgreSQL is cross-platform and runs on many operating systems, including Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X, Solaris, and Microsoft Windows. On MacOS X, PostgreSQL has been the default database starting with Max OS X 10.7 Lion Server, and PostgreSQL client tools are bundled within the desktop edition. The vast majority of Linux distributions have it available in supplied packages.

PostgreSQL is a free and open source software, released under the terms of the PostgreSQL License, a permissive free-software license.

PostGIS is just one of a number of popular add-ons which provides support for geographic objects and some analysis workflows (GNU GPL).

To learn more about PostgreSQL and to download the latest version, go to PostgreSQL.


CartoDB is a Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud computing platform that provides GIS and web mapping tools for display in a web browser. CartoDB users can use the company's free platform or deploy their own instance of the open source software. CartoDB is offered as freemium service, where accounts are free up to a certain size. CartoDB was built on open source software including PostGIS and PostgreSQL and is split into four components:

(1) a webapplication, where users can manage data and create custom maps;
(2) a Maps API that acts as a dynamic tile service, which creates new tiles based on client requests;
(3) a SQL API, where PostgreSQL-supported SQL statements can be used to retrieve data from the database and serve data in various formats including JSON, GeoJSON, and CSV; and
(4) the CartoDB.js library, which can wrap the Maps and SQL APIs into complete visualizations or be used to integrate data into other web applications.