8 Top Free and Open source Desktop GIS mapping software

What is open source GIS Software?

Well, in the term “Open source GIS Software”, opensource refers to a program that is available to use free of cost; along with source code that one can modify either to improve the existing project or creating a new one under GPL. Whereas GIS means Geographical Information Systems, in terms of software, it is a program that one can run on their PC or server to analyze, store, manipulate, process and visualize data in a spatial context; and describes relevant geographical distribution data in the space of all or part of the earth’s surface (including the atmosphere), supported by computer hardware and software systems.

Here is the list of open-source desktop GIS projects

We have created this list with all popular software available on Github for Windows, Linux or macOS.

Grass GIS 

Grass GIS 
Grass GIS screenshot

It stands for Geographic Resources Analysis Support System and distributed under open source licences. Well, it is one of the founding members of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo).

This software suite, we can use for geospatial data management and analysis, image processing, graphics and maps production, spatial modelling, and visualization.

Grass GIS can handle raster, topological vector, image processing, and graphic data and comes with over 350 modules to work.

It is a cross-platform software thus can be installed on Windows, Linux and macOS. Gross GIS offers Graphical user interface, their users can easily operate it on their computer to start working on different projects.

Grass GIS Key features:

  • GRASS supports raster and vector data in two and three dimensions.
  • It includes over 350 core modules and more than 100 add-on modules developed by its community.
  • Well-documented
  • Raster, vector, imagery and temporal tools



GeoServer screenshot-min
GeoServer screenshot

Another GIS open-source tool in the list is a Java-based software called Geoserver. We can use it to on any platform that supports JAVA. GeoServer allows users to view and edit geospatial data and offers great flexibility in map creation and data sharing.

To create maps in various output formats, we can use Web Map Service (WMS) with it.

Few Key Features:

  • OpenLayers, a free mapping library, is integrated into GeoServer.
  • GeoServer is built on GeoTools, an open-source Java GIS toolkit.
  • Offers nicely styled maps.
  • Additional functionality added via extensions
  • Uses the Web Map Tile Service standard to split your published maps into tiles
  • Enable others to incorporate your data into their websites and applications;
  • Integrate With Mapping APIs such as Google Maps, Google Earth, Microsoft Bing Maps, and MapBox.
  •  And more…



QGIS Screenshot-min
QGIS Screenshot

QGIS desktop geographic information system (GIS) application was earlier known as Quantum GIS. It supports cross-platform Windows, Linux and macOS.  We can integrate it with other open-source GIS packages such as PostGIS, GRASS GIS, and MapServer. It supports extensions that are written in Python or C++ to extend its functionality.

Key features:

  • Supports viewing, editing, and analysis of geospatial data.
  • QGIS supports both raster and vector layers.
  • Vector data is stored as either point, line, or polygon features.
  • Multiple formats of raster images are supported, and the software can georeference images.
  • QGIS supports shapefiles, coverages, personal geodatabases, Dxf, MapInfo, PostGIS, and other formats.
  • Web services, including Web Map Service and Web Feature Service.
  • Plugins can geocode using the Google Geocoding API
  • And more…



gvSIG software

gvSIG is an open-source desktop GIS and GDI client designed and developed as a desktop application for capturing, storing, handling, analyzing and deploying geographic information to rectify different problems in management and planning.

It comes with a user-friendly interface with ability process common formats along with vector (SHP, DXF, GML, DWG, DGN, KML.) and raster (BMP, GIF, TIFF, JPEG, JP2, PNG, VRT, DAT of ENVI, ERDAS (LAN, GIS, IMG),  and more…) formats.

Key features:

  • Offers a wide range of tools such as query tools, layout creation, geoprocessing, networks, etc.
  • Support more than 12 languages
  • Provides the same view for files using OGC standards stored on local database and remote.
  • Modular system that allows users to use various plugins to extend application capabilities or for developing custom solutions.
  • Raster and remote sensing
  • It also based on Java, thus can be used on Android, Linux, Windows and Mac OS X platforms.


Integrated Land and Water Information System (ILWIS)

Integrated Land and Water Information System (ILWIS)-min
Integrated Land and Water Information System

ILWIS is also free and opensource and with its name, you would get an idea for what purpose this tool is meant for. It is not only a GIS but also remote sensing software support both vector and raster.

It has been around for more than 20 years and used by various teachers and reachers (biologists, water managers and geospatial) including students for digitizing, editing, analysis and display of data, and production of quality maps.

The software was developed by the ITC Enschede situated in the Netherlands. It has one of the user-friendly interfaces and offers quite powerful tools to work. It is well documents and offers training modules for better understanding of the software.

 GitHub Page

MapWindow GIS

MapWindow GIS-min
MapWindow GIS

Well, the MapWindow GIS is meant only for Windows running systems which was used by the USA as their main GIS platform for BASINS watershed analysis and modelling software. We can extend its functionality using the various available extension.

It basically includes four different projects to address multiple GIS-related tasks. 

  • MapWindow5: When MapWindows4 development stopped by the developers and to add new features and functionality, it has been re-written from scratch and released in 2015 under the name MapWindows5. It supports geo-database (PostGIS, MS-SQL Spatial, SpatiaLite), WMS, multi-threading tools and much more.
  • MapWinGIS: MapWinGIS.ocx is C++ based geographic information system programming ActiveX Control and application programmer interface (API) is used to provide GIS/mapping functionality. It is the mapping control used in MapWindow4 and MW5.
  • HydroDesktop: It enables MapWindow GIS desktop application search for, download, visualizes and analyze hydrologic and climate data registered with the CUAHSI Hyd.
  • DotSpatial: It is a GIS library written in .NET 4 that allows developers to incorporate spatial data, analysis and mapping functionality into their applications.



SAGA GIS screenshot-min
SAGA GIS screenshot

SAGA stands for System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses that designed to implement spatial algorithms. It provides easy to understand and usable graphical user interface with a set of tools and with many visualisation options. It runs under Windows and Linux operating systems.

It includes standard modules such as File access, Filter for grids, Gridding, Geostatistics, Grid calculator, Grid discretisation, Grid tools, 3D mapping, Projections, Terrain analysis and more…



Udig GIS software-min
Udig GIS software

uDig has been designed with Eclipse Rich Client (RCP) technology, thus its functionality can be extended using RCP plugins. The application framework it uses based on EPL and BSD. The program is produced and maintained by a Canadian based consulting company Refractions Research.

Udig has written in Java and can use GRASS for complex vector operations including JGRASS and hydrology tools.

It supports shapefiles, PostGIS, WMS, and many other data sources natively. Furthermore, the developers use it as a framework to build other GIS apps, for example, DIVA-GIS and DEWS – Distant Early Warning System for tsunamis.


Get the complete list of GIS tools, Software development frameworks and libraries, and Web map servers tools list of Wikipedia.

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