Installing QGIS on the Mac

Caitlin Dempsey


One of the best user friendly options out there for Mac users who want to run GIS software natively is QGIS.  QGIS is an open source GIS software package that can be freely downloaded.  Anita Graser provides an overview to the QGIS ecosystem which includes a desktop GIS component, cloud hosting, and mobile application. QGIS offers compatibility for a variety of GIS vector and raster file types (such as shape files, KMLs, and GeoTIFFs) so it works well for those that need to migrate back and forth between other GIS and mapping platforms. More information about QGIS is available in the article Getting Started with QGIS.

Installing QGIS on a Mac

To install QGIS on a Mac, the first thing you need to do is visit the QGIS download page.  The download page provides access to the required installers and the QGIS download link for a variety of operating systems: Windows, Mac, Linux, BSD, and Android.

UPDATE: The instructions in this article no longer apply for installing QGIS 3.x versions.  If you want to install QGIS 3.x on a Mac view this video for step-by-step instructions:

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Installing QGIS 2.x on a Mac

Installation is pretty straightforward but it’s important to install the required frameworks first for a more stable installation.  Unlike the Windows install version, the Mac version requires the installation of two frameworks before you install the QGIS package.  While QGIS can install without first installing the frameworks, download the GDAL and GSL frameworks and install them to ensure a more robust installation of QGIS.

On the QGIS download page, click on the “Download for Mac OS X” box and then follow the link to the KyngChaos QGIS download page.  On the QGIS download page, find the DMG file download link and click to start downloading the disk image:


Next, find the downloaded .dmg file and double click to start the installation process.  A folder will open and you should see four packages that each start with a number.  This tells you the order in which to install the packages:

Overriding Mac Security Preferences to Install QGIS

Now you are ready to start installing the packages in the proper order.  First double click on the “1 GDAL Complete.pkg” file.  If your security settings are strict, you will be blocked from installing this package with a message stating, “1 GDAL Complete.pkg” can’t be opened because it is from an unidentified developer.  This message will show up any time you attempt to install a program on your Mac that wasn’t download from Apple’s Mac App Store.

Hit “OK” to dismiss this message.  To override this block, you will need to provide permission to install the GDAL package.  To do this, open up the System Preferences and then double-click on Security & Privacy.  In the window that opens, find the message “1 GDAL Complete.pkg” was blocked from opening because it is not from an identified developer.”  Click on the Open Anway button.  Now you can install the GDAL package.  Make sure you have your installation password to complete the installation.

Repeat this process for 2 NumPy.pkg, 3 matplotlib.pkg, and finally 4 Install QGIS.pkg.  Once you have run through the installations for all four packages, congratulations!  You now have QGIS installed on your Mac.

Add the QGIS Startup Icon to the Dock

For a quicker startup of your QGIS installation, add the QGIS icon to the Dock on your Mac.  To do so, open up Finder and click on the Application shortcut.  Find the QGIS icon and select it.  Now drag it using your mouse to the dock and drop the icon where you want it to show up.  You will be able to drop it in place when you see the existing icons on the Dock separate.

Now, when you want to start QGIS, simply click on the icon from the Dock.

Video Tutorial: How to Install QGIS on the Mac

If you prefer, this tutorial is available as a video:

QGIS Mac Tips

Associating QGIS File Types

QGIS projects are saved with the .qgs extension.  Older versions of QGIS may have the .qgis extension.  To associate the older extension type so that double clicking the file automatically opens up QGIS do the following: highlight the file and then click on it to open up the options.  Then select Open With -> Other…  Browse through the applications to find the QGIS icon.  Select the icon, check the box at the bottom that says “Always open with” and then click the open button.  All future instances of opening a file with the .qgis extension should now automatically start up QGIS.

Clearing Out Imported QGIS Styles

If you have hundreds of imported QGIS styles and want to clear out the imported styles without having to delete them one by one from within QGIS, you can clear out the settings from the hidden folder for QGIS found in the home direction.  Access this folder in Finder by clicking the Go menu and choosing Go to Folder. Then type in ~/.qgis and click Go (backing up any files within this folder before deleting or changing them is strongly recommended).

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.