Portable GIS

Caitlin Dempsey


Developed by Jo Cook, Portable GIS is a suite of open source GIS applications and supporting tool-kits that can be run off of a memory stick including GRASS, PostgresSQL and open source web mapping software.  

The Portable GIS on a Stick concept was presented at FOSS4G2007 in a talk entitled “Portable GIS: GIS on a USB Stick” (PDF). 

What is Portable GIS?

As the name implies, Portable GIS is a Windows-based executable (.exe) or .zip file which can then be installed to a local drive or onto a removable drive such as a USB stick.  This allows the user to launch a selection of open source GIS packages such as QGIS, PostGIS, and GeoServer from a portable drive.

The concept is still being tweaked out and shouldn’t be used for production GIS.  Portable GIS currently only runs on Windows.

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Logo for Portable GIS on a stick showing three thumb drives with GIS on them.

The full list of software and utilities that are packaged with Portable GIS v6 are:

  • QGIS (3.4.5)
  • PostgreSQL (10.7)
  • PostGIS (2.5)
  • MS4W (4.0.0, including Mapserver 7.4)
  • PgAdmin IV
  • Python (2.7 and 3.7)
  • Loader
  • Geoserver 2.14.4 (with java jdk 1.8)
  • GDAL Python Libraries (1.9)

The following utilities are also included:

  • Firefox (Portable app)
  • Notepad++ (Portable app)
  • Foxit PDF Reader (Portable app)

For full instructions and documentations visit the Portable GIS:

OSGeo-Live 6.0

Another portable GIS option is OSGeo-Live.

OSGeo-Live 6.0 offers bootable DVD and thumb drive options for testing driving a range of Open Source GIS without having to install anything on your computer.  Once configured, the bootable DVD or thumb drive is loaded with almost 50 open source GIS applications covering free software for crisis management, GIS desktop software, web mapping, database management for GIS data, spatial tools, geospatial libraries, and installers for Windows and Mac machines.  

Screenshot of OSGeo-Live, a bootable DVD with open source GIS preloaded.

OSGeo-Live – bootable DVD with open source GIS preloaded.

Additionally, the DVD is also loaded with GIS data from Natural Earth and OpenStreetMap.

OSGeo has a full list of the open source GIS applications it makes available on the DVD with links to information about each application. Some of the more recognizable open source GIS applications available via OSGeo-Live are: QGIS, gvSIG, GRASS, OpenLayers, Geomajas, Ushahidi, PostGIS, GeoServer, MapServer, and R for Spatial Data.   This is only a small listing of the applications available.

To get started, retrieve the appropriate ISO image of the Xubuntu based bootable DVD.  The full ISO image download is 8 GB and includes the Macintosh and Windows installers.  

There is also a mini installer that doesn’t contain the installers (3.2 GB) and a 7-Zip compressed file of the mini installer (2.8 GB).

Once the bootable DVD or thumb drive has been setup, reboot your machine with the DVD or thumb drive inserted.  Step through the startup to boot up your machine with Xubuntu.  From there, you can select and run from the Geospatial menu a list of categorized open source GIS applications.

OSGeo-Live provides an all in one option for test driving open source GIS applications without having to individually downloading and installing each one on your machine. 

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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.