Module: The Interface

In this first module we introduce some basics of QGIS as well as explaining the user interface.

After completing this section, you will be able to correctly identify the main elements of the screen in QGIS and know what each of them does, and load a shapefile into QGIS.

Warning: This course includes instructions on adding, deleting and altering GIS datasets. We have provided training datasets for this purpose. Before using the techniques described here on your own data, always ensure you have proper backups!

Lesson: Adding your first layer

We will start the application, and create a basic map to use for examples and exercises.

The goal for this lesson: To get started with an example map.

Note: Before starting this exercise, QGIS must be installed on your computer. Download it now.

Launch QGIS from its desktop shortcut, menu item, etc., depending on how you configured its installation.

Note:The screenshots for this course were taken in QGIS 1.8 running on Mac OS X 10.9.5. Depending on your setup, the screens you encounter may well appear somewhat different. However, all the same buttons will still be available, and the instructions will work on any Operating System. You will need QGIS 1.8 or above to use this course.

Let's get started right away!

Basic9.png Follow along: Prepare a map

  • Open QGIS.
  • Your screen should look similar to this. You will have a new, blank project workspace.

Open screen QGIS18.png

  • Look for the Add Vector Layer button:


  • Click on it to open the following dialogue:


  • Click on the Browse button and navigate to the file exercise_data/streets.shp (in your course directory). With this file selected, click Open. You will see the original dialogue, but with the file path filled in. Click Open here as well. The data you specified will now load.

Congratulations! You now have a basic map. Now would be a good time to save your work.

  • Click on the Save As button:


  • Save the map under exercise_data/ and call it basic_map.qgs.
Check your results - Preparation

In conclusion

You've learned how to add a layer and create a basic map!

What's next?

Now you're familiar with the function of the Add Vector Layer button, but what about all the others? How does this interface work? Before we go on with the more involved stuff, let's first take a good look at the general layout of the QGIS interface. This is the topic of the next lesson.

Lesson: An Overview of the Interface

[introduction/overview::doc] We will explore the QGIS user interface so that you are familiar with the menus, toolbars, map canvas and layers list that form the basic structure of the interface.

The goal for this lesson: To understand the basics of the QGIS user interface.

Basic.png Try yourself...: The Basics


The elements identified in the figure above are:

  1. Layers list
  2. Toolbars
  3. Map canvas
  4. Status bar

Basic.png The Layers List

In the Layers list, you can see a list, at any time, of all the layers available to you.

Expanding collapsed items (by clicking the arrow or plus symbol beside them) will provide you with more information on the layer's current appearance.

Right-clicking on a layer will give you a menu with lots of extra options. You will be using some of them before long, so take a look around!

Some versions of QGIS have a separate Control rendering order checkbox just underneath the Layers list. Don't worry if you can't see it. If it is present, ensure that it's checked for now.

Note: A vector layer is a dataset, usually of a specific kind of object, such as roads, trees, etc. A vector layer can consist of either points, lines or polygons.

Basic.png Toolbars

Your most oft-used sets of tools can be turned into toolbars for basic access. For example, the File toolbar allows you to save, load, print, and start a new project. You can easily customize the interface to see only the tools you use most often, adding or removing toolbars as necessary via the View \rightarrow Toolbars menu.

Even if they are not visible in a toolbar, all of your tools will remain accessible via the menus. For example, if you remove the File toolbar (which contains the Save button), you can still save your map by clicking on the File menu and then clicking on Save.

Basic9.png The Map Canvas

This is where the map itself is displayed.

Basic9.png The Status Bar

Shows you information about the current map. Also allows you to adjust the map scale and see the mouse cursor's coordinates on the map.

Basic9.png Try yourself... 1

Try to identify the four elements listed above on your own screen, without referring to the diagram above. See if you can identify their names and functions. You will become more familiar with these elements as you use them in the coming days.

Basic9.png Try yourself... 2

Try to find each of these tools on your screen. What is their purpose?

  1. 0045.png
  2. 0054.png
  3. 0063.png
  4. 0074.png
  5. 0083.png

Hint: If any of these tools is not visible on the screen, try enabling some toolbars that are currently hidden. Also keep in mind that if there isn't enough space on the screen, a toolbar may be shortened by hiding some of its tools. You can see the hidden tools by clicking on the double right arrow button in any such collapsed toolbar. You can see a tooltip with the name of any tool by holding your mouse over the tool for a while.

Click here to check your answers for this Module

What's next?

Now you've seen how the QGIS interface works, you can use the tools available to you and start improving on your map! This is the topic of the next module.

Click here to go to Module 3 : Creating a Basic Map

Click here to go back to the list of Modules