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Installing gdal for beginners

A Beginner’s Guide to Installing the Geospatial Data Abstraction Library (GDAL)

Are you intrigued by the world of geospatial data and looking for an efficient way to manage and process different geospatial datasets? Look no further!

This blog post will introduce you to the powerful Geospatial Data Abstraction Library (GDAL) and explore how it can transform your geospatial data processing experience.

GDAL is an open-source library enabling users to work with raster and vector data, offering extensive support for numerous geospatial formats. Along with its integrated Simple Features Library (OGR) for handling vector data, GDAL provides a comprehensive solution for various geospatial operations, including data manipulation, reprojection, resampling, and format conversion.

Although GDAL does not include a dedicated viewer or graphical user interface (GUI), several popular GIS software applications, such as QGIS, GRASS GIS, gvSIG use GDAL as a backend library. These applications provide a user-friendly environment for visualizing and manipulating geospatial data while leveraging GDAL’s capabilities.

By the end of this blog post, you’ll have a solid understanding of GDAL’s capabilities and how they can be implemented into your geospatial data processing workflow.

How to install GDAL on your machine

How to install GDAL on Windows:

  • OSGeo4W Network Installer: Download the OSGeo4W Network Installer (osgeo4w-setup.exe) from the OSGeo4W website (https://trac.osgeo.org/osgeo4w/). Run the installer and choose the Express or Advanced installation, depending on your needs. Select the GDAL package and complete the installation process. This will also provide you with the OSGeo4W Shell, where you can run GDAL commands.
  • Conda: If you use Anaconda or Miniconda, you can install GDAL in a new or existing environment using the command conda install -c conda-forge gdal

How to install GDAL on macOS:

  • Homebrew: If you have Homebrew installed, use the command brew install gdal to install GDAL.
  • Conda: If you use Anaconda or Miniconda, you can install GDAL in a new or existing environment using the command conda install -c conda-forge gdal.

How to install GDAL on Linux (Ubuntu/Debian):

Use the following commands to install GDAL:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntugis/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install gdal-bin
sudo apt-get install libgdal-dev

Conda: If you use Anaconda or Miniconda, you can install GDAL in a new or existing environment using the command conda install -c conda-forge gdal.

After installing GDAL, you can test the installation by running gdalinfo --version in the command prompt or terminal, which should display the installed GDAL version. For using GDAL in your preferred programming language, make sure you also install the appropriate GDAL bindings for that language.

Does Gdal have a viewer? or Graphical user interface?

GDAL itself does not include a dedicated viewer or graphical user interface (GUI) for visualizing geospatial data. Its primary focus is on providing libraries and command-line utilities for data processing, conversion, and analysis.

However, there are several open-source GIS software applications that use GDAL as a backend library and provide GUIs for visualizing and manipulating geospatial data:

  1. QGIS: A popular open-source GIS software that supports a wide range of geospatial formats and offers numerous plugins for various GIS tasks. QGIS utilizes GDAL and OGR for handling raster and vector data and allows users to perform many GDAL operations within its GUI.
  2. GRASS GIS: Another open-source GIS software that offers both a GUI and a command-line interface. GRASS GIS uses GDAL for importing and exporting various raster and vector formats.
  3. gvSIG: An open-source GIS application that supports various geospatial formats, including those supported by GDAL, and offers a range of GIS tools within its GUI.

These GIS software applications provide user-friendly interfaces to work with geospatial data, allowing you to leverage GDAL’s capabilities without dealing directly with the command line or programming.

Common mistakes people make when installing GDAL include:

Some common mistakes people make when installing GDAL include:

Incompatible versions:

Installing a version of GDAL that is incompatible with the operating system or other software packages being used, such as Python or GIS software. To avoid this, make sure to install a compatible version that meets your system requirements and software dependencies.

Incorrect environment variables:

Failing to set environment variables, such as PATH and GDAL_DATA, can result in errors when trying to use GDAL in the command line or when importing it as a library in Python. To resolve this, ensure that the appropriate environment variables are correctly set, pointing to the respective GDAL installation directories.

Setting the GDAL_DATA and PATH environment variables is important to ensure that GDAL can locate its support files and be accessed from the command line. The process of setting these variables depends on your operating system:

Setting the GDAL_DATA and PATH environment variables in Windows:

  1. Locate the GDAL installation directory on your system. It is usually found in a folder named gdal within the Program Files or Program Files (x86) directory.
  2. Inside the GDAL installation folder, find the bin and data directories. Take note of the full paths to these directories, as you will need them to set the environment variables.
  3. Right-click on “Computer” or “This PC” and select “Properties.” Then, click on “Advanced system settings” to open the System Properties window.
  4. In the System Properties window, click on the “Environment Variables” button.
  5. Under “System Variables,” scroll down to the “Path” variable and click on “Edit.”
  6. In the “Edit environment variable” window, click on “New” and add the full path to the bin directory you noted in step 2. Press “Enter” to add the new entry.
  7. Next, click on “New” again under “System Variables” and create a new variable with the name “GDAL_DATA.” Set its value to the full path of the data directory you noted in step 2.
  8. Click “OK” to close all open windows and save the changes.
  9. Restart any open command prompt or terminal windows for the changes to take effect.

Setting the GDAL_DATA and PATH environment variables in macOS and Linux:

  1. Locate the GDAL installation directory on your system. The exact location may vary depending on the method used to install GDAL. For instance, with a Homebrew installation on macOS, the bin directory is typically located at /usr/local/opt/gdal/bin, and the data directory is at /usr/local/opt/gdal/share/gdal.
  2. Open a terminal window and open your shell profile file using a text editor. For bash, this would be ~/.bash_profile or ~/.bashrc. For zsh, this would be ~/.zshrc.
  3. Add the following lines to the file, replacing /path/to/gdal/bin and /path/to/gdal/data with the correct paths to the bin and data directories you noted in step 1:bashCopy codeexport PATH="/path/to/gdal/bin:$PATH" export GDAL_DATA="/path/to/gdal/data"
  4. Save the changes and close the text editor.
  5. Restart your terminal or run source ~/.bash_profile (for bash) or source ~/.zshrc (for zsh) to apply the changes.

Now GDAL should be accessible from the command line, and the GDAL_DATA variable will enable GDAL to locate its support files.

About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.

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