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KML File

Demystifying KML Files: A Deep Dive into Geospatial Data

What Is A KML File

A KML (Keyhole Markup Language) file is a file format used to display geographic data in an Earth browser, such as Google Earth, Google Maps, and other geospatial software. It is an XML-based format that allows users to specify features and layers for display in geospatial applications. KML files can contain a variety of information, including placemarks, paths, polygons, and more, each with associated styles and rich content like images and descriptions.

Here’s how you can open a KML file:

Google Earth:

  • Download and install Google Earth on your computer.
  • Launch Google Earth.
  • Go to File > Open and select the KML file you wish to view.
  • The content of the KML file will be displayed on the map.

Google Maps:

  • Go to Google Maps in a web browser.
  • Click on the hamburger menu (three horizontal lines) on the top left corner.
  • Select “Your Places”.
  • Go to the “MAPS” tab and click on “CREATE MAP” at the bottom.
  • In the new map window, click on “Import” and select the KML file from your computer.
  • The KML data will be displayed on the map.

Other Geospatial Software:

  • Many GIS (Geographic Information System) software applications support KML files. Examples include ArcGIS, QGIS, and others. You can open KML files in these applications similarly to how you would open other data files.

Text Editor:

  • Since KML is an XML-based format, you can also open it with any text editor (like Notepad, Sublime Text, or Visual Studio Code) to view or edit the raw XML content.

How do I convert a KML file?

Converting a KML (Keyhole Markup Language) file means transforming its content into another file format, such as GPX, GeoJSON, CSV, or Shapefile. The method you choose will depend on the target format and the tools you have available. Here are some common methods to convert a KML file:

Google Earth Pro:

  • Open Google Earth Pro on your computer.
  • Go to File > Open and select the KML file you wish to convert.
  • Once loaded, right-click on the loaded layer in the “Places” panel.
  • Choose Save Place As....
  • In the dialog box, select the desired format (e.g., KMZ, CSV) and save the file.


  • Open QGIS.
  • Go to Layer > Add Layer > Add Vector Layer and select the KML file.
  • Once the KML file is loaded, right-click on the layer in the Layers panel.
  • Choose Export > Save Features As....
  • In the dialog box, select the desired format (e.g., ESRI Shapefile, GeoJSON, GPX) and save the file.

Online Conversion Tools:

  • There are several online platforms, such as MyGeodata Cloud, that allow you to upload a KML file and convert it to various formats.
  • Simply upload the KML file, choose the desired output format, and download the converted file.

Dedicated Conversion Software:

  • Some software tools are specifically designed for file format conversions in the geospatial domain. Examples include the ogr2ogr tool from the GDAL library.
  • For instance, to convert a KML to a Shapefile using ogr2ogr, you can use the following command in the terminal or command prompt:
    ogr2ogr -f "ESRI Shapefile" output_shapefile.shp input_file.kml

Programmatic Conversion:

  • If you have programming skills, you can use libraries like GDAL (in Python, C++, and other languages) to read KML files and write them in another format programmatically.

Spreadsheet Programs:

  • If your KML file primarily contains point data with attributes and you want to convert it to CSV, you can open the KML file in a text editor, extract the relevant data, and then format it in a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.

When converting KML files, it’s essential to ensure data integrity. Always check the converted file in a geospatial application to make sure all data, attributes, and styles have been transferred correctly.

Frequently Asked Questions About KML FIles

What’s the difference between KML and KMZ files?

  • KML is an XML-based format for representing geographic data. KMZ, on the other hand, is a zipped version of a KML file. KMZ files might also include other assets like images that the KML file references. Unzipping a KMZ file will usually reveal the KML file inside.

How do I create a KML file?

  • KML files can be created using software like Google Earth or any text editor since it’s an XML-based format. In Google Earth, you can add placemarks, paths, and polygons, then save your data as a KML file.

Can I edit a KML file? If so, how?

  • Yes, KML files can be edited. Since they are XML-based, you can use a standard text editor to modify the content. Software like Google Earth also provides a user-friendly interface to edit the geographical features and their attributes in a KML file.

Why won’t my KML file display correctly in Google Earth or Google Maps?

  • There could be several reasons: the KML file might have errors in its structure, the file might reference external assets (like images) that can’t be found, or there could be compatibility issues with the version of the software you’re using.

How do I convert a KML file to another format, like Shapefile or GeoJSON?

  • Software like QGIS or ArcGIS can import KML files and export them in various formats. There are also online conversion tools available that can transform KML files to other geospatial formats.

Are there size limits to KML files when uploading to platforms like Google Maps?

  • Yes, platforms like Google Maps have size limits for KML files. As of my last update, Google Maps has a limit of 5MB for KML files. If your file is larger, you might need to simplify it or divide it into smaller files.

Can KML files contain multimedia elements like images or videos?

  • Yes, KML files can reference external multimedia elements, such as images or videos, which can be displayed in pop-up balloons associated with placemarks.

How do I share a KML file with others?

  • KML files can be shared like any other file: via email, cloud storage links, or by embedding them on websites.

Is there a way to secure or protect my KML file from unauthorized access or edits?

  • While the KML format itself doesn’t have built-in security features, you can use standard file protection methods, such as password-protected archives or secure cloud storage, to restrict access.

How do I merge multiple KML files into one?

  • Software like QGIS allows you to import multiple KML files and then save them as a single merged file. Alternatively, you can manually combine them using a text editor, ensuring the XML structure remains valid.

Can I use KML files in GIS software like ArcGIS or QGIS?

  • Yes, most modern GIS software, including ArcGIS and QGIS, support the import and export of KML files.

What software or tools support KML files?

  • Many tools support KML, including Google Earth, Google Maps, ArcGIS, QGIS, and various online mapping platforms and mobile apps.

How do I reduce the size of a KML file?

  • You can simplify the geographic features, reduce the number of points in paths or polygons, or use compression tools to create a KMZ file, which is a zipped version of a KML file.

Are there any best practices for structuring and organizing data within a KML file?

  • It’s essential to maintain a valid XML structure, use descriptive names for elements, organize related features into folders, and ensure that any referenced external assets (like images) are accessible.

Can I use KML files for offline mapping?

  • Yes, as long as the software or app you’re using supports offline viewing and doesn’t require external assets from online sources.

How do I troubleshoot errors or issues with my KML file?

  • You can validate the KML file against the KML schema to check for structural errors. Software like Google Earth might also provide error messages if there’s an issue loading the file.

Is KML specific to Google, or is it an open standard?

  • While KML was initially developed by Keyhole Inc., which was later acquired by Google, it’s now an open standard overseen by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC).

Can I embed a KML file on my website or in a mobile app?

  • Yes, platforms like Google Maps API allow you to embed KML layers in web maps. Similarly, various mobile app development frameworks support the integration of KML data.

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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