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KMZ file

Understanding KMZ Files: A Comprehensive Guide

KMZ files have become an integral part of the geospatial community, offering a convenient way to share complex geographical data sets. But what exactly is a KMZ file, and how does it differ from its KML counterpart? Let’s dive in.

What is a KMZ File?

A KMZ file stands for “Keyhole Markup Language Zipped.” At its core, it’s a compressed version of a KML file. KML, which stands for Keyhole Markup Language, is a file format used to display geographic data in Earth browsers such as Google Earth. When you have a large KML file or one that references other assets like images or 3D models, it’s often more efficient to package it as a KMZ

Why Use KMZ Over KML?

  1. Compression: KMZ files are zipped, which means they can significantly reduce the size of the geographical data. For instance, a 10 Kbyte KML file can often be served with just a 1 Kbyte KMZ file.
  2. Packaging: KMZ files can contain multiple KML files and associated assets. This makes it easier to share complex data sets with multiple layers and resources.
  3. Convenience: KMZ files can be easily shared, stored, and emailed as a single entity, making them ideal for distribution.

Further Reading about KML files

Here’s a table highlighting the differences between KML and KMZ:

DefinitionKeyhole Markup LanguageKeyhole Markup Language Zipped
File TypeXML-based text fileCompressed archive
File Extension.kml.kmz
SizeTypically larger due to being uncompressedSmaller due to compression
ContentContains geographical data in plain text formatCan contain multiple KML files and associated assets
Supporting FilesDoes not package supporting files (e.g., images)Can include images, textures, and 3D models
UsageDirect representation of geographic dataDistribution of complex datasets with multiple layers
Software CompatibilitySupported by most geospatial softwareRequires software that can unzip and read KML
CreationCan be created with text editors or GIS softwareTypically created by compressing a KML file
ViewingCan be viewed directly in text editors and GIS toolsNeeds to be decompressed to view the KML content
This table provides a comparison between KML and KMZ. While both formats serve to represent geographic data, their applications and handling can differ significantly.

How Does KMZ Work?

When a KMZ file is created, it consists of a main KML file and zero or more supporting files. These are packaged using a Zip utility into one unit, termed an archive. When this KMZ file is unzipped, the main KML file and its supporting files revert to their original formats and directory structure.

Opening KMZ Files

Popular platforms like Google Earth and Google Maps can read KML and KMZ files directly. When you open a KMZ file in such software, it automatically decompresses the file and displays its contents. Additionally, many GIS software and mobile apps support KMZ files, making them versatile for various applications.

Step-by-Step Guide to Opening a KMZ File

Opening a KMZ file is simple with the right tools. Here’s a detailed guide to help you navigate the process:

1. Ensure You Have the Necessary Software:

  • Google Earth Pro is one of the most popular tools for opening KMZ files. If you don’t have it installed, download and install it from the official Google Earth website.

2. Launch the Software:

  • Open Google Earth Pro (or your preferred GIS application).

3. Navigate to the KMZ File:

  • Method 1: Drag and Drop
  • Locate the KMZ file on your computer using a file explorer.
  • Drag and drop the KMZ file directly into the Google Earth Pro window.
  • Method 2: Use the File Menu
  • In Google Earth Pro, click on the “File” menu located at the top.
  • Select “Open.”
  • Browse to the location where your KMZ file is saved, select it, and click “Open.”

4. Explore the KMZ Content:

  • Once loaded, the content of the KMZ file will be displayed on the map.
  • In the “Places” panel (usually on the left side), you can see a list of all the elements from the KMZ file, such as placemarks, paths, and polygons.
  • Click on individual items to zoom in and view details or to access any associated descriptions or images.

5. Open KMZ in Google Maps (Alternative Method):

  • If you wish to view the KMZ file in Google Maps:
  • First, ensure the KMZ file is hosted online.
  • In your web browser, go to Google Maps.
  • In the search box, type the full URL of the hosted KMZ file and press Enter. For example:

6. Extract KMZ Contents (Optional):

  • If you’re interested in viewing the raw KML content or any embedded assets:
  • Rename the “.kmz” extension of the file to “.zip.”
  • Use a standard decompression tool (like WinZip, 7-Zip, or the built-in utility of your OS) to unzip the file.
  • Inside, you’ll usually find a KML file and possibly a folder with assets like images. The KML file can be opened with a text editor to view its XML content.

7. Close the KMZ File:

  • After you’re done exploring the KMZ file, you can close it in Google Earth Pro by right-clicking on its name or folder in the “Places” panel and selecting “Delete.”


  • Always ensure your software is updated to the latest version to handle KMZ files properly.
  • If you encounter issues opening a KMZ file, it might be corrupted or not formatted correctly. Consider obtaining a fresh copy or checking with the person who provided the file.

Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a KMZ File

Creating a KMZ file involves generating a KML file and then compressing it, often with associated assets. Here’s a detailed guide using Google Earth, one of the most popular tools for this task:

1. Open Google Earth:

  • Launch the Google Earth application on your computer. If you don’t have it installed, you can download it from the official website.

2. Add Your Geographical Data:

  • Placemarks: Click the “Add Placemark” button (pin icon) to drop a pin on a location.
  • Paths: Click the “Add Path” button to draw lines or routes.
  • Polygons: Click the “Add Polygon” button to create shapes on the map.
  • For each item, you can customize the name, description, style, color, and other properties.

3. Add Images or Overlays (Optional):

  • If you want to include images or overlays:
  • Click the “Add Image Overlay” button.
  • Browse and select your image.
  • Adjust the positioning and transparency as needed.

4. Organize Your Data:

  • In the “Places” panel on the left, you can organize your data into folders, making it easier to manage multiple items.

5. Save as KML (Optional but Recommended):

  • Right-click on your data or folder in the “Places” panel.
  • Choose “Save Place As.”
  • Save it as a KML file. This step gives you an uncompressed version of your data, which can be useful for edits or backups.

6. Save as KMZ:

  • Right-click on your data or folder in the “Places” panel.
  • Choose “Save Place As.”
  • From the dropdown menu in the save dialog, select “KMZ.”
  • Choose a location on your computer and save the file.

7. Verify Your KMZ File:

  • To ensure your KMZ file was created correctly:
  • Close or clear your current data in Google Earth to start with a blank slate.
  • Drag and drop your KMZ file into Google Earth or use the “File” > “Open” menu.
  • Check that all your data, including images or overlays, appear correctly.

8. Share or Distribute:

  • With your KMZ file created, you can now easily share or distribute it. Due to its compressed nature, it’s more manageable and often smaller than the equivalent KML, especially if it contains multiple assets.


  • Always keep a backup of your original KML file, especially if you’re working on complex projects. It’s easier to edit and doesn’t require decompression.
  • If you have external assets, ensure they’re correctly linked in the KML before converting to KMZ. This ensures the KMZ file is self-contained and won’t have broken links.

Creating KMZ files is a straightforward process, especially with user-friendly tools like Google Earth. Whether you’re sharing a single location or a complex map with multiple layers, KMZ files offer a convenient and efficient way to package and distribute your geospatial data.

Frequently Asked Questions About KMZ files

Are KMZ files safe to open?

  • Generally, KMZ files are safe to open. However, as with any file type, be cautious of files received from untrusted sources. Malicious content can be embedded in any file type, including KMZ.

How do I convert a KMZ file to another format?

  • Software like Google Earth Pro allows you to open a KMZ file and save it in other formats. There are also online converters available that can convert KMZ to formats like GPX, CSV, or SHP.

Can KMZ files contain images or other media?

  • Yes, KMZ files can package associated assets, including images, textures, and 3D models, which are referenced by the primary KML file within the KMZ.

Why is my KMZ file so large, and how can I reduce its size?

  • Large KMZ files might contain high-resolution images, detailed 3D models, or extensive geographical data. To reduce its size, consider optimizing or reducing the resolution of embedded images and models or simplifying the geographical data.

How do I edit the content of a KMZ file?

  • To edit a KMZ file, you can first open it in software like Google Earth Pro, make your changes, and then save it again as a KMZ. Alternatively, you can extract the KMZ to KML, edit the KML in a text editor, and then re-compress it to KMZ if needed.

Can I open a KMZ file on my mobile device?

  • Yes, there are mobile apps, such as the Google Earth app for Android and iOS, that allow you to view KMZ files.

What software supports KMZ files?

  • KMZ files are supported by various software, including Google Earth Pro, ArcGIS, QGIS, and many mobile mapping apps.

How do I share a KMZ file with others?

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

Is there a file size limit for KMZ files in Google Earth or Google Maps?

  • While Google Earth Pro on the desktop doesn’t have a strict file size limit, performance can be affected with very large files. Google Maps, especially when using the “My Maps” feature, might have restrictions on file size and the number of layers or features.

How do I extract or unzip a KMZ file?

  • KMZ files are essentially zipped files. You can rename the “.kmz” extension to “.zip” and use standard decompression software to extract its contents.

Can I merge multiple KMZ or KML files into one?

  • Yes, using software like Google Earth Pro, you can open multiple KMZ or KML files, organize them under one folder, and then save that folder as a single KMZ or KML file.

How do I embed a KMZ file on my website?

  • To embed a KMZ file on a website, you can use platforms like Google Maps API or third-party tools that provide embeddable map viewers. You’ll need to host the KMZ file online and reference its URL in the embed code.
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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