Tutorial: Using the Quantum GIS Browser

Tutorial updated and moved to

QGIS 1.8 introduced a new standalone application called ‘Quantum GIS Browser’. This is a useful companion tool to QGIS and helpful in managing GIS datasets. ArcGIS users may think of it as an application similar to ArcCatalog. In this tutorial, I will cover some basic use cases of the QGIS Browser.

QGIS Browser is part of the standard install of QGIS.

  • On windows, if you install QGIS via OSgeo4W installer, you will see ‘Quantum GIS Browser’ in your start menu. 
  • On Mac, the application is located at QGIS.app/Contents/MacOS/bin/qbrowser.app . You can create a symlink to this app. Open the Finder icon that shows your computer architecture. Navigate to the Application folder, my location is under the Macintosh HD icon (wherever you installed QGIS). Right click the QGIS icon (this is while you are still using Finder). Click the 'Show Package Contents' button. Click the 'Contents' folder to open it. Click the 'MacOS' folder and open it. Click the 'bin' folder to open it. FInd the 'qbrowser' icon. Now right click the 'qbrowser' icon and choose 'Make Alias' for the list of choices. Drag this new 'qbrowser alias' to the applications folder. You can now access this from the applications folder! (Instructions by George L. Humphries )
  • On linux, you can launch the browser by the command ‘qbrowser’. It is located in the same directory as the qgis application.

Another convenient way to use QGIS Browser is via the main QGIS Desktop application itself. Open QGIS. Turn on the checkbox from View → Panels → Browser.

You will see a new panel within the QGIS window. This is the embedded QGIS Browser with similar functionality as the standalone application.

You can even drag the panel out of the sidebar so you have more space for your layers in the TOC.

Now let us explore some features of the QGIS Browser. Switch to the standalone QGIS Browser application. Browse to a directory on your system where you have some GIS data. You will immediately notice the advantage of using the Browser. Instead of seeing all support files and non-spatial data, you see only the spatial layers that are supported by QGIS. Click on a layer to select it.
As you select a layer, you will see the Metadata in the first tab on the right-hand panel. You can quickly gather basic information about the dataset from this panel, such as number of features, projection etc.
If you switch to the Preview tab, you will a preview of the dataset. This is a quick way to determine how the dataset looks before opening it in QGIS.

The last tab is the Attributes tab. Here you can see the attribute table of the dataset to get an idea of the fields available and their values.
The QGIS Browser not only gives you access to vector and imagery layers on your system, but also databases and network resources. If you use any online data via WMS, you can quickly preview it within the browser. Just expand the WMS location and you will see the resources you have setup. Similarly, if you have PostGIS, SpatialLite or MSSQL databases available, you can access those as well.

One of my favorite features of the Browser is the ability to browse and open zip files directly. See this tip to enable this feature. Now open QGIS Browser. Navigate to any folder containing zip files. You will see that the zip files appear as a supported dataset now and you can preview it just like any other dataset. Now open QGIS Browser. Navigate to any folder containing zip files. You will see that the zip files appear as a supported dataset now and you can preview it just like any other dataset.
Another useful feature is to add certain folders in your system as Favorites. You can right click any folder and select ‘Add as a favorite’. ( Note: this feature currently works only from the Browser panel in QGIS, not the standalone application )
Open QGIS and if you expand ‘Favorites’ within the Browser panel, you will see a list of your favorite locations. This can save time by giving you fast access to most commonly used locations.
From the Browser panel, you can double-click any layer or use drag-and-drop to load that dataset into QGIS.
You can also drag-and-drop the layer from the QGIS Browser standalone application to the QGIS Desktop application.
Hope this tutorial gives you an overview of the functionality of the QGIS Browser. Let me know in the comments how you use the Browser to simplify your workflow.