QGIS as OGC Data Server

QGIS Server is an open source WMS 1.3, WFS 1.0.0 and WCS 1 1.1.1 implementation that, in addition, implements advanced cartographic features for thematic mapping. The QGIS Server is a FastCGI/CGI (Common Gateway Interface) application written in C++ that works together with a web server (e.g., Apache, Lighttpd). It is funded by the EU projects Orchestra, Sany and the city of Uster in Switzerland.

QGIS Server uses QGIS as back end for the GIS logic and for map rendering. Furthermore, the Qt library is used for graphics and for platform-independent C++ programming. In contrast to other WMS software, the QGIS Server uses cartographic rules as a configuration language, both for the server configuration and for the user-defined cartographic rules.

Moreover, the QGIS Server project provides the ‘Publish to Web’ plugin, a plugin for QGIS desktop that exports the current layers and symbology as a web project for QGIS Server (containing cartographic visualization rules expressed in SLD).

As QGIS desktop and QGIS Server use the same visualization libraries, the maps that are published on the web look the same as in desktop GIS. The ‘Publish to Web’ plugin currently supports basic symbolization, with the option to introduce more complex cartographic visualization rules manually. As the configuration is performed with the SLD standard and its documented extensions, there is only one standardised language to learn, which greatly simplifies the complexity of creating maps for the Web.

In one of the following manuals, we will provide a sample configuration to set up a QGIS Server. For now, we recommend to read one of the following URLs to get more information:

Sample installation on Debian Squeeze

At this point, we will give a short and simple sample installation how-to for Debian Squeeze. Many other OSs provide packages for QGIS Server, too. If you have to build it all from source, please refer to the URLs above.

Apart from QGIS and QGIS Server, you need a web server, in our case apache2. You can install all packages with aptitude or apt-get install together with other necessary dependency packages. After installation, you should test to confirm that the web server and QGIS Server work as expected. Make sure the apache server is running with /etc/init.d/apache2 start. Open a web browser and type URL: http://localhost. If apache is up, you should see the message ‘It works!’.

Now we test the QGIS Server installation. The qgis_mapserv.fcgi is available at /usr/lib/cgi-bin/qgis_mapserv.fcgi and provides a standard WMS that shows the state boundaries of Alaska. Add the WMS with the URL http://localhost/cgi-bin/qgis_mapserv.fcgi as described in Selecting WMS/WMTS Servers.

Figure Server 1:


Standard WMS with USA boundaries included in the QGIS Server (KDE) nix

Creating a WMS/WFS/WCS from a QGIS project

To provide a new QGIS Server WMS, WFS or WCS, we have to create a QGIS project file with some data. Here, we use the ‘Alaska’ shapefile from the QGIS sample dataset. Define the colors and styles of the layers in QGIS and the project CRS, if not already defined.

Figure Server 2:


Definitions for a QGIS Server WMS/WFS/WCS project (KDE)

Then, go to the OWS Server menu of the Project ‣ Project Properties dialog and provide some information about the OWS in the fields under Service Capabilities. This will appear in the GetCapabilities response of the WMS, WFS or WCS. If you don’t check checkbox Service capabilities, QGIS Server will use the information given in the wms_metadata.xml file located in the cgi-bin folder.

WMS capabilities

In the WMS capabilities section, you can define the extent advertised in the WMS GetCapabilities response by entering the minimum and maximum X and Y values in the fields under Advertised extent. Clicking Use Current Canvas Extent sets these values to the extent currently displayed in the QGIS map canvas. By checking checkbox CRS restrictions, you can restrict in which coordinate reference systems (CRS) QGIS Server will offer to render maps. Use the mActionSignPlus button below to select those CRS from the Coordinate Reference System Selector, or click Used to add the CRS used in the QGIS project to the list.

If you have print composers defined in your project, they will be listed in the GetCapabilities response, and they can be used by the GetPrint request to create prints, using one of the print composer layouts as a template. This is a QGIS-specific extension to the WMS 1.3.0 specification. If you want to exclude any print composer from being published by the WMS, check checkbox Exclude composers and click the mActionSignPlus button below. Then, select a print composer from the Select print composer dialog in order to add it to the excluded composers list.

If you want to exclude any layer or layer group from being published by the WMS, check checkbox Exclude Layers and click the mActionSignPlus button below. This opens the Select restricted layers and groups dialog, which allows you to choose the layers and groups that you don’t want to be published. Use the Shift or Ctrl key if you want to select multiple entries at once.

You can receive requested GetFeatureInfo as plain text, XML and GML. Default is XML, text or GML format depends the output format choosen for the GetFeatureInfo request.

If you wish, you can check checkbox Add geometry to feature response. This will include in the GetFeatureInfo response the geometries of the features in a text format. If you want QGIS Server to advertise specific request URLs in the WMS GetCapabilities response, enter the corresponding URL in the Advertised URL field. Furthermore, you can restrict the maximum size of the maps returned by the GetMap request by entering the maximum width and height into the respective fields under Maximums for GetMap request.

WFS capabilities

In the WFS capabilities area, you can select the layers that you want to publish as WFS, and specify if they will allow the update, insert and delete operations. If you enter a URL in the Advertised URL field of the WFS capabilities section, QGIS Server will advertise this specific URL in the WFS GetCapabilities response.

WCS capabilities

In the WCS capabilities area, you can select the layers that you want to publish as WCS. If you enter a URL in the Advertised URL field of the WCS capabilities section, QGIS Server will advertise this specific URL in the WCS GetCapabilities response.

Now, save the session in a project file alaska.qgs. To provide the project as a WMS/WFS, we create a new folder /usr/lib/cgi-bin/project with admin privileges and add the project file alaska.qgs and a copy of the qgis_mapserv.fcgi file - that’s all.

Now we test our project WMS, WFS and WCS. Add the WMS, WFS and WCS as described in Loading WMS/WMTS Layers, WFS and WFS-T Client and WCS Client to QGIS and load the data. The URL is:


Fine tuning your OWS

For vector layers, the Fields menu of the Layer ‣ Properties dialog allows you to define for each attribute if it will be published or not. By default, all the attributes are published by your WMS and WFS. If you want a specific attribute not to be published, uncheck the corresponding checkbox in the WMS or WFS column.

You can overlay watermarks over the maps produced by your WMS by adding text annotations or SVG annotations to the project file. See section Annotation Tools in General Tools for instructions on creating annotations. For annotations to be displayed as watermarks on the WMS output, the Fixed map position check box in the Annotation text dialog must be unchecked. This can be accessed by double clicking the annotation while one of the annotation tools is active. For SVG annotations, you will need either to set the project to save absolute paths (in the General menu of the Project ‣ Project Properties dialog) or to manually modify the path to the SVG image in a way that it represents a valid relative path.

Extra parameters supported by the WMS GetMap request

In the WMS GetMap request, QGIS Server accepts a couple of extra parameters in addition to the standard parameters according to the OCG WMS 1.3.0 specification:

  • MAP parameter: Similar to MapServer, the MAP parameter can be used to specify the path to the QGIS project file. You can specify an absolute path or a path relative to the location of the server executable (qgis_mapserv.fcgi). If not specified, QGIS Server searches for .qgs files in the directory where the server executable is located.


  • DPI parameter: The DPI parameter can be used to specify the requested output resolution.


  • OPACITIES parameter: Opacity can be set on layer or group level. Allowed values range from 0 (fully transparent) to 255 (fully opaque).