Mastering GIS Software: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Looking to get started with GIS software? We'll explain the basics and explore common software.

GIS software is an important tool in data analysis and mapping. This important type of tool is used in a variety of applications and by a variety of users. GIS software can be used in everything from mapping out and better understanding customer demographics to visualizing pollution data in order to track environmental impacts. Users can range from government officials using GIS software for tasks such as determining how to best allocate resources, to geologists using GIS software to better understand geological features.

Understanding GIS Software

GIS software is an important tool, used by experts in a range of capacities. But—what exactly is GIS software? What are some of the key functionalities characteristic of GIS software, and what features might GIS software offer users?

GIS, or Geographic Information System, software is software that enables users to analyze, visualize, track, edit, and manipulate geographic data. Geographic, or geospatial data is data that pertains to locations relative to earth. GIS software is often used to make maps, analyze maps, identify geographic trends, and more. Some of the functionalities that GIS software often offers include mapping capabilities, data analysis capabilities, spatial analysis, storage of geographic data,

So how is GIS software used? And how exactly does it work? There are some working principles that operating GIS software often entails that comprise functional workflows even across different applications—data acquisition, storage of data, analysis, and visualization.

  • Data acquisition: This is the process by which users of GIS software acquire geographical data that GIS software uses. This data can come from imagery, existing maps, surveys, and more.
  • Storage of data: This is the process of storing the geographical data that operators have acquired. In order for GIS software to utilize data, it must be stored in a compatible format. GIS data is indexed using spatial data so that it can be easily retrieved, analyzed, and mapped out geographically.
  • Analysis: GIS data that has been properly acquired, stored, and indexed, can then be analyzed to derive important insights. Depending on the intended application of using GIS software, analysis may look at different variables and metrics. For example, business analysts might look at data such as spending habits of people in different geographic regions, while environmental scientists might look at the spread of pollution.
  • Visualization: One of the most notable functions of GIS software is that by using spatial indexing and data that’s organized with geographic information, it’s able to visualize GIS data. Visualization can help users derive insights, identify patterns, and—naturally—create maps.

Popular GIS Software Applications

There are a number of GIS software applications available for organizations and individuals with geographic information system needs. Depending on your unique needs and the functionality of various applications, which system is best for you may vary. TO get a better understanding of some of the various GIS software applications available, let’s take a look at some popular GIS Software applications as well as some of the key features and capabilities each one offers.

ArcGIS Pro

ArcGIS Pro, developed by Esri, offers users some fairly robust GIS capabilities. What’s more, Esri offers extensive documentation, and lots of resources to help users become better familiarized with the software. In addition to ArcGIS Pro, Esri offers a few other GIS applications—such as ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Enterprise. Fortunately for users of ArcGIS Pro, and other Esri products, ArcGIS Pro also enables data sharing between it and other Esri products.

Additionally, ArcGIS Pro offers users the ability to visualize, analyze, and maintain data in not only 2 and 3 dimensions, but 4 dimensions as well. ArcGIS Pro also supports a wide range of sources for importing GIS data, making this a potentially very powerful tool for organizations already managing large amounts of geographic data that need to be analyzed and visualized more efficiently.


As important as GIS software can be to some organizations and individuals, it can also represent some significant costs. For some organizations, or individual experts and professionals, it can be important to find cost-effective solutions for their software needs. The case of GIS software is no exception, and for some organizations, open source software represents a potentially viable solution. What’s more, with open source software, software can be highly customizable, and there are often extensive amounts of community support available whether for implementation, modification, or utilization.

QGIS is one such open source solution for GIS needs. QGIS is a free and open source GIS that enables users to access powerful geographic information system tools. Some of the key features of QGIS include data management, data mapping, data analysis, and importantly data sharing—making it a highly capable software that can be of significant use to organizations looking for cost-effective GIS solutions.


GRASS GIS is another highly capable GIS solution that organizations might look for in order to meet their GIS needs. GRASS GIS is a software suite featuring a range of powerful tools that comprise a comprehensive GIS solution; it can process imagery, analyze and manage geographical data, and has several powerful engines for processing raster, vector data, and geographical data.

Like QGIS, GRASS GIS is open source, making it a potentially very cost effective solution for some organizations. Being as it’s open source software, some users may find that a significant benefit is that it can also be customized extensively, and enhanced through community support.


Often called the “Canva of mapping” Proxi is one GIS software solution that is one of the easiest options for those just starting out. There are tons of templates available to start with or you can just jump in with a blank map. Featuring a variety of customization options Proxi also allows you to pinpoint your own locations, or even utilize an AI tool that will automatically highlight important locations. Local media professionals often work hard building great locally focused content. Proxi maps provide an engaging and interactive way to add depth to this content so that your viewers can have a more enriched experience. Trying to build a following as a local content creator? Proxi maps enables you to create fully branded experiences that allow you to highlight your travels and local recommendations.

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