Getting started with Python and QGIS can be a bit overwhelming. In this post we give you a quick start to get you up and running and maybe make your PyQGIS life a little easier.

There are likely many ways to setup a working PyQGIS development environment---this one works pretty well.



  • OSGeo4W Advanced Install of QGIS
  • pip (for installing/managing Python packages)
  • pb_tool (cross-platform tool for compiling/deploying/distributing QGIS plugin)
  • A customized startup script to set the environment (pyqgis.cmd)
  • IDE (optional)
  • Vim (just kidding)

We'll start with the installs.


Almost everything we need can be installed using the OSGeo4W installer available on the QGIS website.


From the QGIS website, download the appropriate network installer (32 or 64 bit)

  • Run the installer and choose the Advanced Install option
  • Install from Internet
  • Choose a directory for the install---I prefer a path without spaces such as C:\OSGeo4W
  • Accept default for local package directory and Start menu name
  • Tweak network connection option if needed on the Select Your Internet Connection screen
  • Accept default download site location
  • From the Select packages screen, select the following for installation:
    • Desktop -> qgis: QGIS Desktop
    • Libs -> qt4-devel (needed for lrelease/translations)
    • Libs -> setuptools (needed for installing pip)

When you click Next a bunch of additional packages will be suggested---just accept them and continue the install.

Once complete you will have a functioning QGIS install along with the other parts we need. If you want to work with the nightly build of QGIS, choose Desktop -> qgis-dev instead.

If you've already installed QGIS using the OSGeo4W installer, just install the qt4-devel and setutools packages. If you installed QGIS using the standalone installer, the easiest option is to remove it and install from OSGeo4W. You can run both the standalone and OSGeo4W versions on the same machine, but you need to be extra careful not to mix up the environment.

Setting the Environment

To continue with the setup, we need to set the environment by creating a .cmd script. The following is adapted from several sources, and trimmed down to the minimum. Copy and paste it into a file named pyqgis.cmd and save it to a convenient location (like your HOME directory).

@echo off
call "%OSGEO4W_ROOT%"\bin\o4w_env.bat
call "%OSGEO4W_ROOT%"\apps\grass\grass-6.4.3\etc\env.bat
@echo off
path %PATH%;%OSGEO4W_ROOT%\apps\qgis\bin
path %PATH%;%OSGEO4W_ROOT%\apps\grass\grass-6.4.3\lib

set PYTHONPATH=%PYTHONPATH%;%OSGEO4W_ROOT%\apps\qgis\python;
set PYTHONPATH=%PYTHONPATH%;%OSGEO4W_ROOT%\apps\Python27\Lib\site-packages
set PATH=C:\Program Files (x86)\Git\cmd;C:\Program Files (x86)\Vim\vim74;%PATH%
cd %HOMEPATH%\development

You should customize the set PATH statement to add any paths you want available when working from the command line. I added paths to my git and vim installs.

The cd %HOMEPATH%\development statement starts the shell in my normal working directory---customize or remove as you see fit.

The last line starts a cmd shell with the settings specified above it. We'll see an example of starting an IDE in a bit.

You can test to make sure all is well by double-clicking on our pyqgis.cmd script, then starting Python and attempting to import one of the QGIS modules:

Python 2.7.5 (default, May 15 2013, 22:44:16) [MSC v.1500 64 bit (AMD64)] on win
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> import qgis.core

If you don't get any complaints on import, things are looking good.

Python Packages

We need a couple of Python packages as well.


There are several ways to install pip, but since we installed setuptools we can use easy_install:

easy_install pip

Make sure to issue this command from your customized shell (double-click on pyqgis.cmd to start it).


With pip installed we can use it to install pb_tool:

pip install pb_tool

More information on using pb_tool is available on the project website.

Working on the Command Line

Just double-click on your pyqgis.cmd script from the Explorer or a desktop shortcut to start a cmd shell. From here you can use Python interactively and also use pb_tool to compile and deploy your plugin for testing.

IDE Example

With slight modification, we can start our IDE with the proper settings to recognize the QGIS libraries:

@echo off
call "%OSGEO4W_ROOT%"\bin\o4w_env.bat
call "%OSGEO4W_ROOT%"\apps\grass\grass-6.4.3\etc\env.bat
@echo off
path %PATH%;%OSGEO4W_ROOT%\apps\qgis\bin
path %PATH%;%OSGEO4W_ROOT%\apps\grass\grass-6.4.3\lib

set PYTHONPATH=%PYTHONPATH%;%OSGEO4W_ROOT%\apps\qgis\python;
set PYTHONPATH=%PYTHONPATH%;%OSGEO4W_ROOT%\apps\Python27\Lib\site-packages
set PATH=C:\Program Files (x86)\Git\cmd;C:\Program Files (x86)\Vim\vim74;%PATH%
cd %HOMEPATH%\development
start "PyCharm aware of Quantum GIS" /B "C:\Program Files (x86)\JetBrains\PyCharm 3.4.1\bin\pycharm.exe" %*

We only changed the last line, adding the start statement with the path to the IDE (PyCharm). If you save this to something like pycharm.cmd, you can double-click on it to start PyCharm. The same method works for other IDEs, such as PyDev.

Within your IDE settings, point it to use the Python interpreter included with OSGeo4W---typically at: %OSGEO4W_ROOT%\bin\python.exe. This will make it pick up all the QGIS goodies needed for development, completion, and debugging. In my case OSGEO4W_ROOT is C:\OSGeo4W, so in the IDE, the path to the correct Python interpreter would be: C:\OSGeo4W\bin\python.exe.

Make sure you adjust the paths in your .cmd scripts to match your system and software locations.


Here is an example of a workflow you can use once you're setup for development.

Creating a New Plugin

  1. Use the Plugin Builder plugin to create a starting point [1]
  2. Start your pyqgis.cmd shell
  3. Use pb_tool to compile and deploy the plugin (pb_tool deploy will do it all in one pass)
  4. Activate it in QGIS and test it out
  5. Add code, deploy, test, repeat

Working with Existing Plugin Code

The steps are basically the same was creating a new plugin, except we start by using pb_tool to create a new config file:

  1. Start your pyqgis.cmd shell
  2. Change to the directory containing your plugin code
  3. Use pb_tool create to create a config file
  4. Edit pb_tool.cfg to adjust/add things create may have missed
  5. Start at step 3 in Creating a New Plugin and press on


Assuming you have things properly installed, trouble usually stems from an incorrect environment.

  • Make sure QGIS runs and the Python console is available and working
  • Check all the paths in your pygis.cmd or your custom IDE cmd script
  • Make sure your IDE is using the Python interpreter that comes with OSGeo4W

[1] Plugin Builder 2.6 will support generation of a pb_tool config file