Michal ZimmermannPieces of knowledge from the world of GIS.

QGIS Plugin Development: Getting Started

QGIS 2.1x is a brilliant tool for Python-based automation in form of custom scripts or even plugins. The first steps towards writing the custom code might be a bit difficult, as you need to grasp quite complex Python API. The QGIS Plugin Development series (see the list of other parts at the end of this article) targets pitfalls and traps I’ve met while learning to use it myself.

The outcome of the series is going to be a fully functional custom plugin capable of writing attribute values from a source layer nearest neighbour to a target layer based on their spatial proximity.

In this part, I’ll mention the basics a.k.a. what is good to know before you start.


Different QGIS versions come with different Python API. The documentation is to be found at https://qgis.org, the latest being version 2.18. Note that if you come directly to http://qgis.org/api/, you’ll see the current master docs.

Alternatively, you can apt install qgis-api-doc on your Ubuntu-based system and run python -m SimpleHTTPServer [port] inside /usr/share/qgis/doc/api. You’ll find the documentation at http://localhost:8000 (if you don’t provide port number) and it will be available even when you’re offline.

Basic API objects structure

Before launching QGIS, take a look at what’s available inside API:

QGIS Python Console

Using Python console is the easiest way to automate your QGIS workflow. It can be accessed via pressing Ctrl + Alt + P or navigating to Plugins -> Python Console. Note the above mentioned iface from qgis.utils module is exposed by default within the console, letting you interact with QGIS GUI. Try out the following examples.

iface.mapCanvas().scale() # returns the current map scale
iface.mapCanvas().zoomScale(100) # zoom to scale of 1:100
iface.activeLayer().name() # get the active layer name
iface.activeLayer().startEditing() # toggle editting

That was a very brief introduction to QGIS API, the next part will walk you through the console more thoroughly.