20 Differences between QGIS and ArcGIS

Differentiation between the QGIS and ArcGIS is more likely choosing between Microsoft Office and Google doc. Both QGIS, and ArcGIS are the leading GIS software’s. They are almost similar with only a few of the differences. Both are two great platforms for anyone to work with.

You can choose either of the two, QGIS and ArcGIS depending upon the tools that it offers, and the cost-effectiveness associated with it. Both these tools can help you with your research work so long as you know how to use them effectively to reach your inference. But there are some major differences between the two software’s which you need to consider before you decide on which to start using for your GIS project.


Let us have a look at some of the differences found between the two leading platforms of Geographic Information System in the below table

Differences QGIS ArcGIS
License Available for free Paid license
Operating system Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Android Windows and Linux
Versions multiple versions at same system One version installation
Tools Some free tools Licensed tools hence paid
File format accessibility Supports all formats Limited f file formats
Source Code Open Source Closed Source code
Processing time Less Longer processing time
Reliability More reliable Comparatively less reliable
Mapping functions No advanced mapping functionalities Many advanced mapping functionalities
Plugins Many plugins available No such plugins available
Guide No such good guides Many guides are available
Data entry Text, whole or decimals Can be any- float, integers or texts
Tools availability Offers Plugin Library Offers various tools
Accessibility Desktop accessibility Mobile accessibility
Data Storage Relies on PostGIS File-based shapefiles
Raster calculator Uses algebra along with trigonometry Uses algebra, statistics, zonal tool sets and few more


Join tables Multiple Joins Single joins
Geodata Comparatively less options available More options available for geodata

Below is the elaboration of the difference of the two standalone tools of GIS.

Also Read: Application of Geographic Information System (GIS) in Smart Cities

  1. License: ArcGIS requires a paid license which can get particularly expensive if you are paying for it yourself and using it for commercial purpose. This can, of course, be a parameter if lesser is the significance. If your study is being funded for by external organizations then you can surely go for it. But then, in case you leave the organization then you may not be able to access your GIS project any longer if you were using the commercial package. Whereas, QGIS in comparison is free. There are no costs of any licenses associated with it. This can help save a lot of money for the research unlike the use of the paid ArcGIS.
  2. Operating system: ArcGIS runs only on Windows and Linux Operating System. So, you would need a system with Linux or Windows operating system or use a windows emulator to use it for your work. Although ArcMap and ArcCatalog are still not supported in Linux. But, QGIS is compatible with Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Android. However, the functionality of QGIS may be limited in the Android OS.
  3. Availability of versions: Only one version of ArcGIS can be installed in your computer at a time, which is usually the latest version. So, at any point, if you want to use two versions at the same time to check on the data, it is not possible. However, you can have multiple versions of QGIS installed on your computer at the same time. This is particularly helpful if you want to refer to any older work in which you used an older version of the software to create the GIS project. For correction that needs to be made on Ph.D. research papers or data to be published using QGIS, it becomes much more feasible as it will allow you to run the report in the older version so that you can access the information without any issues unlike that in ArcGIS.
  4. Tools used: ArcGIS has an extensive range of tools that help in the detailed study or mapping. Although this can be advantageous for the user, the only problem is that this may require purchasing of further licenses to use these tools. So, this can get further expensive with the use of these tools. The cost factor may end up limiting your usage of the software thereby impacting the data for further interpretation. QGIS, on the other hand, has a limited range of tools but more are being created to add to the functionality of this free Software. Although you will find that it has the most frequently required tools already available. So, you may not require additional tools to complete your study and can easily use whichever are available.
  5. File format extensions: ArcGIS can deal with only a limited number of file formats. Hence, this can become an issue when the remote sensing data that is received is in a different format thus making an interruption in your research. Whereas, QGIS can deal with almost all file formats that spatial data may come in. This makes it easier to deal with any files that are received irrespective of the format that they are in. It is extremely flexible and is sure, not to interrupt your interpretations because of the file formats.
  6. Source Code: ArcGIS has a closed source code. The source codes cannot be accessed and can be changed only by the company or the person who developed it. The End User License Agreement restricts the access to this software. So, you can do only what the manufacturers allow you to do with it. Thus, this limits the extent to which you can use this software. But, QGIS is open source. So, you can adapt it to your own purposes and use it as per its applicability in various fields. The source code can be modified or improved by a developer or a volunteer.
  7. Time consumption: ArcGIS takes a longer time to run the data and to provide the end results resulting in your delay and time consumption. On the other hand, QGIS takes less processing time and has better rendering capabilities. QGIS is much faster than ArcGIS.
  8. Reliability: ArcGIS has better spatial topological analytical capabilities and provides more reliable results. The value of cluster tolerance in arc map is limited to 0.0000009. However, QGIS uses the Topology Checker Plugin to study the topology but it is not affected by cluster tolerance.
  9. Mapping Functionalities: ArcGIS has a lot of advanced mapping functionalities like Maplex labeling engine which allows different data frames to added and linked. QGIS does not have advanced mapping functionalities and different data frames cannot be added or linked to the maps that are generated by this software.
  10. Plugins: In ArcGIS, it is difficult to calculate the shortest path in a network analysis. A Geodatabase has to be created in order to be able to calculate the shortest path. QGIS has the Road Graph Plugin which makes it very easy to calculate the shortest path in network analysis. Moreover, QGIS has many plugins of its own like Sеntіnеl іmаgеrу, рrе-рrосеѕѕіng, processing, Sеmі Automatic Clаѕѕіfісаtіоn Plugin.
  11. Guide: ArcGIS has a very elaborate documentation that guides on how sample data can be delivered or how tools can be used more effectively and effortlessly. QGIS does not have a good documentation which at times leaves the users confused and may end up taking more time to deliver a single sample.
  12. Data entry: Data entry in ArcGIS can be created with float, text or integers. While creating a shapefile in QGIS a prompt is given to fill the fields only with texts, whole or decimal numbers only. This may create an issue if the data that is received is not in an acceptable format and will require further conversions.
  13. Tools availability: ArcGIS offers a whole lot of functionality with the various tools that it has, but these tools can be accessed from the Add-in which is like a toolbar. QGIS offers a Plugin Library with the entire list of plugins that can help you with supplemental functionality. QGIS, unlike ArcGIS, allows you the flexibility of building a plugin of your own.
  14. Accessibility: ArcGIS has provided an advanced option which allows you to access your desktop application on your mobile in just a few clicks. Whereas, QGIS is a desktop program.
  15. Data Storage: The Data Storage method in ArcGIS relies primarily on file-based shapefiles and Geodatabase which is fine for small projects, but it becomes difficult for larger files. On the other hand, QGIS relies on PostGIS which is not only good for the smaller projects but works very well with big data files, unlike the ArcGIS.
  16. Raster calculator tool: Both QGIS and ArcGIS stands outstanding as a raster calculator tool. The spatial analysis tools of ArcGIS offer specialized tools be it the algebra, statistics, zonal tool sets or interpolation or overlays, hydrology, solar radiation or groundwater. But in QGIS, algebra along with trigonometry functions are used in raster calculation tools. Moreover, it has more filtering options and specialized solar radiation and groundwater tools.
  17. Join tables: You can very easily join your spatial data tables using both QGIS and ArcGIS. They vary mainly in the process of joining. In ArcGIS, you just need to select the “join” option by clicking the right click on a layer. Yes, its that’s simple! And in QGIS, you can join the tables with properties such as the layer. It will also give you the option to rename the specific join and this is most useful in case of multiple joins.
  18. Geodata: Both the QGIS and ArcGIS are the standalone GIS applications and they manage very well the vector, raster, and the GIS data. But you can also filter and search in the tools of the missing data. A part of the data which is missing is creating the metadata. This metadata has evolved in various formats like the ISO, INSPIRE, NAP and both these two applications helps you to easily navigate to manage the geodata in your file system. However, ArcGIS has more options than QGIS.
  19. Developers: ArcGIS is developed and owned by ESRI. The software has seen a lot of changes since its initial stages. The tools that it offers have enhanced its functionality over the years making it more user-friendly. However, QGIS, on the other hand, is a community software. It is open for everyone to add to its functionality. QGIS is widely used as it is free and much faster than ArcGIS.
  20. Future Updates & Advancements: Since QGIS is open source it has perhaps seen much more advancement, unlike the ArcGIS.

Thus, to sum up, both software’s are great GIS platforms to work on. Many Biologists use both the software due to their varied flexibilities as per the requirements. The price is a deciding factor in many cases as QGIS offers most functionalities that you may require free of cost.

Related: Remote Sensing and GIS

1 thought on “20 Differences between QGIS and ArcGIS”

  1. “QGIS is much faster than ArcGIS.”
    Both are really ugly about speed performance, but QGIS is more slow than ArcGIS. For example, a geojson with 10 columns more than 165 millon rows, and 756 Mb size file.
    I was forced to edit it using ArcGIS for split all data in 23 zones and make it ‘usable’ in QGIS.

    Exists some “process” are a little more faster in QGIS than ArcGIS, but are the least. For example; HeatMaps. In their favor, I must say: HeatMaps is one of the most recurrently used process, so that a good point for QGIS.

    Talking about “render” and open a simple data-table with 10 millon rows, QGIS is litteraly useless and unsable.

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