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GRASS Quickstart

Geographic Resources Analysis Support System

Commonly referred to as GRASS, this is a Geographic Information System (GIS) used for geospatial data management and analysis, image processing, graphics/map production, spatial modelling, and visualization. GRASS is currently used in academic and commercial settings around the world, as well as by many governmental agencies and environmental consulting companies.


GRASS data are stored in a directory referred to as DATABASE (also called "GISDBASE"). This directory has to be created with mkdir or a file manager, before starting to work with GRASS. Within this DATABASE, the projects are organized by project areas stored in subdirectories called LOCATIONs.

A LOCATION is defined by its coordinate system, map projection and geographical boundaries. The subdirectories and files defining a LOCATION are created automatically when GRASS is started the first time with a new LOCATION.

Each LOCATION can have many MAPSETs. Each MAPSET is a LOCATION's subdirectory. New MAPSET can be added at GRASS startup. To remove a MAPSET, remove it's directory using your file manager or by
rm -rf /path/to/the/mapset_to_delete. The 'wxgrass' graphical user interface provides options to rename/remove LOCATIONs and MAPSETs.

[GRASS Location structure]
Fig. 1: GRASS Location structure

One motivation to maintain different MAPSETs is to store maps related to project issues or subregions. Another motivation is to support simultaneous access of several users to the map layers stored within the same LOCATION, i.e. teams working on the same project. For teams a centralized GRASS DATABASE would be defined in a network file system (e.g. NFS). Besides access to his/her own MAPSET, each user can also read map layers in other users' MAPSETs, but s/he can modify or remove only the map layers in his/her own MAPSET.

You can learn more about mapsets and how to seamlessly access maps found in another MAPSET of the same LOCATION in the g.mapsets documentation.

When creating a new LOCATION, GRASS automatically creates a special MAPSET called PERMANENT where the core data for the project can be stored. Data in the PERMANENT MAPSET can only be added, modified or removed by the owner of the PERMANENT MAPSET; however, they can be accessed, analyzed, and copied into their own MAPSET by the other users. The PERMANENT MAPSET is useful for providing general spatial data (e.g. an elevation model), accessible but write-protected to all users who are working in the same LOCATION as the database owner. To manipulate or add data to PERMANENT, the owner would start GRASS and choose the relevant LOCATION and the PERMANENT MAPSET. This mapset also contains the DEFAULT_WIND file, which holds the default region boundary coordinate values for the location (which all users will inherit when they start using the database). Additionally, in all mapsets a WIND file is kept, for storing the current boundary coordinate values and the currently selected raster resolution. Users have the option of switching back to the default region at any time.

Creating a GRASS database

To create the GRASS database:
  1. Find a place on your disk where you have write access and that has enough diskspace to hold your decompressed data.
  2. Create a subdirectory that will hold the general GRASS database (e.g. mkdir /data/grassdata or mkdir /home/yourlogin/grassdata).

Sample data such as the Spearfish or the North Carolina sample datasets may be downloaded from and placed in this new database directory.

A) Create New Location with text screen

Click on the "Create New Location" button, which will take you to a text screen on which you can enter a new location name, and then continue by pressing "ESC"-"RETURN" - i.e. press (NOT hold) the ESC key, and then press the RETURN key on your keyboard.

Next you will need to assign parameters to the location such as the coordinate system and datum you want to use, the project area's boundary coordinates, and the default resolution for raster data:

Next you are requested for some more information about the projection. Note that the prompts vary from projection to projection, an example follows:

The next step is the description of the project area's boundary coordinates and the definition of the default raster resolution:

The default raster resolution (GRID RESOLUTION) has to be chosen according to your needs. Generally, it is advisable to work in steps of 0.25 (0.25, 0.5, 1.75, 2.00, 12.25 etc.). This resolution does not concern vector and site data since these are stored with their exact coordinate values. Note that every raster map may have its own resolution. You can leave this screen with "ESC"-"RETURN" and then if everything is correct accept the list of parameters that appears.

You will then be back to the startup screen to enter the mapset's name (if not already entered). Another "ESC"-"RETURN" will finally let you leave this screen. This mapset is created within the new location by answering "yes" to the next question. The mapset will use the parameters of the location (such as the region and resolution definitions) as its default parameters.

Now the project area, i.e. the location including a mapset, has been created. You have "arrived" in the GRASS system and can start working within this new location.

B) Create New Location with text screen

The "wxgrass" graphical user interface provides a graphical "Location Wizard" instead which let's you easily create a new LOCATION. You will be guided through a series of dialogues to browse and select predefined projections (also via EPSG code) or to define individual projections. The rules to define the resolution as described above also apply here.

Further Reading

Please have a look at the GRASS web site for tutorials and books:

See also

GRASS 6 launch manual page
GRASS 6 Reference Manual

Last changed: $Date: 2008-04-13 09:22:00 -0700 (Sun, 13 Apr 2008) $

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© 2008 GRASS Development Team