What is a KML file & how do I open a KML file (Keyhole Markup Language File)?

.KML (Keyhole Markup Language File) - File Extension

Developer: Google
File format: XML

What is a KML File?

KML, which stands for Keyhole Markup Language, is a file extension specifically designed for storing and organizing geographic modeling information. It serves as a data format based on XML (Extensible Markup Language), focusing on the representation of geographical data in a structured and standardized manner.

KML files are commonly utilized in the field of geographic information systems (GIS) to capture and describe various spatial elements, such as placemarks, points, lines, polygons, and images.

Since KML files leverage the power of XML, they enable the seamless integration of geographic data with additional metadata, styling attributes, and even embedded HTML content. This makes KML an essential tool for identifying and labeling locations, creating dynamic visualizations, overlaying textures, and incorporating rich multimedia elements into geospatial representations.

How to Open a KML File

Opening a KML file is relatively straightforward, as several software programs support this file extension. Here are some common methods to open a KML file:

  1. Google Earth: Google Earth is one of the most popular software programs for viewing KML files. It provides an immersive 3D visualization of geographic data and offers extensive features for exploring and interacting with KML content.
  2. ArcGIS Explorer: ArcGIS Explorer is another widely used application for opening and working with KML files. It is part of the Esri suite of GIS software and provides powerful mapping and analysis capabilities.
  3. Online Mapping Platforms: Many online mapping platforms, such as Google Maps and Bing Maps, support KML files. Users can upload KML files to these platforms and view them directly in a web browser.
  4. GIS Software: Various GIS software programs, such as QGIS and ArcGIS Desktop, also support KML files. These applications offer advanced geospatial analysis tools and allow users to import, visualize, and manipulate KML data.

To open a KML file, simply double-click on the file or use the “Open” option within the respective software program. Once opened, the software will display the geographic data contained within the KML file, enabling users to explore and interact with the information.

How to Convert a KML File

Converting a KML file to another format or vice versa can be useful for interoperability and data sharing purposes.

The following methods can be employed to convert KML files:

  1. KML to Shapefile: Shapefile (.shp) is a popular geospatial vector data format. To convert a KML file to a Shapefile, specialized GIS software programs like QGIS or ArcGIS can be utilized. These tools provide options to import the KML file and export it as a Shapefile, preserving the geometry and attributes of the original data.
  2. KML to KMZ: KMZ is a compressed version of the KML format that includes all the referenced files, such as images and overlays, in a single archive. To convert a KML file to KMZ, users can simply compress the KML file and its associated resources into a ZIP archive, renaming the extension to “.kmz.” This compressed KMZ file can then be easily shared and opened in compatible software programs.
  3. KML to GeoJSON: GeoJSON is a lightweight geospatial data format based on JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). Converting a KML file to GeoJSON can be accomplished using online conversion tools or GIS software. The resulting GeoJSON file retains spatial information and can be used in various applications and web mapping platforms.

It is important to note that during the conversion process, some data loss or formatting changes may occur depending on the target format and the specific software or tool used. Hence, it is recommended to review the converted file to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the data.

Security Considerations: Are KML Files Safe?

When it comes to security considerations, KML files themselves do not inherently pose a security risk. They are essentially XML files that contain geographic information and associated metadata.

However, as with any file format, there can be security implications when opening or interacting with KML files. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Malicious KML Files: Just like any other file format, KML files can be potentially exploited to deliver malicious content or execute harmful scripts. Users should exercise caution when downloading KML files from unknown or untrusted sources and ensure the files are scanned for malware before opening them.
  • Embedded Content: KML files can include HTML content such as links and embedded images. While this feature enhances the usability and interactivity of the file, it also introduces the possibility of phishing attacks or the execution of malicious scripts through these embedded resources. Users should be cautious when interacting with HTML content within KML files and avoid clicking on suspicious links or opening unfamiliar websites.
  • Software Vulnerabilities: The software programs used to open KML files may have vulnerabilities that could potentially be exploited. It is crucial to keep the software up-to-date with the latest security patches and follow best practices for secure computing.

As with any digital file, it is essential to exercise good security practices and employ reliable antivirus software to minimize the potential risks associated with KML files.

Format Details for KML Files

KML files are based on the XML format and follow a specific structure to represent geographic information. Here are some key elements and characteristics of the KML format:

  • XML Structure: KML files adhere to the Extensible Markup Language (XML) standard, using tags and attributes to define and describe geographic features and their properties.
  • Geographic Elements: KML files support various geographic elements, including placemarks, points, lines, polygons, and images. These elements allow the representation of spatial data and associated attributes.
  • Styling and Formatting: KML provides mechanisms for defining visual styles, such as colors, line widths, and transparency, to enhance the visual representation of geographic features.
  • Hierarchy and Nesting: KML files can be organized hierarchically, allowing the grouping of related features into folders and subfolders. This hierarchical structure enables the creation of complex and organized representations of geographic data.
  • Coordinates and Projections: KML uses coordinates to define the spatial location of points, lines, and polygons. These coordinates can be specified in various coordinate systems, including geographic (latitude and longitude) and projected coordinate systems (such as UTM).
  • Extended Data: KML files can include extended data elements, allowing the storage of additional information related to geographic features. This can include attributes such as names, descriptions, timestamps, and custom data fields.

The specific format details and elements within a KML file can vary depending on the complexity and purpose of the geographic data being represented.

Uses and Applications of KML Files

KML files find applications in various domains and industries where geographic information plays a crucial role. Some common uses and applications of KML files include:

  1. Mapping and Visualization: KML files are widely used for visualizing geographic data in a spatial context. They enable the creation of interactive maps, highlighting specific locations, routes, or areas of interest.
  2. GIS Analysis and Planning: KML files are employed in GIS software for geospatial analysis, such as site selection, urban planning, and environmental assessments. They allow the integration and visualization of diverse data layers for informed decision-making.
  3. Tourism and Travel: KML files are utilized in applications that provide virtual tours or travel itineraries. These files can include placemarks with descriptions, images, and links, offering an immersive experience to users.
  4. Data Sharing and Collaboration: KML files serve as a common format for sharing geographic data between different software platforms and users. They facilitate data exchange and collaboration in GIS projects, enabling seamless interoperability.
  5. Google Earth and Google Maps: KML files are directly compatible with Google Earth and Google Maps, making them ideal for creating custom maps, overlays, and geographic visualizations within these popular platforms.
  6. Mobile Applications: KML files are used in mobile applications that involve location-based services, navigation, and augmented reality. They provide a standardized way to represent and display spatial information on mobile devices.

These are just a few examples of the many applications of KML files. The flexibility and wide adoption of the KML format contribute to its versatility in handling and representing geographic data.

Associated Software Programs

Several software programs support the opening and creation of KML files. Here are some commonly used software programs associated with KML files:

  • Google Earth: Google Earth is a popular application for viewing and interacting with KML files. It provides a rich 3D environment for exploring geographic data and offers powerful visualization features.
  • ArcGIS Explorer: ArcGIS Explorer, developed by Esri, is a GIS software application that supports KML files. It provides advanced mapping and analysis capabilities for geospatial data.
  • QGIS: QGIS is an open-source GIS software that supports the import and export of KML files. It offers a wide range of geospatial analysis and cartographic tools.
  • Google Maps: Google Maps, both the web-based platform and mobile application, supports the direct display of KML files. Users can upload KML files to create custom maps and overlays.
  • Bing Maps: Bing Maps is a web-based mapping platform that also supports KML files. It allows users to view and interact with KML content directly in the web browser.
  • AutoCAD: AutoCAD, a widely used software for computer-aided design (CAD), supports KML files. It provides capabilities for importing and exporting KML data for integration with CAD drawings.
  • Global Mapper: Global Mapper is a comprehensive GIS software that supports KML files along with many other geospatial formats. It offers advanced data processing and analysis tools.
  • FME: FME, developed by Safe Software, is a data integration and transformation platform that supports KML files. It provides extensive capabilities for converting, manipulating, and integrating spatial data.

These are just a few examples of software programs that support KML files. Depending on the specific requirements and workflows, users can choose the most suitable software to work with KML data.

Advantages and Disadvantages of KML Files

Like any file format, KML has its advantages and disadvantages. Understanding these can help users assess whether KML is the appropriate format for their needs.

Here are some pros and cons of KML files:


  • Standardization: KML is an open standard maintained by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). It provides a common format for exchanging and sharing geographic information across different platforms and software programs.
  • Interoperability: KML files can be opened and utilized by various GIS software applications, online mapping platforms, and mobile devices. This wide support ensures interoperability and seamless integration of geographic data.
  • Visualization Capabilities: KML files support advanced visualization features, including 3D modeling, styling, and interactive elements. This enables the creation of visually appealing and informative representations of geographic data.
  • Integration with Online Platforms: KML files can be directly uploaded to popular online mapping platforms, such as Google Maps and Bing Maps, for easy sharing and collaboration. This makes it convenient to disseminate geographic information to a broader audience.
  • Rich Data Content: KML files allow the inclusion of extended data elements, enabling the storage of additional information associated with geographic features. This enhances the context and understanding of the data.


  • Limited Data Complexity: While KML files are suitable for representing basic geographic features and attributes, they may not be ideal for highly complex data structures or large datasets. Other formats, such as geodatabases or file geodatabases, are better suited for managing intricate spatial relationships and extensive attribute data.
  • File Size: KML files can become large in size, especially when they contain complex 3D models or high-resolution imagery. This can impact file transfer and storage, particularly in scenarios with limited bandwidth or storage capacity.
  • Processing Speed: The rendering and processing of KML files can be resource-intensive, especially when dealing with large datasets or complex visualizations. Software programs may experience performance issues when handling extensive KML files.
  • Limited Analysis Capabilities: While KML files support visualization and basic spatial querying, they may not provide the same level of analytical capabilities as dedicated GIS software. For advanced geospatial analysis and modeling, users may need to export the data to other formats or utilize specialized software.

Understanding these advantages and disadvantages can help users make informed decisions when choosing the appropriate file format for their geographic data.

When considering the usage and characteristics of KML files, it is helpful to compare them with related file extensions. Here are a few comparisons with other geospatial file formats:

  1. KML vs. Shapefile (.shp): Shapefile is a widely used geospatial vector format. While KML files provide more advanced visualization capabilities and support 3D modeling, Shapefiles are more suitable for complex spatial relationships and attribute data management. Shapefiles can also be easily edited and analyzed within GIS software.
  2. KML vs. GeoJSON (.geojson): GeoJSON is a lightweight geospatial format based on JSON. Both KML and GeoJSON provide a way to represent geographic features and their properties, but GeoJSON is more commonly used for web mapping applications and web services due to its simplicity and compatibility with JavaScript.
  3. KML vs. KMZ (.kmz): KMZ is a compressed version of KML that includes all the referenced resources within a single archive file. KMZ files are advantageous when sharing KML content with embedded images and overlays, as they simplify file management and ensure all resources are included in a single file.
  4. KML vs. GPX (.gpx): GPX is a file format commonly used for GPS data and tracks. While KML files support GPS data as well, they offer more extensive capabilities for visualization, styling, and interactivity. KML files are better suited for complex geospatial data representations, whereas GPX files are focused on GPS track data.

It is important to consider the specific requirements and use cases when deciding which file format is most appropriate for a given task or project. Each format has its own strengths and limitations.

Troubleshooting KML Files

Sometimes, users may encounter issues or errors when working with KML files. Here are some common problems and their potential solutions:

  1. Cannot Open KML File: If you are unable to open a KML file, ensure that you have the necessary software installed. For example, Google Earth or a GIS software program that supports KML files. Double-check the file extension and try opening the file with the correct software.
  2. Missing or Broken Images: If a KML file includes image overlays that are not displaying correctly, check if the image files are properly referenced and located in the expected file path or URL. Ensure that the file names and file paths in the KML file match the actual image file locations.
  3. Styling Issues: If the styling of the KML file does not appear as expected, review the style definitions within the file. Ensure that the style references are correctly assigned to the geographic elements and that the defined style properties (such as colors, line widths, etc.) are appropriate for the intended visualization.
  4. Performance Issues: Large or complex KML files may cause performance issues, such as slow rendering or software crashes. Consider simplifying the file by reducing the number of features or utilizing level-of-detail techniques to optimize performance. Additionally, ensure that you have adequate system resources (CPU, memory, etc.) to handle the size and complexity of the KML file.

If the troubleshooting steps mentioned above do not resolve the issue, it is advisable to consult online forums or seek assistance from the software’s support channels or user communities.

History of the KML File Extension

The KML file format was originally developed by Keyhole Inc., a company specialized in geospatial data visualization. Keyhole Inc. was acquired by Google in 2004, and KML became an integral part of Google Earth, which was released to the public in 2005. The open standard for KML is maintained by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), ensuring its widespread adoption and interoperability.

KML was initially created to support the visualization and annotation of geographic data within Google Earth. Its XML-based structure allowed for the representation of points, lines, polygons, and images, enabling users to create custom maps, placemarks, and tours.

With time, KML has evolved to support more advanced features, such as 3D modeling, embedded HTML content, and extended data elements. It has become a popular format for sharing geographic data across different platforms and applications, facilitating the exchange of spatial information in a standardized manner.

The success and wide adoption of KML can be attributed to its integration with Google Earth and its compatibility with various GIS software programs and online mapping platforms. Its versatility and rich visualization capabilities have made it a preferred choice for representing and sharing geospatial data.

Tips and Tricks for KML Files

To make the most of KML files and optimize their usage, here are some tips and tricks:

  1. Keep Files Organized: When working with complex KML files or projects, organizing the content into folders and subfolders can help maintain a structured hierarchy and improve manageability.
  2. Optimize Performance: If you encounter performance issues with large or complex KML files, consider simplifying the data or implementing level-of-detail techniques to improve rendering speed.
  3. Utilize Styling: Experiment with different styling options to enhance the visual representation of geographic features in KML files. Take advantage of color schemes, transparency settings, and line widths to create visually appealing and informative maps.
  4. Embed HTML Content: Explore the capabilities of embedding HTML content within KML files. This can include links, images, and formatted text, allowing for rich interactive experiences within the KML viewer.
  5. Validate KML Files: Use XML validation tools or the validation features within GIS software to ensure the correctness of KML files. This helps identify any syntax errors or formatting issues that could affect the interpretation of the data.
  6. Leverage Extended Data: Take advantage of the extended data elements in KML files to include additional attributes and information associated with geographic features. This can provide more context and enable advanced analysis or filtering.
  7. Back Up Files: Regularly back up your KML files to prevent data loss or accidental modifications. Consider maintaining multiple versions of the file as a safety measure.

By applying these tips and tricks, users can enhance their experience with KML files and leverage their full potential for geospatial data representation and analysis.


The KML file extension, based on the Keyhole Markup Language, is a versatile format for representing and sharing geographic information. It allows the visualization of points, lines, polygons, and images and provides support for styling, interactivity, and embedded HTML content.

KML files find applications in various domains, including mapping, GIS analysis, tourism, and mobile applications. They can be opened with software programs such as Google Earth, ArcGIS Explorer, and online mapping platforms. Converting KML files to other formats or vice versa can be achieved using GIS software or online conversion tools.

While KML files themselves are not inherently unsafe, users should exercise caution when opening files from unknown sources and be mindful of potential security risks associated with embedded content. Understanding the format details, advantages, and disadvantages of KML files can help users make informed decisions and effectively utilize this popular geospatial file extension.

Software Compatible With The KML File Type
Keyhole Markup Language File

In this section you will find a list of the best programs compatible with the KML file type. We've selected the best software for Windows, Mac, Android and Linux to open, edit, convert and view the contents of KML files.