GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System) has been under continuous development since 1982 and during the 90s a large number of federal US agencies, universities, and private companies were involved in the development. The core components of GRASS 1.0-5.0 and the management of the integration efforts into GRASS GIS releases were accomplished by the U.S. Army - Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (USA-CERL) in Champaign, Illinois. USA-CERL completed its last release of GRASS as version 4.1 in 1992, and provided five updates and patches to this release through 1995. USA-CERL also wrote the core components of the GRASS 5.0 floating point version. In 1997 and after two years of uncertainty, GRASS development was taken over by academia. Since then the international GRASS Development Team manages the source code, releases and documentation.

GRASS Credits

2013: 30 years of GRASS GIS development

The 1980th...

From "GRASS Mini-HOWTO": In the early 1980s the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers' Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (USA/CERL) in Champaign, Illinois, began to explore the possibilities of using Geographic Information Systems to conduct environmental research, assessments, monitoring and management of lands under the stewardship of the U. S. Department of Defense. Part of the motivation for this action was new responsibility for the environment encoded into the National Environmental Policy Act of the late 1970s. 
Bill Goran of USA/CERL conducted a survey of available GISs, assuming that he could find several systems capable of environmental analysis, from which he could select one or more to recommend for use by CERL and perhaps others in the Department of Defense. However, he was surprised to find no GIS that satisfied his needs. What started as a selection process turned into a design exercise for his own GIS development program. 
USA/CERL hired several programmers, and began by writing a hybrid raster-vector GIS for the VAX UNIX environment. This made the team one of the first to seriously develop GIS for UNIX. Though they still faced challenges with different versions of UNIX, they developed procedures of coding in ANSI standard UNIX, avoiding "tweaking" the code toward any particular vendor-specific flavor of UNIX.

GRASS History I: Lynn Van Warren recalls the design of Fort Hood GIS software (FHGIS) design that lead to GRASS development

GRASS History II: GRASS Roots by Jim Westervelt (In Proc. Free/Libre and Open Source Software for Geoinformatics: GIS-GRASS Users Conference 2004, Sept. 12-14, Bangkok, Thailand, 2004)

GRASS History III: Early GRASS Community Views on FOSS by Jim Westervelt (Keynote at FOSS4G2006, 11-15 September 2006, Lausanne, Switzerland)

Watch the GRASS video (high resolution, USA CERL, 1987)

The 1990th...

In 1997, development was taken over by Baylor University (Waco, Texas; lead by Bruce Byars) for a period, then it got migrated in 1998 to University of Hannover (Germany; lead by Markus Neteler) where the first European GRASS Web site was opened. The GRASS Development Team grew into a multi-national team consisting of developers at numerous locations.

Oct 1999: GRASS GIS 5 released under GNU General Public License (GPL)

29 Dec 1999: GRASS GIS 5.0 source code management moved to the first centralized source code repository  (CVS; see, prior to that mainly manual source code management was done.

Since 2000...

From Dec 2000 to Dec 2006 the GRASS Request Tracker (RT) was used for bug tracking.

In 2001, the GRASS Web site was moved to ITC-irst (Trento, Italy).

In February 2006, the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) was formed to support and promote worldwide use and collaborative development of Open Source geospatial technologies and data. It includes GRASS as one of its founding projects.

From Jan 2007 to Dec 2008 GForge (a feature-rich system for collaborating on a software project) was used, operated by Intevation company.

On Dec 9, 2007 we started to use SVN and Trac bugtracker hosted by OSGeo along with other GRASS GIS project infrastructure (Web-site, mailing lists) runs at OSGeo (see here for the GRASS GIS Website evolution: 1997-2012).

In September 2006, the GRASS Project Steering Commitee was formed which is responsible for the overall management of the project. The PSC is especially responsible for granting SVN write access.

Birthday 2013: US Army Corps of Engineers - GRASS GIS turns 30 – ERDC’s CERL was there at the start.

Migration from OSGeo-SVN to GitHub was done in April/May 2019 (details).


Already in early days GRASS developers were concerned about copyright issues and introduction of non-free code in GRASS. The GRASS FTP site was changed to a 24hs service in September 1992. We remember that there was no WWW at all in those days. First GRASS Linux binaries where announced in February 1994. A first European GRASS FTP mirror site appeared in January 1995. The first internet viruses were discussed in April 1995 and first spam reached the lists in October 1995 (most spam was later manually removed from the list archives by MN). With CERL winding down the development in 1996 due to a governmental decision, the traffic in the developers ist went down to a minimum. The GRASS project returned to real activity in 1997. A first attempt to get GRASS into Debian in March 1998. The new GRASS 4.2.1 package, the first release after 4.1 from CERL became available in January 1998. The license change to GPL was discussed in October 1999. GRASS 5 beta releases came out in October 1999.The source code was moved to a centralised code repository in 1999 (CVS). In 2006, a GRASS Wiki was started (originally TWIKI at; then in 2006 migration to Mediawiki which was eventually moved in 2008 to OSGeo at The mailing lists were migrated in 2007 from ITC-irst, Trento/Italy to OSGeo, USA.

See also: Scaling up globally: 30 years of FOSS4G development (presentation from 2013)

GRASS GIS releases

See the detailed GRASS GIS releases page

Hosting agencies for the GRASS conferences:

    • 1 (1985) Fort Hood, Texas
    • 2 (1986) Fort Lewis, Washington
    • 3 (1987) National Space Technology Lab, Stennis Space Center
    • 4 (1988) Champaign, USA CERL
    • 5 (1989) Alexandria, Va. Soil Conservation Service
    • 6 (1990) UC Berkeley
    • 7 (1992) Denver, National Park Service
    • 8 (1993) Reston, Va. USGS, SCS, FBI
    • (1994) Paris, France (5TH European GRASS Users Meeting)
    • 9th Annual GRASS GIS User's Conference and Exhibition (Sponsered by the Open GIS Foundation, Hosted by the Soil Conservation Service, March 13-18,'94 Reston Virginia)
    • (2000) 1. Italian GRASS Meeting at Como, Italy
    • (2001) 2. Italian GRASS Meeting at University of Trento, Italy, February 1-2 2001, Web site
    • (2001) 1. German GRASS Meeting at University of Mainz
    • (2002) 3. Italian GRASS Meeting at University of Trieste, Italy
    • (2002) Open Source Free Software GIS - GRASS users conference 2002, Trento, Italy, 11-13 September 2002, Web site
    • (2003) 4. Italian GRASS Meeting at University of Firenze, Italy, 13-14 Feb 2003, Web site
    • (2004) 5. Italian GRASS Meeting at University of Padova, Italy, Web site
    • (2004) Free and Open Source Software for Geoinformatics: GIS-GRASS User Conference 2004, Bangkok, Thailand, Sept 12-14, 2004, Web site
    • (2005) 6. Italian GRASS Meeting at University of Rome, Italy, Web site
    • (2006) 7. Italian GRASS Meeting at University of Genova, Italy, Web site
    • (2006) FOSS4G 2006 - Open Source Geospatial Communities JOINT CONFERENCE - September 12-15 2006, Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Many more conferences.... (to be added here...)

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