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I am trying to set up some GIS teaching with QGIS on a University network.

One issue is plugins, some I want to use are internal, like the Georeferencer, others are external contribs, like the Semi-Automated Classification plugin.

When installing a new plugin, does a user need admin rights? Does this vary depending on the type of plugin? This needs to be run with students who have their own level of admin rights and it's hard to test before the actual first practical lab.

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    Which version do you use on which operating system? – Zoltan Sep 1 '18 at 8:48
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Generally speaking, most plugins act like Dmitry says. Especially the python ones.

A few more specialist ones (including SACP) need 3rd party software and might require admin rights to install these dependencies, especially on Windows. There's a couple of stategies to consider which might make things easier:-

Option 1: Use a virtual machine

Would students be able to install something like VirtualBox? If so you could set up a standard QGIS desktop environment with all the required plugins, and give them all a ready-made environment with all tools, libraries and plugins ready-installed.

This would have the advantage (in a learning setting) of having everyone start with the same setup, and that they wouldn't be messing up their own install (e.g. if they have QGIS already).

The downside is the time required to set up the VM (although this is only done once, by you) and the fact that users may not be familiar with Linux - although something like Ubuntu would probably feel comfortable for windows users.

I use this to try out cutting-edge versions of QGIS without messing with my own install... if I really mess things up, I can clear out the VM and start from scratch.

Option2: GIS on a stick

There are also GIS-on-USB products out there (PortableGIS springs to mind). These tend not to be cutting-edge (they may be 2.x) and I'm not sure if they can be run solely from USB, but it's worth looking into.

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In general, installing QGIS plugins does not require administrative rights, but some plugins have Python package dependencies that do require administrative rights to install.

I teach GIS at Temple University and we have QGIS set up on kiosk computers in our computer classrooms (i.e., always-on, generic user, no login required). QGIS is installed using the OSGeo4W Network Installer. The user does not need administrative rights to show/hide plugins or to install/uninstall plugins.

Many QGIS plugins have Python package dependencies. Numpy is a common one here. If those packages are missing, the plugin won't run. OSGeo4W comes with its own, sandboxed Python environment. Additional Python packages, such as python-numpy or python3-numpy, can be installed using the OSGeo4W setup utility. However, running this utility does require administrative rights. So if the student fires up a plugin that requires numpy, they will not be able to install it themselves.

What I suggest is using OSGeo4W Setup to install every package named python-* or python3-*. (The former are necessary for QGIS < 3, the latter for QGIS 3+. OSGeo4W does allow you to install QGIS LTR (currently 2.18) and the most recent release (currently 3.2) side-by-side, so if you do this you will need both the Python 2.7 packages and the Python 3+ packages.)

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No, python plugins installed in current user folder and not needed administrative permissions. C++ plugins installed in QGIS install folder and may required such permissions, but I don't know any examples of such plugins, and I think they need some kind of installer, which will ask any needed permissions and configure environment during install.

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