I am working on a web-based mapping system and I'm trying to figure out which library to use.

These are links to comparisons of available libraries:

enter image description here

The list of libraries so far:

  • Google Maps
  • Microsoft Virtual Earth
  • MapQuest
  • Leaflet - "The comment smaller, faster, newer, and more straightforward can also be read as less features and less tested." -Geographika (see below)
  • ArcGIS API for JavaScript - Works best with ArcGIS Server (see below). Google Maps and Bing maps extensions are also available, letting you use the ESRI API with Google/Bing maps (though this is true of most libraries).
  • Yahoo Map API's
  • Via Michelin
  • OpenLayers - Extensive documentation and a good amount of functionality plus the ability to use different map providers.
  • Mapquery - MapQuery has been released and now has some useful documentation It has the very worthwhile goal of combining OpenLayers and jQuery. If you're particularly keen on the idea of OpenLayers + jQuery, or if you want to contribute to a JavaScript Mapping Library then get involved and contribute your efforts. However if you just want to be an end user, or are new to this area it may not be for you.
  • Mapstraction - Makes things very simple, especially working with multiple basemap providers. However it is still a work in progress and the functionality is lacking in places, as is the documentation. (E.g. "A GeoJSON object with the type “FeatureCollection” is a feature collection object." Not very informative.) It appears that it is still being actively developed but as of 4/4/11 there hasn't been a commit on Github since January.
  • deCarta - Has a mobile and desktop javascript - first is HTML5/CSS3 compliant and the second has more browser compatibility. Source code provided. Friendliest developer terms for a commercial API. You are allowed to brand the map and there are several different map styles. You can choose NAVTEQ or OSM data. They also have several Mobile APIs as well. - edited by TheSteve0 - a deCarta employee
  • Cloudmade
  • Polymaps - Makes it very easy to composite raster and vector data from many different sources. Lets you easily add your own colouring, grouping, and interaction. Runs quickly, manages background tile loading well, and is only 30k of Javascript. One potential down side: it uses SVG which means it does not and will not work in MSIE 7 or 8. It works great in every other browser and should work in IE9
  • Jump - jump is a light weight maps library that works on its own, meaning, it is not a wrapper for OpenLayers or GoogleMaps API. Currently it is under development, but a lot of essential features work well.
  • ModestMaps - Another smaller, faster, newer JS mapping library from the makers of Mapbox and TileMill.
  • Mapiator

OpenLayers is the one I am currently using. You can do a lot with it and it supports most data types. However it's not the best for everything. For example, Leaflet seems smoother in many ways, with image fading and other visual tweaks. If you're into jQuery you might like to check out MapQuery which is like a combination of jQuery and OpenLayers.


16 Answers 16


This question has been converted to Community Wiki and wiki locked because it is an example of a question that seeks a list of answers and appears to be popular enough to protect it from closure. It should be treated as a special case and should not be viewed as the type of question that is encouraged on this, or any Stack Exchange site, but if you wish to contribute more content to it then feel free to do so by editing this answer.

For non-GIS background devs creating single-function mapping apps - I'd probably recommend Leaflet (now supported by MapBox). Easy to use and small. More functionality relies on plugins of varying quality and support.

GIS online type application - use OpenLayers3 - has the full suite of data sources, controls etc. in a single library. It can also be used for simple mapping apps, so if you have a mix then I'd use this for everything.

Google still has the library/data combination (e.g. StreetView is not available anywhere else).

Esri has GUI web app builders, and as noted below, why complicate things if you already use their stack.

Commercial APIs (Google, Bing, Yahoo)

Using any commercial API leaves you at the mercy of whatever changes the provider makes to the API or Terms of Service. What happens for example if suddenly your local government portal that uses Google Maps suddenly has adverts popping up all over it? Want to reuse your JavaScript Google Maps code for an Intranet site? You'll find yourself having to pay the $10,000 licencing fee.

Microsoft often have more defined and fixed terms for their services (if paying) so there may be less of a risk here.

The recent backlash against Twitter is a good example of developers having an API that changed beneath them. If you aren't paying for a service then you (or your system) are the one being sold.

Google started charging for use of their maps from October 2011.


As others have mentioned if you are using an Esri stack then the ArcGIS API for JavaScript will no doubt work well on top of it. Coming from a GIS background Esri have probably thought more about traditional GIS tasks and features than the "neo-geography" web-giants (though this is just an opinion/feeling).

OpenLayers has built in support for ArcGIS REST layers, and if you are looking to reuse your code for non-ESRI based websites then again an open API serves you best.

Use OpenLayers...

I can't really think why developers would use an API other than OpenLayers. Open Source projects lead to related Open Source projects so there are a wealth of reusable components out there such as the GeoExt library, MapQuery, and GeoPrisma.

I'll just add that just because a project is Open Source does not automatically make it better than commercial equivalents - but the OpenLayers API matches the commercial competition in this case, and the ability to see how the source works, the unit tests, the build scripts etc. mean that you can easily build new features on top of it.

There has been some recent criticism of OpenLayers, mainly related to complexity, styling, and size. There have been counter-arguments made to these here and here by Christopher Schmidt one of the lead developers of OpenLayers.

It is worth noting that if you need a simple Open Source mapping API then take a look at Cloudmade's Leaflet.

The comment smaller, faster, newer, and more straightforward can also be read as less features and less tested.

Scan the API documentation for Leaflet and OpenLayers. The latter includes items such as WFS layers, editing tools, and SLD support. It has also been tested in many different environments, and works in IE6 (allowing government and local authority users).

For simpler display of spatial data Leaflet looks ideal, and easier to get started. However I'll be sticking with OpenLayers for more feature-rich GIS applications.


One possible downside is often new innovations are seen first in commercial providers' systems - however these nearly always filter through to OpenLayers in time.

Finally I'm sure there are certain scenarios where other APIs are more suitable - on custom hardware, to fit in with an organisations other IT systems, or if you already know an API inside-out and can get a system developed in half the time.

All the APIs you mentioned are capable of producing great online mapping systems, but your choice should also fit in with you or your company's future development needs.


There is a new player on javascript mapping front - Leaflet. Developed by CloudMade under BSD licence.

Looks really promising.

enter image description here



I had a Google Maps / arcgis api project and about a year ago, i decided to try OpenLayers. The more i worked with it the more i liked it so i decided to migrate. I cut down 30 - 100 lines of google code into 1 - 3 lines over and over again throughout my code. Simply because OpenLayers had funtions for what i wanted to do and was having to manually code it in for google maps.


CartoDB is a tool for analyzing, vizualising and sharing your geospatial data in PostGIS. It's an open source geospatial database platform that provides an SQL API layer. It allows developers to make querys to a cloud PostrgreSQL + OpenGIS database optimized to geospatial purposes.

enter image description here


I compare (with highlights & notes) the code required to do a simple, specific & common task in:

  • MapQuest
  • Google Maps
  • bing
  • Ovi
  • Esri
  • OpenLayers
  • jQuery Geo

here: http://trippingthebits.com/geopres/

The post is for a presentation I gave on jQuery Geo, which is sadly missing from your list.


I you want to visualize a globe within the browser Cesium is a nice one. (Works without plugin but browser Needs WebGL support)

Can display 3D, 2D and 2.5D view

Cesium supports 3D, 2D and 2.5D

Support for different raster/vector formats (KML etc.)

Support for differnet raster/vector data

Free control the Camera and Camera flights

Control the camera

... and everything within (modern) browsers.


I'm not competent to do a full comparison, but I've done three different small projects with Polymaps and can comment on that. Its main strength is it makes it very easy to composite raster and vector data from many different sources. It can meet all your requirements, particularly in letting you easily add your own colouring, grouping, and interaction. Polymaps is also quite efficient: it runs quickly, it manages background tile loading well, and it's only 30k of Javascript.

The primary drawback with Polymaps is it uses SVG which means it does not and will not work in MSIE 7 or 8. It works great in every other browser and should work in IE9, but I'm not sure how well tested it is. SVG is also a strength: it's easy to program and the rendering looks great, particularly scaling vector and raster features in small increments.

One caveat about libraries: if you want to use Google's raster tiles as a basemap you must use their Javascript libraries. OpenStreetMap, etc have much more permissive licenses that allow your choice of libraries.

(This answer is from 2011 and a lot has changed. Polymaps is no longer maintained. At this point Leaflet is the preferred open source library.)


I am a cartography grad student and a newcomer to web mapping, but I've been working on a project to compare the different technologies out there and put together a basic "how to" guide for getting started with web mapping. My analysis is by no means comprehensive, and I've been trying to get a sense of each library through playing around with them and through posts like these from more seasoned programmers. I'd be delighted to get any feedback.


Mapfluence from Urban Mapping is also in the mix. Hosted mapping platform that offers web-based geoservices, accessible RESTfully and with JavaScript (improved docs/tutorials en route) API. Or OL if you want it. We render our own base tiles, have a massive catalog of on-demand data,and support data and other visualization queries.

Check out the O'Reilly webinar on Wed about geoservices + big data for an overview of what is what in geo.


I found comparison among google fusion tables, polymaps, openlayers, and Cartographer.js with example images under : http://gis-techniques.blogspot.com/2011/05/choropleth-mapping-techniques-for-web20.html?spref=tw


You could also have a look at Geomajas. This is a GIS framework which is written in Java (including a Java client using GWT). However, there is currently a plug-in in progress to provide a full client-side API in JavaScript. Not quite stable yet but worth a look. The advantage of using Geomajas is the strong integration between back-end and client which has a few advantages including the ability to easily offload work to the server and added especially for security.


I would recommend ammap: http://www.ammap.com They used to have flash maps, but recently introduced JavaScript maps with a lot of great features.


If you are looking for a data visualization library, check out Highmaps, from the people behind Highcharts (myself included - currently employed as a software developer). It's free for non-commercial use, works great with mobile browsers (full touch support) and old IE down to IE6. Supports advanced dynamic features like drilldown and rich tooltips.

enter image description here enter image description here


An interesting methodology can be found to compare features you want from JavaScript mapping libraries (not restricted to this use case) It was presented at the NACIS 2012 event by Richard Donohue & al.. The interesting part is about how they makes classification depending of the purpose and required features.


I found this post after a search for a comparison of current web mapping toolkits. I think it is still mostly relevant. However, I wanted to share OSGeo's comprehensive list of toolkits as an additional resource.


May be you can also consider Heron . It is built on Ext and open layers together they have many templates that you can customize .

Another potential candidate is GeoJS.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.