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Deciding for MapServer

TRANSLATION NOTES: Please read some comments at the end of this post.

Taking advantage of a recent conversation with a Cadastre institution that sought with what to publish their maps, I summarize here the most important to return the item bailouts to the community. Maybe in time it’ll serve someone who wants to make a decision or ask for egeomate’s help.

Why MapServer

The stage was someone who intended to leave for Bentley’s GeoWeb Publisher, because it still had a license to Discovery Server, the predecessor of it, back in the years of dust. Another reason why they were interested in Bentley was that their mapping was on Microstation Geographics with VBA applications for construction and maintenance of cadastral maps.

Earlier in the blog (Ugly – Rare as it says the friend) we showed how to create a web mapping service, using Manifold GIS, as a low cost alternative. I also talked one day about the merits of Bentley’s Geoweb Publisher as a solution when there is more money. This is to give continuity to that old post in which I made comparisons between various applications for publishing online maps.

After the conversation we decided to go for MapServer, an issue that I hope to exploit in the coming days. By the way, start to try for the rest of the year other open source platforms, but in a web environment.

clip_image001MapServer is not a GIS application, or even pretends it to be, as its website says. Born as an initiative of the University of Minnesota, hence the logo comes from the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. It is today a reference in the web mapping service widely distributed, perhaps because of its Anglo-Saxon origin. Like this application there is a wide range – wide really -, I like its simplicity, so simple for new users, all the magic is in the handling of the .map file that can be generated from programs like QGis or understand mapscript’s logic to exploit languages such as PHP, Java, Perl, Python, Ruby or C #.

Over MapServer there are applications developed more “served” as Chameleon, Cartoweb, Ka-map and Pmapper. These are recommended for users with less code domain, although it is ideal to understand the MapServer’s primitive logic.


The example shown is that, just an example of the work we are doing now. With permission from them and being aware that this service will be available to the public in a couple of weeks and then you can see it working.

What other web applications exist?

For this, I will use the OSGeo Foundation as reference, one of the most creative in terms of sustainability of open source standardization in the geospatial field. Although I agree that there are other more.

  • Mapbender, very popular, used as a thin client with Mapserver in the case of IDE Guatemala. The reason for its appeal is that it was developed for PHP and JavaScript, two of the most used combinations on the web today.
  • Mapbuilder, which ended in version 1.5 and merged with Open Layers. Its AJAX … was a beauty.
  • Open Layers, a wonder if it is integrated with Google or Yahoo Maps or become more efficient the cache on the raster display.
  • Mapguide Opensource, very popular for its Autodesk’s relationship. It’s robust at all, in the desired flavor (*).
  • Degree, a whole smoked about standards. It has so much potential in Europe. Due to its stability in GML support is suggested as a neutral alternative for web processes implementation of the INSPIRE initiative.

Other OSGeo incubation solutions are:

  • Geoserver, its greatest potential is that its development is on Java. With much to offer as Open Layers by integrating with data from Google Maps, Google Earth and Yahoo Maps, including ArcGIS.
  • Geomajas which includes thin client, desktop and web.
  • MapFish, with a priority focus to Python but perhaps one of the least documented (online).

MapServer’s Advantages

OGC standards support. Perhaps the best, although in this almost all open source applications are going well, at least in terms of WMS, WFS, WCS, GML.

    • Web Map Service (OGC:WMS) 1.0.0, 1.0.7, 1.1.0 and 1.1.1
    • Web Feature Service (OGC:WFS) 1.0.0, 1.1.0
    • Web Coverage Service (OGC:WCS) 1.0.0, 1.1.0
    • Geography Markup Language (OGC:GML) 2.1.2, 3.1.0 Level 0 Profile
    • Web Map Context Documents (OGC:WMC) 1.0.0, 1.1.0
    • Styled Layer Descriptor (OGC:SLD) 1.0.0
    • Filter Encoding Specification (OGC:FES) 1.0.0
    • Sensor Observation Service (OGC:SOS) 1.0.0
    • Observations and Measurements (OGC:OM) 1.0.0
    • SWE Common (OGC:SWE) 1.0.1
    • OWS Common (OGC:OWS) 1.0.0, 1.1.0

Serving data via Open GIS Consortium guidelines, any program will stick to them without much work. This includes SW since AutoDesk Civil3D, ArcGIS. Bentley Map, to gvSIG, QGIS, etc. And even Google Earth / maps via wms.

Comparing it with the applications that I have previously worked (GeoWeb Publisher and Manifold GIS), MapServer outperforms them because it has much dissemination, that’s why its page has enough information, developed examples, without mentioning the user’s community. In GWP’s case there is much work to do and what is from Manifold in Spanish is very shortly – leaving out Geofumadas so as not to input into contradiction.

The data support is a marvel. It is not the sky but it’s approaching enough:

•: Shape files, GML, PostGIS, and more via OGR, including DGN world.

  • Geodatabase or vector data:  Shape files, GML, PostGIS more than a world vía OGR, including DGN.
  • Raster data: georeferenced TIF and what we want via GDAL.
  • For exit, you can create jpg, png, pdf and of course, OGC standards.

Then there is the cross-platform support. MapServer can run on IIS, which makes it friendly for users of Windows / PC. It can also runs on Apache, so it can run on Windows and Linux without any problem, not only to serve data, but to navigate. In Manifold’s case, publishing is made only by IIS; if Apache is named it generates congestion, although some have made their pirouettes with it. And in Bentley’s case, it only runs on Windows, taking note that the web’s deployment is an ActiveX that only runs on Internet Explorer, unless you smoke IDPR to the sublime in a spatial cartridge.

Needless to say, it’s not dealing to pay licensing. The license with Manifold Universal would be by the order of $600, the Bentley GWPublisher by $10,000 with limited users and if would be GIS Server, it is above $15,000.

Finally, I see great advantage in development. Find someone who works MapServer is not as easy, but it is much more easily found than with other applications, including remotely ones, like the one we’re doing now. A developer who knows the guts of Bentley GWPublisher is not as easy to find, he must know Project Wise, Geographics, MicroStation VBA and Bentley Map to take advantage of a robust development of Bentley Geospatial Server (Although I admit that there it can be done wonderful things). A Manifold GIS developer, it’s just very difficult although it’s only .NET, and a GIS Server one, its secure that will charge according to how the license costs.

How to install it in 5 steps

There are not many steps, just like the beginning of Genesis:

  1. Download OSGEO4W here
  2. Install it, at least MapServer, Apache and one example.
  3. Install Apache and create the service (or pick up a directory via IIS).
  4. Lift up the service
  5. Run the sample in the browser

Yes, as in the Genesis, between verse 1 and 2 there are several things that happened in Satan’s rebellion. Generally you must boost the service either via http://localhost/ or takes its battle, but you learn.

It will be in the next post that I’ll explain


(*)robust at all, in the desired flavor. Spanish Idiom: ‘a morir’ which means that something maintains its primitive characteristics. On the other side, ‘al gusto’ or ‘el el sabor deseado’ is more than a jargon a figurative phrase which means that you can do any task you need.

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