Most Popular Libraries for Front-end Web GIS Development

The onset of the World Wide Web has revolutionized everything around us and GIS is not an exception.  The Web GIS is an advanced type of Geographic Information Systems made available on web platforms. It operates on the Client-server architecture. A GIS server is identified by a uniform resource locator (url). It responds and gives services to GIS clients such as desktops and mobile who make requests. The communication between GIS server and client happens over the Hypertext Transfer Protocol and the results can be a Hypertext Markup Language, a binary image,  Geography Markup Language or a JSON (JavaScript Object Notation).

The development of frontend Web GIS applications is possible through the use of both open source and proprietary libraries. Such include: Leaflet, OpenLayers, Mapbox, GeoExt and TurfJS. This article will focus mostly on the open source libraries used for web GIS development for the frontend.

Leaflet.

The first library is Leaflet JS, which is an open source lightweight JavaScript Library for making interactive web maps.

It works efficiently across major desktop and mobile platforms due to its performance, simplicity, and usability.  The availability of a well-documented API and readable source code makes it easy to use. It is possible to extend Leaflet with lots of plugins.

Mapbox.

The second tool is Mapbox GL JS, which is a JavaScript library for the visualization of vector maps on the web.

It is essential for building immersive web maps due to features such as interactivity, performance and real time styling. However, unlike Leaflet, Mapbox is not entirely open source; it has some generous free packages making the service suitable for a limited number of users.

OpenLayers.

The third tool for frontend Web GIS development is OpenLayers, which is an open source JavaScript library that is suitable for the visualization of geographic information of all typed dynamically in a web page.

OpenLayers is completely open source and can display map tiles, vector maps and markers from any source.

GeoExt.

Next, GeoExt is another library for the development of frontend web GIS applications. GeoExt is an open source JavaScript framework suitable for building desktop GIS applications via the web.

Libraries for front-end Web GIS Development

GeoExt is a combination of the user interface provided by Sencha’s ExtJS library and the GIS functionality provided by OpenLayers.

Turf.JS

Lastly, another library used for front end development of web GIS application is Turf.Js. It is an open source JavaScript library allows manipulation of geo-information.

It is simple since it uses JavaScript functions that are easy to understand and speak GEOJSON. Secondly, Turf.Js is modular, i.e. it has a collection of small modules so one chooses what they want to use. It is also fast because it takes advantage of the newest algorithms and one doesn’t have to send data to a server.

There is no best library to use for the frontend development of web GIS. Each library and framework is unique. It all depends on the requirements of your project and what you want to achieve at the end.

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