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Node Mapserv

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node-mapserv is a Node.js module which makes the functionality provided by the traditional Mapserver mapserv CGI program available to Node code.

node-mapserv is best thought of as a wrapper around CGI mapserv: internally it uses a C++ binding to shave away the thin layer representing the binary mapserv CGI interface, replacing it with a javascript interface. All the underlying mapserv logic and code remain the same.

node-mapserv is not MapScript for Node. Instead it provides a simple declarative API for rendering mapserver mapfiles with the following benefits:

  • All the considerable functionality of CGI mapserv are at your disposal: there's no need to reinvent the wheel (maybe just add a few spokes here and there!).

  • Support for declarative mapfile programming: most of what can be accomplished imperatively using mapscript can be done declaratively by custom generating new mapfiles and tweaking existing mapfiles (see this post for a more detailed discussion).

  • Adherence to the Node non-blocking philosophy: operations involving I/O (such as parsing mapfiles and rendering maps) are performed asynchronously in child threads which keeps the main event loop snappy. Rough benchmarks suggest performance is comparable to fastcgi mapserv (using examples/wms-server.js with a modified mapfile).

  • Robustly tested: The module has a suite of tests that exercises the whole API. The tests provide 96% line coverage and 95% function coverage; excluded code generally handles hard to replicate edge cases (e.g. memory exhaustion). This suite has been run through Valgrind to check for memory leaks.


It is assumed that you are familiar with using mapserv and creating mapfiles.

The API is simple and defines the following general pattern:

  1. Instantiate an instance of the Map class from a mapfile on the filesystem (using Map.FromFile) or a mapfile string (using Map.FromString).

  2. Render the mapfile as many times as required using Map.mapserv. This function emulates Mapserver CGI mapserv functionality and as such requires the creation of CGI environment variables to define the request parameters.

The following example illustrates these steps:

var mapserv = require('../lib/mapserv'), // the Mapserv module 
    fs = require('fs'),                  // for filesystem operations 
    // A minimalist mapfile string 
    mapfile = "MAP \
  NAME hello \
  EXTENT 0 0 4000 3000 \
  SIZE 400 300 \
  IMAGECOLOR 200 255 255 \
    NAME 'credits' \
      POINTS \
        200 150 \
      END \
      TEXT 'Hello world.  Mapserver rocks.' \
    END \
    CLASS \
      LABEL \
        TYPE BITMAP \
        COLOR 0 0 0 \
      END \
    END \
  END \
// Instantiate a Map object from the mapfile string. You could use 
// `mapserv.Map.FromFile` instead. 
mapserv.Map.FromString(mapfile, function handleMap(err, map) {
    if (err) throw err;         // error loading the mapfile 
    // a minimal CGI environment 
    var env = {
        QUERY_STRING: 'mode=map&layer=credits'
    map.mapserv(env, function handleMapResponse(err, mapResponse) {
        if (err) {
            throw err;          // error generating the response 
        // If the response is an image, save it to a file, otherwise write it 
        // to standard output. 
        var contentType = mapResponse.headers['Content-Type'][0]; // get the content type from the headers 
        if (contentType.substr(0, 5) === 'image') {
            var filename = 'output.' + contentType.substr(6); // get the file extension from the content type 
            fs.writeFile(filename,, function onWrite(err) {
                if (err) {
                    throw err;  // error writing to file 
                console.log('Mapserver response written to `%s`', filename);
        } else {

Editing the mapfile string and using it to instantiate new Map objects will of course allow you to produce different maps.

The above example can be found in the package as examples/hello-world.js. examples/wms-server.js provides a more full featured example that marries node-mapserv with the stock Node http module to create a cascading WMS server. In addition it illustrates:

  • How to pass a 'body' string to Map.mapserv representing the HTTP body of a request (e.g. used in HTTP POST and PUT requests).

  • The use of the mapserv.createCGIEnvironment function used to generate a CGI environment from an http.ServerRequest object.

Versioning information is also available. From the Node REPL:

> var mapserv = require('mapserv');
> mapserv.versions
{ node_mapserv: '0.1.3',
  mapserver: '6.3-dev',
  mapserver_numeric: 60300,


Errors generated by Mapserver include a number of useful details. This information is exposed by the following properties which are present on all errors returned by the module and named MapserverError (i.e. all errors passed to a callback):

  • code: an integer representing the error category
  • category: a description of the error category
  • routine: the name of the Mapserver routine generating the error
  • isReported: a boolean flagging whether the error has been rendered in any Mapserver output
  • errorStack: an array containing the stack of any errors leading up to the current error, most recent error first. This property is not available in errors present in the stack itself.


  • Linux OS (although it should work on other Unices with minimal effort - patches welcome!). Although not currently supported, the module has been built successfully on Windows - see for more details.

  • Node.js >=0.8

  • Mapserver >= 6.2. If you are using Map.FromString ensure that you are using Mapserver >= 6.2.1 or alternatively you have applied this patch. Mapserver must be compiled with support for threads.


Using NPM

The latest stable release of Node Mapcache is available via the Node Package Manager:

  • Ensure Node.js and Mapserver are available on your system. Mapserver will need to have been built from source with the source directory still available.

  • Point node-mapserv to the Mapserver source directory. It uses the build files to configure itself during installation. E.g.

    npm config set mapserv:build_dir /tmp/mapserver-6.2

  • Get and install node-mapserv:

    npm install mapserv

  • Optionally test that everything is working as expected (recommended):

    npm test mapserv

Using Docker

Assuming you have Docker available on your system, the following command will obtain a docker image with the latest Node Mapserv code from git built against the latest Mapserver git checkout:

docker pull homme/node-mapserv:latest

Note that the latest Mapserver git checkout is the latest at the time the image was built. If you want the absolute latest code of both Node Mapserv and Mapserver, build the docker image yourself locally along these lines:

docker build -t homme/node-mapserv:latest

By default the image runs the Node Mapserv tests:

docker run homme/node-mapserv:latest

Running Node directly from the image allows you to require() and play around with Node Mapserv interactively:

docker run -t -i homme/node-mapserv:latest /usr/bin/node
> var mapserv = require('mapserv');
> mapserv.versions
{ node_mapserv: '0.1.4',
  mapserver: '6.5-dev',
  mapserver_numeric: 60500,

See the Docker Index for further information.


  • Avoid using Mapserver features that are not thread safe: node-mapserv makes heavy use of threads and although this is safe for core mapserver operations, some extended features should be avoided. See the Mapserver FAQ and GitHub issues #4041 and #4044 for further details.

  • Become familiar with Mapserver runtime substitution: this allows you to alter portions of a mapfile based on data passed via a CGI request.

  • Use the PROCESSING "CLOSE_CONNECTION=DEFER" directive in you mapfiles in order to cache data connections where possible: Map instances wrap persistent mapfile data structures and can therefore benefit from pooling persistent data connections in the same way as fastcgi mapserv.

  • Check out node-mapcache: this can work well in combination with node-mapserv for generating tiled maps.


Fork the code on GitHub or clone it:

git clone
cd node-mapserv

Build the module in Debug mode using:

make build

By default this uses the Mapserver build directory previously specified using npm config set mapserv:build_dir; to override this do something along the following lines:

make build npm_config_mapserv_build_dir=/tmp/mapserver-6.2

You may want to ensure you're building in a clean source tree in which case:

make clean

Add tests for your changes to test/mapserv-test.js and run them:

make test

Perform code coverage analysis to ensure all code paths in your changes are tested (this requires lcov be installed):

make cover

Finally run the test suite through valgrind to ensure you haven't introduced any memory issues:

make valgrind

And issue your pull request or patch...


Doxygen based documentation is available for the C++ bindings:

make doc


Please report bugs or issues using the GitHub issue tracker.


BSD 2-Clause.


Homme Zwaagstra