Quick Guide to OpenstreetMap


A bit of infos about what OpenStreetMap is, and what you can do with it. It's Android-centric since that's the smartphone I have, and bicycle-centric since I rarely drive.

The big picture

OpenStreetMap is an open-source alternative to Google Maps and other closed-source equivalents.

Any addition you make is actually recorded in the central OpenStreetMap database, from which all maps are built by reading all or part of the data. This makes it possible to build different types of maps simply by selecting only some information and displaying them in a particular way. For instance, OpenCycleMap includes information specifically made for cyclists, including bike lanes and bike shops.

As of September 2013, two types of tools are available to edit OpenStreetMap:

In addition to using OSM on the web, smartphone applications are available that download OSM maps into your phone to work without a network connection. Great for trips in the country or overseas.

Querying the OSM database



Overpass Turbo

"The Overpass API (or OSM3S) is a read-only API that serves up custom selected parts of the OSM map data. It acts as a database over the web: the client sends a query to the API and gets back the data set that corresponds to the query." http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Overpass_API


To use the MapQuest map instead of the default MapNik map: Settings -> Map ->Tile-Server. For MapQuest just use the following url: http://otile1.mqcdn.com/tiles/1.0.0/osm/{z}/{x}/{y}.jpg

Default is this: http://{s}.tile.openstreetmap.org/{z}/{x}/{y}.png

Alternatively, How can I extract information [e.g. POI's] from OpenStreetMap (like a list and location of all of the Churches in a certain area)?

Common Tasks

Adding a relation





  1. Launch JOSM
  2. Display map through the Imagery menu
  3. Zoom in, and download data through File > Download in current view
  4. In the right-hand side toolbar, in the Relations section, click on the "Create a new relation" button
  5. to be continued

Reporting errors


Finding an address


Downloading an administrative boundary

First, query www.openstreetmap.org find the relation that is used to draw the administrative boundary around the location you are interested in. Next, run OverpassTurbo with a similar query:

out body;
out skel qt;

Locating bicycle parking spaces


Tagging bike-related items in OSM

Bike cafés


Viewing edits live

A list of live edits, including http://live.openstreetmap.fr/

Merging GPX routes

When merging multiple GPX files into one, first make sure the files are loaded in the right order such as by renaming them sequentially (1.foo.gpx, 2.bar.gpx, etc.) Note that GPX files can also be opened in XML Explorer.

The tracks/segments must also be in the right order, and go in the same direction. If timestamps are an issue, simply remove them, as this won't interfer if the tracks/segments are in the right order.

GPX Editor

  1. File > Open GPX: First file
  2. File > Add GPX: Other files
  3. Select top-level item > Edit > Merge all tracks: GPX Editor merges all the tracks into a single track with multiple segments
  4. File > Save GPX


Next, run a batch file to call GpsBabel. Here's the Windows version:

SET APP="c:\Program Files\GPSBabel\gpsbabel.exe"
setlocal enabledelayedexpansion
set f=
for %%f in (*.gpx) do set f=!f! -f "%%f"
%APP% -t -i gpx %f% -x nuketypes,waypoints -o gpx -F merge.nuked.gpx

Alternative applications to edit GPS files: Gps Track Editor (deadware since 2015), GpsPrune (Java application), GPX Editor, Garmin BaseCamp, QGIS.

The GUI version of GpsBabel is an easy way to merge multiple files into one: Just select several files in the Input section.


Alternatively, GpxMerge, a basic Java applet, lets you copy tracks/waypoints from multiple GPX files.

Editing the waypoints of a GPX file

There are different tools available to edit an existing GPX file so that it goes through a different route.




  1. Upload GPX
  2. Copy to My Routes > Edit Copy

GPS TrackMaker Free


Very slow to install.

Garmin Basecamp




Seems unable to simply snap to a different road: The user must manually move each and every node that make a track.

Is the EditGpx plug-in still required?


Requires moving all waypoints manually.


It's supposed to support this, but I didn't try it because I find QGis too big an application for such a basic task.


Froze even when editing a 3.000-waypoint GPX.

How to handle vandalism








Contributing to OSM by riding around

Here's a way to add nodes in an Android application while riding around, import data in JOSM on a PC for validation, and uploading data to OSM:

  1. In Android, install Maps.me (Geo Tracker is nice too, but as of now, it uses Goggle Maps)
  2. Start tracking
  3. Add waypoints
  4. Export data as GPX
  5. Install JOSM
  6. Open GPX file, and convert to data layer
  7. Display black & white OSM map
  8. Download area from OSM: An OverpassTurbo query can limit data to only the same type of data you entered while riding around
  9. Check each waypoint for location accuracy and duplicates
  10. Upload to OSM.

Alternative :

  1. Find a smartphone application that can take pictures, geotag them, and record a voice commentary
  2. Use JOSM to import the pictures on a map, and possibly play the audio

Using JOSM


By converting the GPX layer to a data layer, it can be edited, then saved again as a GPX file, or directly uploaded to OSM using EditGpx plugin


How to display a map: Imagery menu

How to move around a map: CTRL+arrows isn't smooth; Maintain the right mouse button down and move around; zoom in/out with the mouse wheel

Possible to replace d'nd right button with left button?

How to import GPX files (waypoints and tracks)

How to increase size of waypoints shown on map

How to select some waypoints, and remove the rest

To make markers (waypoints) more visible, uncheck "Less obtrusive node symbols at low zoom" in the style settings of the default style Windows > Map Paint Styles). See this.

Using Viking

So-so interface (cross platform)

Not responding when loading a GPX file with about thousands of waypoints

Using QGIS

Getting Started

300MB installer! No torrent file.

The Windows Installer failed downloading sample data.

How to start QGIS? The installer adds two elements to the desktop: A "GRASS GIS 7.2.0" shortcut, and a folder "QGIS 2.18" with multiple shortcuts:

NO GRASS GIS 7.2.0 shortcut

Diff between …\qgis-grass7.bat and …\qgis.bat ?

How to change QGIS interface language from French to English? Préférence > Options > Langue

Very slow to start

AV might trigger a false positive with qgis.g.browser.7.exe

To read









No Torrent (300+MB application) https://www.qgis.org/en/site/forusers/alldownloads.html#windows

Failed downloading sample data sets

Requires rebooting Windows

Added "GRASS GIS 7.2.0" shortcut and "QGIS 2.18" folder instead of just a link to the main application

Android applications

MapsWithMe Pro Maps.me

(March 2015) This application is now totally free and renamed Maps.me.

This application downloads OSM maps, so they're available even with no Internet connection and lets you find addresses (it can be slow or not work well, however.) You can add bookmarks/PointsOfInterest, either directly in the phone or by importing a KML file (such as using Google MapsEngine).

(August 2013) There are two ways to import a KML file:

As of August 2013, MwM Pro is unable to import routes in GPX, but a GPX route is displayed OK when converted into KML and imported in the application:

  1. Draw route in eg. Endomondo, RideWithGPS, etc.
  2. Export as GPX
  3. Convert to KML using eg. www.gpx2kml.com
  4. Copy KML file in MwMPro directory in Phone, restart MwMPro, and aim at the area.

To export bookmarks to Windows, open the bookmarks folder and send the infos as email attachment. A KMZ file is actually a KML (XML) file zipped, so you can just rename the extension from KMZ to ZIP.

Easy solution to view bookmarks with Google Maps : uploade KMZ file to a web site, and use this type of URL : http://maps.google.com/?q=http://www.acme.com/my.file.kmz

Alternatively, you can draw a route in Google Maps:

  1. Log on to Google
  2. Head to https://maps.google.com/maps/myplaces
  3. Draw the route, either manually or by just filling the A (source) and B (destination) fields
  4. Save the route in My Maps
  5. Click on the KML file
  6. By default, the route is drawn in purple, but you can edit the KML file to change the color to bright, opaque red with "FF0000FF".

In the phone, to add a bookmark on an empty zone, keep your finger pressed for a couple of seconds.


First, download the World basemap. If you need more details for a given area, download finer-tuned maps, either as "Roads-only map" (lighter) or "Regular map" (heavier, about 10x).

If you want to contribute to OSM, enable the "OSM Editing" plug-in.

Slow to redraw map when zooming in/out

One region = one map, so before heading for a region which is currently not available in the phone and where a data connection won't be available, remember to download maps ahead of time.




The app records a track and lets you add nodes for later saving/uploading.

The default buttons are car-related, but can be reconfigured by writing an XML file with eg. bike-related buttons.


Cue Sheet

Cue Sheet can import GPX files.

Can it download maps for offline use?

Gaia GPS


Adding registered OSM users as editors

New users can register through http://www.openstreetmap.org > Sign Up


Note: As of Nov 2019, http://umap.openstreetmap.fr requires that new Umap users create at least one map of their own before they show up in the list of editors in someone else's maps.


Hide map: Only those who know the URL can edit

Simply log onto Umap without creating any map beforehand: User shows up map's Editor list?

How to add custom icons for POIs

  1. Upload icon file to external web server, eg. http://www.acme.cm/myicon.png . Umap will resize the original file on the fly, so you can even use eg. 512px
  2. Shape Properties > Icon Symbol > Change Symbol > Set symbol.

"Symbol can be either a unicode caracter or an URL. You can use feature properties as variables: ex.: with "http://myserver.org/images/{name}.png", the {name} variable will be replaced by the "name" value of each marker."

How to add dynamic layers

Here's how to add a live layer, ie. that will actually just download data from a layer on a remote Umap map:

  1. On the remote map, hide all the layers but the one you wish to point to in your own map. You can only export one layer at a time, ie. one local live layer = one remote layer
  2. Click on the "Export and share" button on the left
  3. On the right hand-side, click on "iframe export options", and set "Keep current visible layers" to ON
  4. Above, in the URL shown in the edit box where the iframe sequence is shown, find the layer's datalayers ID, eg. datalayers=123456.

    The URL will then be http://umap.openstreetmap.fr/fr/datalayer/123456/
  5. Close the remote map
  6. On your own map, add a new layer
  7. Edit the layer, and click on "Remote data"
  8. Paste the URL pointing to the remote layer; As Format, choose "geojson"

    Note: There are two options that are OFF by default: "Dynamic" is used to "Fetch data each time map view changes.", while "Proxy" is to use "if remote server doesn't allow cross domain (slower)".
  9. Save, exit Edit mode, and reload.

If it fails, check the URL, and if it's still doesn't work, ask in the forum.

Note: As of Feb 2018, it looks like Umap won't let you link multiple layers to a single layer, eg. …/123%2C456/ ("Problem in the response".)


How to change the default icon used for waypoints in a given layer

How to stop Umap from displaying a layer's label when clicking on it

Tips on using GPS

Here's how to use the GPS module effectively, either when contributing to OSM or just riding around.

Speeding up GPS locking

GPS-capable smartphones rely on different sources of information to know your whereabouts:

The first two (GSM and wifi) require a data connection so that the phone can upload those infos to Google and download your location. As a result, this won't work when disabling data roaming while travelling overseas to save money; In this case, the only way to find your location is by locking GPS signals, which can take several minutes, or can be impossible altogether (small streets, heavy woods.)



Is it possible to hide the left-side column in OSM (the part that says "OpenStreetMap The Free Wiki World Map")

As of October 2013, it's not possible but is planned. In the meantime, use web filters such as Adblock, Privoxy, GreaseMonkey, etc.

The OSM map (MapNik) is hard to read (too detailed)

Check Mapquest Open (from MapQuest). Changing what features are shown on a map tile is not possible, unless you render your own map tiles. See switch2osm.

How to download maps for off-line use?

Downloading map tiles for offline use may breach the tile usage policy. The OSM data is freely available, scraping map tiles has a high impact on the servers and is not recommended. Andy, who created the cyclemap, does sell a micro SD card with opencyclemap data on it for some GPS receivers.

Some applications for Android like MapsWithMe or OsmAnd allow downloading OSM maps for offline use.

What is the easiest way to add locations and/or correct errors seen in OSM?

Just click on Edit. As of Sept 2013, it'll use the HTML5-based Id application.

How to draw a route before leaving?

There are several web sites that let you draw a route on your computer, and export it as a GPX file that you can import in your Android smartphone. All of those below actually rely on Google Maps:

What is OSMTracker?

OSMTracker "allows you to track your journey and mark significant way points. Way points can be marked with a tag using a button, with a quick voice record, a text note or by taking a picture. The various button pages and layouts can be customized to suit your OpenStreetMap activities. You can view your current track on top of an OpenStreetMap background.

The track is then exported in GPX format, ready to use in OSM tools like JOSM."

Offers too few amenities.


How to configure OCM to default to a given city?

How often is OCM updated from OSM?

How to always open on given location instead of "Putney, UK"?

How to hide two squares at bottom?

How to add topography infos (hills)?

How to contribute (missing cycle lanes)? Read the beginners' guide

How to get mousewheel to work to zoom in/out?

Works OK when viewed through the OCM layer on the OSM map. Could be some JavaScript stripped by a web proxy.

How to display scale (km's)?

How to see attributes of location?

eg. how to check business hours or URL of cycle shop?

Transport Map

How to know if a train line is actually still in operation?

For instance, it seems like the train line that leaves Orléans eastward and ends around Les Bordes is actually closed.

How to know if a train line is for passengers or freight?

Can OpenStreetMap display train stations as big, visible icons in a region, so I know that a train station is close to where I'd like to go without zooming in and out a bunch of times around the area?

Other subjects

What is A-GPS?

Speeds up GPS locking significantly by downloading satellite data indirectly from servers on the Net. Usually requires a data connection, but it seems like A-GPS data can also be downloaded through GSM.


Simple Android app to update AGPS data?

GPS Status = too many features

FasterFix, FasterGPS = root required

How to know which GPS chip is in my Android phone?

What should I do before going for a trip?

Here are some tips to reduce the time your (Android) smartphone takes to lock GPS signals:

  1. Enable GPS as early as possible before using a GPS-based application, and leave the phone in direct sight of the sky so that it can lock satellites. Always leave GPS on, as it will only drain batteries when a GPS-based application is actually run
  2. Enabling Wifi speeds things up, even if you don't actually connect to any hotspot, because wifi hotspots provides more information to locate you in addition to GSM relay antennas and GPS signals.
    However, GPS + Wifi use a lot of battery, so use sparingly, upgrade to a bigger battery, or bring an external battery
  3. DOESN'T ANDROID DO THIS ALREADY? Install the free app GPS Status, and use A-GPS: Switch GPS on; Menu (vertical "...") > Tools > Manage A-GPS state > Reset followed by Menu > Tools > Manage A-GPS state > Download (More infos about what GPS Status does)
  4. Once you start using GPS-based applications, keep the smartphone in your hand or pocket instead of deep in your bag
  5. Upgrade from stock Android to CyanogenMod.

OSM Peeves