Openlayers vs Leaflet: What Makes One Better Than the Other

So, Openlayers vs Leaflet, which one to choose? Let’s look at that comparison and see which one would be the best to use.

Leaflet and OpenLayers are two leading javascript libraries. They are popular for embedding interactive maps on websites. Customers might wonder which is best for building a web app with the Map Suite WebAPI Edition.

It is difficult to pick one that is best for everyone because it depends on the needs and preferences of the developer.

For both libraries, an abundance of documentation is available. Both also work reliably on mobile devices. Therefore, in those areas, both Leaflet and OpenLayers perform similarly. To make the choice, other questions must be answered.

Professionals with experience using both options have compared them as a help to anyone deciding which to use. It highlights their performance, strong aspects, and points of improvement in a variety of situations.

OpenLayers

What is OpenLayers?

OpenLayers is the first open-source JavaScript library. It makes and adds features for displayable maps for web browsers. Titles, markers, and vector data can be loaded from any source and included in a dynamic map. It is expandable into web-based geographic applications with API.

It has been licensed under the BSD 2-clause license and is, therefore, free to use. Its mission is to help develop the use of different forms of geographic information.

OpenLayers reads coordinates in the LonLat format and this can be confusing. Many other map libraries use the inverse, LatLon. From the standpoint of the geographic information system (GIS), the former is actually more accurate.

Features

  • Tiled layers: Sources for tiles are Bing, MapBox, MapQuest, OSM, Stamen, and any other XYZ source. OGC mapping servers are also supported.
  • Fast and mobile ready: Mobile support is incorporated. The whole purpose of the library is to be lightweight and concise.
  • Vector layers: GeoJSON, GML, KML, and TopoJSON are compatible and can be used to render vector data. Many other formats will expand the list in due course.
  • Innovative and easy to Customize: The combination with Canvas 2D, HTML5, and WebGL brings out the best in map rendering. The straightforward map styling is controlled with CSS.

Documentation

The documentation includes a QuickStart, tutorials, and many examples, however, some of the examples are obsolete.

Despite the excellent structuring of the library, its extensiveness makes it easy to get lost in.

Community

The OpenLayers libraries are used for GIS purposes. For this reason, the OpenLayers community is not as big compared to the Leaflet community. For example, googling “OpenLayers StackOverflow” returned only 52,700 results.

JavaScript

More code is required with OpenLayers. Version 3 is a simpler API and requires more Java code writing. This can be an advantage for a higher degree of customization. A more advanced API gives less freedom.

Additionally, the code is well-structured and provides better MVC separation.

Leaflet

What is Leaflet?

Leaflet is the second option, being an open-source JavaScript library that creates mobile-friendly interactive maps.  It is small (only 38 KB), but it is complete with all the necessary features for developing online maps. It makes responsive maps that can be viewed on any device and browser.

Leaflet is one of the leading open-source JavaScript libraries for interactive maps. The code is available, modifiable and its use is free under a BSD-2 Clause license.

It is simple and light-weight. The QuickStart tutorial is all that needed to get started with Leaflet.

Features

  • Tile layers
  • Drag panning with inertia
  • Zoom with mouse wheel
  • Animated zoom
  • Polyline/polygon rendering
  • Multi-touch zoom
  • Hardware acceleration on iOS

Documentation

The Leaflet documentation contains many examples and tutorials. The Information API is quick, easy to find, and is well-structured.

The basic documentation is, however, very basic. Searching the internet is the easiest way to obtain specific information.

Community

As the most popular maps Javascript library, Leaflet has an extensive community. The meager documentation is made up of the many real-life examples from the community.

JavaScript

A minimal amount of coding is required to work with Leaflet. It has a more advanced API than OpenLayers 3 and thus requires a less technical background.

To make something beyond what Leaflet offers requires a lot of code writing unless a plugin is used.

Openlayers vs Leaflet

Developers describe Leaflet as a “JavaScript library for mobile-friendly interactive maps”. It is tiny and contains all the everyday features. OpenLayers is a high-performance, feature-packed library. It loads, displays, and renders maps from different sources.

When to Use OpenLayers

OpenLayers offers more options, but also requires more time to understand. Creating a simple map requires familiarity with using projections.

However, if the objective requires the use of different Geo data sources, projections, and integration with other GIS applications, OpenLayers is the right choice.

Likewise, if the applications have to contain many features and functionalities, OpenLayer is the way to go. With a larger and more complex API, it is more suited to go beyond the standard functions.

In the end, OpenLayers is better at using map projections. Then again, the more powerful API, the more learning and training required.

When to Use Leaflet

Leaflet is much easier to understand and learn how to operate than OpenLayers.

So, if you only need to include a simple map without complex GIS applications, Leaflet is fine. The complicated thing is working with GeoJSON, and there is no need to work with projections.

Leaflet works for maps with basic requirements, like map tiles, panning, and zooming. The API is easy to understand and use. It becomes complicated when more advanced features are needed.

You might find a  plugin that does all the hard work but if not, it will require a lot of coding to get the job done.

Lightweight is the main reason some developers use Leaflet, while many others choose OpenLayers because of its flexibility.

Ending thoughts on OpenLayers vs Leaflet

It is complicated to say which of the two is the best tool. It completely depends on the user’s needs. For simple needs, Leaflet is the choice. If the needs are more complicated and using JavaScript code is not a problem, OpenLayers 3 is the way to go.

A third option is MapSVG. It is much more user-friendly than either OpenLayer or Leaflet and is packed with features. It is excellent for most mapping tasks with the advantage of Google Maps integration.

This map is created with MapSVG

Some of the included features of MapSVG are:

  • SVG map overlay with Google Maps
  • Custom SVG artwork
  • Seamless alignment with Google maps with LatLon coordinates.

It is easy to get started with MapSVG. First, you need to get Google API keys:

Maps JavaScript API key for:

  • For enabling Google Maps.
  • download a calibrated SVG file with a Google Maps screenshot.

Geocoding API key for:

  • Adding markers.
  • Importing locations as LatLon coordinates from a CSV file.
  • Searching for a location on Google Map

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