So, Openlayers vs Leaflet, which one to choose? Let’s look at that comparison and see which one would be the best to use.
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.
What is OpenLayers?
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
What is Leaflet?
It is simple and light-weight. The QuickStart tutorial is all that needed to get started with Leaflet.
- Tile layers
- Drag panning with inertia
- Zoom with mouse wheel
- Animated zoom
- Polyline/polygon rendering
- Multi-touch zoom
- Hardware acceleration on iOS
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.
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
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
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.
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:
- 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
If you liked this article about OpenLayers vs Leaflet, you should also check out this article about free mapping software.
We also wrote about a few related subjects like indoor mapping, Mapbox vs Google Maps, online mapping tools, WordPress Google Maps plugins, Mapbox alternatives, OpenLayers vs Leaflet, and Mapbox vs Leaflet.
A bit obvious by now, but we really like maps so we wrote even more about subjects like the blank map of Italy, Africa, Australia, and a few others, about websites with maps using interactive maps, and SVG animation examples.