GitHub for cartographers

“GitHub is a web-based hosting service for software development projects that use the Git revision control system. GitHub offers both paid plans for private repositories, and free accounts for open source projects.” – Wikipedia

So, I’ve only recently discovered the potential for cartographers to use GitHub.

On the face of it, GitHub is a platform for sharing source code and collaborating with others on projects – seemingly an exclusive club for coders – but I have discovered that this is simply not the case – there is much more to it and anyone can use it to share almost anything online.

Some cartographers have been using it for years now to share map-making resources; from symbols to software source code. As examples, the OpenStreetMap community are very active on GitHub and the UK QGIS User Group use it to share and collaborate.

My own experiences

When I first started looking into using GitHub myself, I came across this great article by Lauren Orsini on readwrite. The title ‘Don’t get scared, get started’ appealed to me as it summed up my sentiments at the time, and a line in the opening paragraph really jumped out to me; “Because it’s a social network that has completely changed the way we work.” Now social networks are something I’m familiar with – like most people nowadays, I use them regularly. This made GitHub seem immediately more approachable to me and I began thinking about it in a new light.

Once you start using it, you can see how the concept is similar to Facebook –  if you just replace ‘posts/photos’ with ‘files’ and ‘friends’ with ‘fellow geeks’. You can follow others and even star (Like) other peoples ‘files’. GitHub can be used to share all types of files, from PNG icons to geoJSON and CSV. It will store binary files (not text) happily alongside any code so you can share things like ESRI Shapefiles (.shp), True Type Fonts (.ttf), Bitmaps (.bmp) etc.

So, I have recently used it to share cartographic stylesheets, both at work (lots more to come) and personally. I am also currently working on some QGIS stylesheets (QML) for use with OSM Shapefiles from Geofabrik.

I use GitHub for Windows which makes it really easy to get files online straight from your desktop. The version control is really good and fully automatic. It maintains a snapshot of all your commits so you can always access previous versions of your work.

Some cool stuff…

Another awesome feature of GitHub is that it renders GeoJSON automatically on to a nice, interactive MapBox map and these are now diffable and customisable. This is really powerful for open geodata.

Here are some more examples of how GitHub is being used to share cartogarphic stylesheets:

Ross McDonald’s QGIS stylesheets (QML)

A CartoCSS template for OSM from MapBox

Standard OSM style re-implemented in CartoCSS


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