~clarkema >_

Lab Notes

Building OpenStreetMap tiles

12 February 2023

As part of my long-standing interest in all things offline and remote, I’ve been toying for a while with the idea of generating my own OpenStreetMap tiles so I can take an offline map with me on adventures.

While all the data and tools to do this are freely available, for a long time the process has sadly been far from straightforward.

Tilemaker changes all that.

Tilemaker is a convenient self-contained tool that generates vector tilesets directly from OSM PBF files, without requiring a database or any of the helpers and ceremony associated with many of the raster tools.

Let’s build and serve a simple default map of the UK.

Generating tiles

  1. Install tilemaker, either from source or via yay -S tilemaker on Arch. There also appears to be a nix package. There is a Debian package available in testing (Bookworm), but not yet stable (Bullseye.)

  2. Make a working directory, which I'll call map, along with a couple of sub-directories:

    $ mkdir map && cd map
    $ mkdir coastline tilesets
  3. Download https://osmdata.openstreetmap.de/download/water-polygons-split-4326.zip into the coastline directory and extract its contents:

    $ cd coastline
    $ curl -LO 'https://osmdata.openstreetmap.de/download/water-polygons-split-4326.zip'
    $ unzip water-polygons-split-4326.zip
    $ mv water-polygons-split-4326/w* .
    $ cd ..

    This is not strictly required but it allows tilemaker to generate sea tiles, which definitely improves the UK map.

  4. Grab config-openmaptiles.json and process-openmaptiles.lua from here, and save them in the working directory as config.json and process.lua.

  5. Download an OSM planet extract. For the sake of experimentation I chose to just build maps for the UK so that the inevitable rebuilds due to learning and (later) tweaking configs would be less painful.

    Grab the .osm.pbf file for the country of your choice from Geofabrik

  6. Your working directory should now look like this:

    ├── coastline
    │   ├── water_polygons.cpg
    │   ├── water_polygons.dbf
    │   ├── water_polygons.prj
    │   ├── water_polygons.shp
    │   ├── water_polygons.shx
    │   ├── water-polygons-split-4326
    │   │   └── README.txt
    │   └── water-polygons-split-4326.zip
    ├── config.json
    ├── great-britain-latest.osm.pbf
    ├── process.lua
    └── tilesets
  7. Finally, build your tiles:

    $ tilemaker --input great-britain-latest.osm.pbf --output tilesets/gb.mbtiles

    On my machine this took around 4 minutes 35 seconds, and generated a 1.3GiB gb.mbtiles file from a 1.5GiB PBF.

Serving tiles

Now we have some tiles, let’s put together a simple viewer so we can admire them. Viewing the tiles requires a) a tile server; b) a map display library; and c) a little HTML to tie everything together.

We’ll use mbtileserver to serve the tiles. Assuming you have the Go toolchain installed, you can install mbtileserver with:

$ go install github.com/consbio/mbtileserver@latest

By default this will leave you with a binary in $HOME/go/bin. From the maps working directory you can just run this with no arguments as

$ $HOME/go/bin/mbtileserver

It will automatically serve everything it finds in tilesets.

Viewing tiles

Finally we can put together a simple front-end. We’ll use MapLibre as the mapping library, and Caddy to serve our resources.

  1. Still in the maps working directory we made above,

    $ mkdir -p srv/www/resources/fonts
    $ cd srv
  2. Make a new Caddyfile:

    :8888 {
        root www
        # Reverse proxy everything under /services to mbtileserver on
        # its default port
        handle /services/* {
            reverse_proxy http://localhost:8000
        # Serve everything else as a static file
        handle {
  3. Add an index file at srv/www/index.html:

    <!DOCTYPE html>
            <script src='https://unpkg.com/maplibre-gl@latest/dist/maplibre-gl.js'></script>
            <link href='https://unpkg.com/maplibre-gl@latest/dist/maplibre-gl.css' rel='stylesheet' />
                body { margin: 0; padding: 0; }
                #map { position: absolute; top: 0; bottom: 0; width: 100%; }
            <div id='map' style='width: 800px; height: 600px;'></div>
            var map = new maplibregl.Map({
                container: 'map',
                style: 'style.json', // stylesheet location
                center: [-1.1398,52.6369], // starting position [lng, lat]
                zoom: 9 // starting zoom
            map.addControl(new maplibregl.FullscreenControl());
  4. The style.json file referenced in the script section above tells MapLibre where to find its tiles and how to render them. I “borrowed” the one used on the tilemaker example website here; all you need to do is update sources.openmaptiles.url and glyphs to point to your local spec file and fonts (see next steps):

      "sources": {
        "openmaptiles": {
          "type": "vector",
          "url": "/spec.json"
      "sprite": "https://openmaptiles.github.io/osm-bright-gl-style/sprite",
      "glyphs": "/resources/fonts/{fontstack}/{range}.pbf",

    You can see my full version at: https://paste.sr.ht/~clarkema/aa991766ee5109b3127edec697fd419d645cb258.

  5. The spec file (srv/www/spec.json) defines a tile source. Update the template URL to point to your local server. The gb in the URL below comes from the name of the gb.mbtiles file we generated with tilemaker; if we'd been generating a map of Iceland with tilemaker [...] --output tilesets/iceland.mbtiles then the URL would be http://localhost:8888/services/iceland/tiles/{z}/{x}/{y}.pbf

      "tilejson": "2.1.0",
      "name": "tilemaker_default",
      "attribution": "",
      "description": "Tiles made with Tilemaker",
      "version": "1.0.0",
      "scheme": "xyz",
      "tiles": [
      "minzoom": 0,
      "maxzoom": 14,
      "bounds": [ -180, -85.05112877980659, 180, 85.0511287798066 ],
      "center": [ -1.247,51.761,10 ]
  6. The final resources we need are some fonts. These are available from https://github.com/klokantech/klokantech-gl-fonts; just clone the repository and drop all the directories into your resources/fonts directory.

  7. Your working directory should now look like this (lots of *.pbf files elided under the font directories):

    ├── coastline
    │   ├── water_polygons.cpg
    │   ├── water_polygons.dbf
    │   ├── water_polygons.prj
    │   ├── water_polygons.shp
    │   ├── water_polygons.shx
    │   ├── water-polygons-split-4326
    │   │   └── README.txt
    │   └── water-polygons-split-4326.zip
    ├── config.json
    ├── great-britain-latest.osm.pbf
    ├── process.lua
    ├── srv
    │   ├── Caddyfile
    │   └── www
    │       ├── index.html
    │       ├── resources
    │       │   └── fonts
    │       │       ├── KlokanTech Noto Sans Bold
    │       │       ├── KlokanTech Noto Sans CJK Bold
    │       │       ├── KlokanTech Noto Sans CJK Regular
    │       │       ├── KlokanTech Noto Sans Italic
    │       │       └── KlokanTech Noto Sans Regular
    │       ├── spec.json
    │       └── style.json
    └── tilesets
        └── gb.mbtiles
  8. Fire up your server with caddy run and visit http://localhost:8888/

The final result

screenshot of a vector map of Leicester

There’s a lot more to be done before this is a truly self-contained offline mapping system with all the features I’d eventually like—the proof-of-concept presented here needs tidying, packaging, all the JS and other external resources need to be vendored, etc... then there’s routing and geocoding to explore and I’m sure an endless rabbit-hole of map styling to fall down.

Still, I’m really pleased with this as a start! The people behind Tilemaker have done an amazing job at making these kinds of results accessible to those who aren’t well-versed in OpenStreetMap arcana.