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Best Free Geospatial Tools

10 of the Best Free Geospatial Tools

The functions and possibilities of the GIS software we have today are seemingly endless. Although it is highly convenient to buy into a one-stop shop GIS application, there are a few nifty free tools that can help you get around pop up issues, or allow to streamline processes without going through an in depth implementation. 

As GIS continues to migrate into web applications, the use of GeoJSON file types have become common place. However, GeoJSON files are still relatively new file types, and you can encounter usability and performance problems when trying to download or transfer files. Here, we have compiled a list of the best, free geospatial tools for doing everything from easy downloading of large datasets, simplified data editing, high-quality LiDAR file compression, or file type conversion. Some of these tools you may already be familiar with, and others may be new to you, but hopefully you find a new favorite regardless.

Geodata Downloader

Geodata Downloader is browser application that will download all the data in an ArcGIS feature layer onto your computer. It is not limited by maximum query size, and can download any size dataset, so this is still really helpful even for large files. You can also customize the extent area and select the output columns. All you do is plug in the URL for the feature service you want to download, and click Load. Keep in mind this tool is only supported in Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and somehow, Opera. 

Geojson.io 

Geojson.io is a tool for converting or creating simple geographical data features, like point, line and polygon data. As you draw your feature on the map, the supporting GeoJSON code will appear on the right-hand side. It’s also possible to import some existing files for conversion, you can even drag and drop the file straight onto the map.  Any features created or imported can be saved in a variety of file types like Shapefile, CSV, KML or, of course, GeoJSON.

Want to learn more about what it took to create geojson.io? Listen to our podcast with the creator, Tom MacWright

Geoman.io 

Geoman.io is almost identical to the above application. It has a paid pro version with additional features, but all the basic features like drawing, editing, cutting and rotating are available in the free version. You also have the same range of file types to export. It’s hard to choose between the two applications, Geoman.io generally has a more appealing user interface, however, editing a feature you have created is not as straight forward as it is in geojson.io.

Ogre  

If you’re using Geojson.io or another web mapping application that cannot read shapefiles, you’ll need to convert them. Ogre is a really simple tool to convert shapefiles to GeoJSON files and vice versa. Orge leverages ogr2ogr, a GDAL tool. The simple conversion interface allows you to move between KML, SHP, CSV, and a selection of other formats, and GeoJSONs. It even allows you to instantly output a file that is compatible with Mapbox, and change coordinate system if necessary. 

Mapshaper

Mapshaper allows you to simplify vector data and export it into a variety of file types. Drop your files into the box and you can get started simplifying the data. By simplifying vector data and removing the fine details and extra vertices you’ll be able to reduce the overall file size. This is a great tool if you’re working with large GeoJSON files that need to be shrunk down to stream more easily in web applications or viewers. Once you have made your edits you can export into a wide variety of file types. For inputs, it supports Shapefiles, GeoJSONs, TopoJSON, CSV, and a few others. The GitHub repo offers a set of command line tools as well, in case you want to bypass the web interface. That page offers great documentation on the capabilities of Mapshaper, so definitely take a look if you plan to use this tool regularly. 

LASZIP

https://laszip.org/ LASzip is a simple desktop download used to compress, and decompress LiDAR data, without any loss of data. If you download LiDAR data, due to the traditional large file sizes, you’ll usually download a zipped laz file. You can use this tool to decompress laz files to a usable las file. It is not a web application, but the download is free and fast. This tool is very popular in the GIS community, and award-winning. The website’s index also provides an excellent catalog of free sample LiDAR data, making it a great one-stop location for your LiDAR projects. 

GeoJSON Maps 

GeoJSON Maps allows you to download your own custom vector map of any country or region around the globe. It enables you to do away with the need to download tiles or features for every section of the map, and then clipping for what you want. Overall, it’s very easy to use, you can select the resolution you want from higher (10 meter) to lower resolution (110 meter), and then you select the countries or regions you want. The application will then spit out the HTML/CSS script, a preview, and the GeoJSON file. It even lays out the steps for integrating your new vector file and code snippet with Leaflet. 

OpenLayers

OpenLayers is one of the most popular geospatial web applications. It provides a front-end JavaScript library of code for map tiles, and vector layers required for web mapping or mobile applications. It also includes guidelines and code for building a web map from scratch. If you need some help, definitely take advantage of their quick start and tutorials. It is completely free, there’s no sign in or account required. 

Want to learn more about OpenLayers? We have a show for that too!

Geoapify

Are you tired of paying for geocoding? Well, if you are willing to break your dataset into chunks of 500 rows or fewer, Geoapify will geocode them for free! No account is required, you simply upload an Excel, CSV, or text file, and let this tool do its thing. You can even copy and paste a list of addresses directly into the interface. The results are impressively accurate, and if you want to scale its capabilities, the API option allows 3000 requests a day for free, and a paid tier is available. 

GDAL

We haven’t forgotten GDAL– the Geospatial Data Abstraction Library, an almost essential raster and vector data library which is no secret to many in the geospatial community. GDAL is a translator library that allows you to read, write and manipulate both raster and vector data formats. GDAL is really useful for processing large amounts of data, particularly where you need to repeat the same process with multiple datasets.

Want to hear more about GDAL? Check out our Mapscaping episode with Paul Ramsey

Back to the Basics 

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the really simple tools in favor of the more complex tools. Here are three simple tools that might be just what you’re looking for:

KMZ 2 SHP

If you have a file that you simply want to convert, and don’t need to edit. The KMZ 2 SHP tool is about as simple as it gets. Find your file, select the output type (either KML, KMZ, GeoJSON, or Shapefile), hit Convert, and you’re done. It’s simple, fast, and free. 

Projection Wizard

Projection Wizard helps you find an appropriate projection for your map. While you don’t always need to manually set the extent, if you do, this tool is really easy. Just drag the box outline where you want your map to center on and you can see a preview of the map extent. If anything, it’s just fun to drag around the extent and watch the projection adjust. You can even select how to minimize distortion (Equal-area/conformal/equidistant). Really nifty, simple tool and once again, completely free.

Latitude and Longitude Finder

This is taking things right back to basics. For whatever reason, if you need to find out the GPS coordinates of a particular location, Latlon.net will give you the coordinates for any location you select on earth. You can either manually select the location on the map or add the street address. This simple website has the task covered. 

Was that more than 10 tools? We won’t tell if you don’t.