How IGN tile servers work?

In my previous blog article I introduced an IGN – Google Maps integration library. In this post I want to explain how IGN map server interface.

IGN ‘chops’ the world into small square tiles 256 x 256 pixel each. The size is equal to Google map tiles. Image format is JPG (Google uses PNG images).

There are 5 tile servers (as for 2011.04.11) –, where 0 <= N <= 4. The tile URL is composed in the following manner:
http://ts|tile server index||map type|;z=|UTM zone|;r=|map scale|;i=|tile x coordinate|;j=|tile y coordinate|.jpg


  • tile server index – as commented before
  • map type – topo map identifiers useful for outdoor activities:
    • 1:1,000,000 – mapa_millon
    • 1:200,000 – mapa_mtn200
    • 1:50,000 – mapa_mtn50
    • 1:25,000 – mapa_mtn25
  • UTM zone – just the number, without hemishere designator and latitude band. Mainland Spain range: 29-31, Canary Islands: 27-28
  • map scale – Map scale pixels per meter multiplied by 1000. Must be a power of 2. The highest value that works (according to my checks) is 2048000 (2,048 m/px), the lowest is 1000 (1 m/px)
  • tile x-y coordinates – cartesian coordinates of a tile (in a propietary IGN coordinate system). More on this later in this article

An example of a tile:;z=30;r=256000;i=5;j=68.jpg

How to calculate tile (cartesian) coordinates?

IGN uses UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) coordinate system indirectly to calculate tile (x, y) references.

Flash introduction to UTM – it “flattens” the earth surface into zones (where we assume that the surface is not spherical but flat). To reference an earth point with an UTM coordinate, you need three numbers: UTM zone (reference to the grid rectangle), x and y. x gives you the distance from the central meridian of each zone (“false easting”) in meters. The zone meridian has a fixed (artificial) value of 500,000 (to avoid negative coordinates). y gives you the distance from earth’s equator (in meters too). As you see, using UTM is useful to get a grasp of distances (if point A’s UTM coordinates are (500,000, 2,000,000) and B’s (500,000, 2,001,000) they are 1000 m = 1 km away).

The IGN tile coordinate is based on the UTM coordinate of the lower left pixel and map scale (in meters per pixel). Lower left pixel of the (0, 0) IGN tile corresponds to (0, 0) UTM point. Since each tile has 256 pixels, it represents the world fragment in a scale and UTM coordinate unit is meter, (1, 1) tile’s lower left pixel corresponds to:

(1 * 256 [px] * scale [m/px], 1 * 256 [px] * scale [m/px]) UTM point.

e.g. for 128 m/px scale, (1, 1) tile’s lower left pixel UTM is (32768, 32768).

generalizing, for given a (i, j) tile and scale, lower left pixel UTM is:

(i * 256 [px] * scale [m/px], j * 256 [px] * scale [m/px])

To calculate tile IGN coordinates (given a tile scale) that cover a point with given UTM coordinates:
(floor(x / (256 [px] * scale [m/px])), floor(y / (256 [px] * scale [m/px])))

Notice that x UTM coordinates can be negative and thus tile coordinates. UTM (-1, 4000000) point (lat-lng: 36.01619ºN, 8.54615ºW) in the 30N zone is legal, although it lies outside of the zone (which spans from 6ºW to 0º). It’s supported by the IGN tile server – it can return tiles covering areas outside of an UTM zone, although with higher projection errors.

IGN – Google Maps integration library

What is IGN?

IGN stands for Instituto Geográfico Nacional (National Institute of Geography), a public institution in Spain. Its functions include maintaining spatial data and to producing topographical maps of the country.

What maps does the IGN offer (that are interesting for outdoor activities)?

  • topo maps in 1:1,000,000, 1:200,000 y 1:50,000 and 1:25,000 scales
  • satellite imagery from Landsat 7 and SPOT 5 satellites
  • PNOA aerial imagery (PNOA – Plan Nacional de Ortofotografía Aérea, National Plan of Aerial Orthophotography)

How can I get the maps?

You can see rendering differences between SigPac and Iberpix on the picture below:

Why another viewer?

My idea was to display IGN map tiles on Google Maps canvas by implementing a custom (Google Maps) map type. In this way I can use Google Maps API to draw waypoints, paths, etc. If you mix it with Garmin Communicator Plugin API, you get a full-blown outdoor trip planning tool like Garmin MapSource, written entirely in JavaScript. Ok, there are maps of Spain for Garmin devices (Garmin’s Topo Spain, free Topo Hispania), but they IGN maps are more vivid and differentiate better between paths, tracks and forest roads.

What is IGN-Google Maps integration library?

Currently, it is not a full-feature viewer. The library offers a custom google.maps.ImageMapType, consisting of a google.maps.Projection and google.maps.ImageMapTypeOptions

I took a different approach than taken e.g. by Wikiloc. I didn’t want to make the IGN tile layer interchangeable with maps offered by Google. It means that for a given zoom or scale, you cannot switch between a Google map and IGN map and get the same view. This is possible in Wikiloc, but at expense of correct visualization and smooth zooming. I wanted just to have an independent IGN map viewer implemented in Javascript (ok, you depend now on Google Maps API that is closed source).

The source code has a comprehensive test suite implemented with Jasmine. Doing BDD on a broader scale and in Javascript was a completely new experience for me. With Jasmin it makes fun – the library is intuitive to use and well documented. As a bonus you get a mocking framework – no extra libraries required.

There are some TODOs in the project (they are described in On the next days I’ll try to fix them, depending on my spare time.

Where can I get the library?

I just published the very first version on the Github: The API is not stable yet and may change in the future.

How is it licenced?

MIT licence. You are free “to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software” = fork it and hack on it.

What are next steps?

I’d like to use it in Abredatos 2011 contest. Abredatos is a 48-hour programming challenge. You are supposed to developed a working application making use of at least one Spanish public datasource. It will be held on May 7th-8th 2011.

My idea is to develop the previously mentioned track & route manager with IGN maps and Garmin integration. If you want to participate, drop me an email/tweet.