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Taking steps into Web GIS

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In June 2000 ESRI released ArcIMS 3.0 (in late 1999 we had ArcView 3.2). ArcIMS was the first ‘GIS for the web’ platform that I used, circa 2003. From memory I recall having plenty of ‘fun’ installing it on our intranet server. We were convinced by the numerous organisations that were either using it and providing convincing demonstrations, and the talk or hype(?) about companies seriously looking at its capabilities. Conferences extolled the virtues of web GIS (as they still do today). I started building ArcIMS services so we could hand all of the ‘map stuff’ that I was doing on a desktop to the end users so I could get on with more ‘GIS things’. How did we do this? We looked at the common requests that were time consuming, like drawing red boundaries around buildings/dwellings/land parcels, and this time saving helped build the business case.

Above is an example of an ArcIMS Web GIS; note this predates ‘slippy maps’!

I also remember being in a constant battle with Web Devs about what Web GIS was. This was a painful battle; map customisations became a 3 part mix of

1. the limitations of a Web based GIS system,

2. the Web Dev’s understanding of Web GIS and

3. GIS professionals’ understanding of web development

This was all way before web 2.0 and Google Maps / Google Earth. On reflection, the biggest mistake was to try a build a GIS software (layers, views, buttons/tools) that matched GIS on the desktop. Lesson learned? Perhaps not; even today this is the fundamental way Web GIS is displayed / contained in the browser. I can’t help but think of this cartoon.


Today, technology has improved alongside more choice and variety of products. There are plenty of web based GIS style interactive maps now displaying the deluge of Earth Observation data (Sentinel2 examples here, or perhaps this Proba-V one) Perhaps this is more of an alien world to the traditional Remote Sensor. Raster data was only previously seen as a base map, you know the thing you had to load in first before doing the ‘amazing’ GIS ‘stuff’ (normally vector based, but often to improve performance vector data tiled to rasters :)) and later more advanced geoprocessing. If you are working with Earth Observation data today the easiest way to reach your audience is through the web and web based GIS is still the most common way to do this. First you need to get a web GIS running on your machine locally and this is surprisingly easy to do and should take no more than 15-20mins.

  1. Ensure you are running the latest version of Java Runtime Environment
  2. Download and install WAMP Server for your OS, if you are successful local host will look similar to below (I am running v3.0.0, latest is v3.06)

3. Download and install geoserver 2.10.2. Then read the quick start guide. Then start up Geoserver; you should get a localhost looking similar to this:

4. Get the Openlayers plugin

5. Start developing. Many examples on the open layers page including this one on image filters.

Through localhost you can see how your data is going to be presented to the world. Being able to deliver EO related products and services through the web is fast becoming an essential part of the EO toolbox. This is just one implementation; there are plenty of others: get localhost working and you will be surprised at the number of pre-built tools that are available to you. It was certainly much easier to install this than ‘Web GIS’ was in 2003.