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Move your website into the spatial web

Monday, August 27th, 2012 by Servage

Spatial data is becoming increasingly popular to use for websites and apps. Services like Foursquare, Facebook and Google Maps are relying very much on places and other geo-referenced content, which the users wish to consume based on geographic search or location. Therefore handling geographic – or spatial – data is important to understand for web developers.

Database software

MySQL and PostgreSQL are some of the most popular database software, which is used by millions of websites around the world. PostgreSQL has spatial functionality though an extension called PostGIS, which has been widely acknowledged as one of the leading solutions for spatial databases for a long time. However, MySQL has improved and is not implementing spatial functions the right way as well, becoming really useful as of version 5.6.

Data types

Spatial functions can handle different types of geographical data types. The two most widely used are point and polygon. They are essentially just a single or multiple coordinates, defining the location of the point, or the locations of the polygon’s corners.

Display and drawing

Some data is fetched from archives and include the geo data you need, but sometimes you want to work with your own custom shapes. For example using some custom areas which you want to display as an overlay on a map. Before you can start storing your custom data in the database, fetch and display it – you need to have drawn the area you wish to display. There are tools that can help you with that. Scribblemaps is a cool web-based tool which allows you to draw simple stuff. This might quickly not be sufficient in functionality, but for the more advanced user there is QGis, which comes with a whole lot of advanced functions. For example it is easy to draw connecting polygons etc.

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