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Mapnik is an open source community creating a tool to enable to the craft of making beautiful maps. Working together collaboratively towards this goal is what makes it all possible and fun.

We host our code on and encourage anyone interested to fork the repository and provide pull requests or patches for things they want to see added.

If you just have a question about the code, or a feature you want to discuss then feel free to create a new issue.

Code Philosophy

Look through the code to get an idea, and do not hesitate to ask questions.

Also read the design philosophy page for the motivations that lead to code decisions.

Templates are good, within reason. We seek to use templates were possible for flexible code, but not in cases where functional patterns would be just as concise and clear.

In general we use Boost, it makes more possible in C++. It is a big build time dependency (as in time to compile against and # of headers) but ultimately compiles to small object code and is very fast (particularly spirit). It also has no dependencies itself (it's really an extension to the C++ language) so requiring it is much easier than requiring a hard dependency that itself has other dependencies. This is a big reason that we prefer AGG to Cairo as our primary renderer. Also AGG, besides producing the best visual output, strikes an excellent balance between speed and thread safety by using very lightweight objects. Cairo not so much.

You will also notice that we don't use many of the standard geo libraries when we could. For instance we don't use GDAL, OGR, or GEOS anywhere in core, and only leverage them in optional plugins. We feel we can often write code that is faster and more thread safe than these libraries but that still does the job. If this ever changes we can adapt and start using these libraries or others as dependencies - nothing is nicer than standing on the shoulders of giants when it makes sense.

Code commits best practices.

Big changes - awesome as pull requests

We love big, aggressive refactoring - but ideally in branches. Even if the changes should go directly into the mainline code and are stable, very big changes are useful to see as a group and branches are cheap. So, branch and commit then create a pull request against master so that other developers can take a quick look. This is a great way for informal code review when a full issue is not warrented.

Commits that fix issues should note the issue

git commit plugins/input/ogr/ -m "implemented sql query in OGR plugin (closes #472)"

Commits that relate to issues should reference them:

git commit tests/python_tests/ -m "more robust sqlite tests - refs #928"

Commits that add a new feature or fix should be added to the CHANGELOG

Ideally the CHANGELOG can be a very concise place to look for the most important recent development and should not read like a full commit log. So, some developers may prefer to weekly or monthly look back over their commits and summarize all at once with additions to the CHANGELOG. Other developers may prefer to add as they go.


Mapnik is licensed LGPL, which means that you are a free to use the code in any of your applications whether they be open source or not. It also means that if you contribute code to Mapnik that others are free to continue using Mapnik in the same way, even with your new additions. If you choose to redistribute an application using Mapnik just make sure to provide any source code modifications you make back to the community. For the actual details see the full LGPL license in the COPYING doc.


Mapnik is an open source project and will always be, proudly, an open source project. Your contributions to Mapnik should be motivated by (amount other things) your desire to contribute to a community effort and by the knowledge that your open code will stay that way.

Artem, as the founder and leader of the Mapnik project, is the primary copyright holder and therefore also the primary contact for any current or future license questions around Mapnik. It is important that the copyright holder is respected, trusted, and known to the community so maintaining copyright with Artem is key to maintaining the project as open source.

Therefore, convention is that all new files created by any core developers or patch authors should have a copyright declaration like:

 * This file is part of Mapnik (c++ mapping toolkit)
 * Copyright (C) {YEAR} Artem Pavlenko
 * This library is free software; you can redistribute it and/or
 * modify it under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public
 * License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either
 * version 2.1 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.
 * This library is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
 * but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
 * Lesser General Public License for more details.
 * You should have received a copy of the GNU Lesser General Public
 * License along with this library; if not, write to the Free Software
 * Foundation, Inc., 51 Franklin St, Fifth Floor, Boston, MA  02110-1301  USA

Coding Conventions

Mapnik is written in C++, and we try to follow general coding guidelines.

If you see bits of code around that do not follow these please don't hesitate to flag the issue or correct it yourself.

Spaces not tabs, and avoid trailing whitespace

Indentation is four spaces

Use C++ style casts

static_cast<int>(value); // yes

(int)value; // no

Use const keyword after the type

std::string const& variable_name // preferred, for consistency

const std::string & variable_name // no

Pass built-in types by value, all others by const&

void my_function(int double val); // if int, char, double, etc pass by value

void my_function(std::string const& val); // if std::string or user type, pass by const&

Shared pointers should be created with boost::make_shared where possible

Use assignment operator for zero initialized numbers

double num = 0; // please

double num(0); // no

Function definitions should not be separated from their arguments:

void foo(int a) // please

void foo (int a) // no

Separate arguments by a single space:

void foo(int a, float b) // please

void foo(int a,float b) // no

Space between operators:

if (a == b) // please

if(a==b) // no

Braces should always be used:

if (!file)
    throw mapnik::datasource_exception("not found"); // please    

if (!file)
    throw mapnik::datasource_exception("not found"); // no

Braces should be on a separate line:

if (a == b)
    int z = 5;
    // more...

Prefer empty() over size() == 0 if container supports it

This avoids implicit conversions to bool and reduces compiler warnings.

if (container.empty()) // please

if (container.size() == 0) // no

Other C++ style resources

Many also follow the useful google which mostly fits our style. However, Google obviously has to maintain a lot of aging codebases. Mapnik can move faster, so we don't follow all of those style recommendations.

Emacs helper

To auto-convert to the above syntax you can put this in an .emacs file:

;;  mapnik c++ 

(setq c-default-style "bsd")
;; no tabs please
(setq indent-tabs-mode nil)
;; ident by four spaces
(setq c-basic-offset 4)
;; don't ident inside namespace decl
(c-set-offset 'innamespace 0)
(c-set-offset 'template-args-cont 'c-lineup-template-args)
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