This weekend I started down the road to fulfilling one of my New Year Resolutions: Get some maps online. And by maps online, I don’t mean posting links to KML files, screen shots, or PDF exports from ArcGIS. I mean full-fledged interactive maps viewable by anyone with a browser. On top of that, I had one more goal. I wanted to do this with as little extra cost to me as possible. This is going to be a learning experience for me, not a paying job.
The Map Server
I’ve put a lot of thought into this. It’s something that’s been on my mind for a long time, and I’ve looked into a few options. Choosing a map server was relatively easy. There appear to be three major players in the map server arena. ESRI’s ArcGIS Server, GeoServer, and MapServer. There are others mentioned on Wikipedia’s Web Map Service page, but these are the three that seem to be discussed most often. ArcGIS Server was out of the question for obvious reasons. Thousand$ of obviou$ reason$. GeoServer and MapServer are two Open Source options, but GeoServer seems to be the more popular option among the open source crowd. I’m not one to pick an option based solely on its popularity, but in this case, popularity also means more discussion in the forums, which in turn means it’s easier to find a solution to any problems that might arise during my own learning process. So, GeoServer it was. You can download GeoServer directly from GeoServer.org, but I decided to go the OpenGeo Suite Community Edition route. What led me to that decision was their great White Paper on The OpenGeo Architecture, which is the most concise, easy to read explanation of how all the pieces fit together that I’ve found anywhere on the web.
The Web Server
The most difficult decision in this whole process was how to host this beast. Yes, I know, I could just install GeoServer on my laptop and play with it there, but I wanted to make these maps public. Isn’t that the whole point of a server, be it geo or otherwise? I have been looking at Amazon Web Services, and signed up for a AWS Free Usage Tier account when they started offering them. The problem with AWS is, it’s just so darn complicated to get something set up. I am getting better at finding my way around there, but I still get lost once in a while. Plus, the free accounts require using a Linux operating system. I’ve been experimenting with Ubuntu at home, but I’m much more comfortable working in a Windows world. And Windows usually means paying for cloud computing space (e. g. $58/month at Rackspace). If you’re interested in looking at the AWS option, I highly recommend you take a look at what @spara has done: Install GeoServer on Amazon EC2 without leaving the browser.
The Home Server
I decided to merge this project with another I’ve been thinking about for some time now: setting up a home-based web server. I have an old Dell 600m laptop that’s just taking up space in my office. I have an extra copy of a Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade disc that comes with IIS7. Both were essentially free (to me anyway, your costs may vary). The only unknown was, would I be able to open this up for public viewing? The main roadblock to setting up a public server using a home internet connection is the use of dynamic IP addressing and port blocking by some (most?) ISPs. I was able to work around both of these obstacles by using DynDNS’s services, and setting my router and software settings appropriately. I wont go into the intricacies here, but if you do a Google search on either of these terms, a wealth of information will flood your browser.
the steps I followed to get things up and running:
- Wiped the hard drive on the Dell 600m laptop clean
- Installed the original XP OS, and then the Win 7 Home Premium upgrade
- Installed all updates through Windows Update
- Downloaded and installed the OpenGeo Suite
- Played around with GeoServer and GeoExplorer enough to get a basic map embedded on a web page
- Got a free Dynamic DNS host name at DynDNS.com
- Installed DynDNS Updater
- Modified my router settings to make sure the proper ports were open and forwarding to my laptop server
- Tested, changed settings, tested, changed settings, tested, tested, tested
- Scratched head, changed settings, tested, swore a few times, had a beer…
- Installed and set up Internet Information Services (IIS7)
- Set up a website using the web page with the embedded map I made with GeoServer/GeoExplorer
- Went through the whole “testing-scratch head-drink a beer” routine again
- Celebrated the results
Here’s a snapshot of the results on day 1:
And a Link to what it looks like now:
I’ll try to keep this link up-to-date, but this is all a test, and it is running on a home computer, so don’t be surprised if it’s not available 24/7.
Some of you that have seen this before this post asked the question”Great, but where’s the data?”
Well, that’s coming. Please be patient with me people :-). Baby steps. Baby steps.
I now have a few shapefiles uploaded and viewable on the site. Next step will be to dress up the web page a little bit.