How to Use Open Street Maps Routing: A Complete Guide to Effortless Navigation

Gone are the days of unfolding paper maps or getting lost in unfamiliar territory. Today, digital maps and routing tools are our trusted companions, helping us reach our destination quickly and without hassle.

One such tool that stands out in digital mapping is OpenStreetMap (OSM). OpenStreetMap is like the Wikipedia of maps—created and maintained by a community of passionate mappers worldwide. And the best part? It’s free and open-source. It means anyone can use it and contribute to it.

We’ve put together this detailed guide to help you get the most out of OpenStreetMap’s routing capabilities. It will walk you through the fundamentals of OSM routing, explain how it works, and highlight why many companies are making the switch.

So, let’s get started and equip you with advanced routing tools. These tools will help you excel in your trips or routes and save time, energy, and fuel.

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What is OpenStreetMaps?

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a community-created, open-source project to create a free world map. The best short way to describe it is the “Wikipedia of mapping.” 

This open-source routing software was created in 2004 by Steve Coast in the United Kingdom. The founders saw the need to create the tool to answer the issue of private ownership of mapping datasets and the restrictions placed upon the available mapping tools by corporations. 

The purpose is to make map data available worldwide. This project was made possible by the advent of lower-cost satellite navigation devices.

How is OpenStreetMap Data Collected?

The data is collected in a crowd-sourced and decentralized manner. The geographic data is collected from surveys, traced from aerial imagery, and imported from other freely licensed geodata sources. The data is also collected using GPS devices, aerial photography, and systematic ground surveys. 

Information is also collected in bulk from government and commercial sources. The team has unique processes to review automated imports to avoid technical and legal problems. Additionally, the OSM community continues to create data collection and analysis tools.

Many tools are used to create and edit data, including iD, MapBox, Potlatch, JOSM, MerKaartor, Vespucci, StreetComplete, and more. These tools are for every type of client and platform, including Apple iOs, Desktop, Android, and more.

How Does OpenStreetMap Routing Service Work?

The OpenStreetMap (OSM) database is structured to represent real-world features through several core objects: Nodes, Ways, Areas, and Relations. These objects are further defined by attributes known as Tags, which are key-value pairs providing specific details.

Objects and Tags Explained

While the data model might initially seem complex, examples make it clearer. For instance, a restaurant on the map can be represented as a Node (a single point) or an Area (a polygon). This restaurant would have a tag like amenity=restaurant. Additional tags such as cuisine=* or opening_hours=* can provide more specific information.

The iD editor conceals the intricate data structure to simplify user experience, making it more accessible for beginners. However, a basic understanding of this structure is beneficial when consulting the OSM Wiki. In the iD editor, users can view these hidden tags by expanding the Tags section in the side panel during the editing process.

Reasons Why Companies Switch to OpenStreetMap Routing

Companies increasingly turn to OpenStreetMap (OSM) for their routing needs for several compelling reasons. Let’s explore the key factors behind this shift:

  1. Free to use: Unlike many proprietary mapping services, OSM is free to use. This can significantly reduce costs, especially for businesses that require extensive mapping and routing capabilities.
  1. Open-source: The open-source nature of OSM allows companies to avoid expensive licensing fees associated with commercial mapping solutions.
  1. Easy API integration: Companies can use various open-source routing engines like OSRM (Open Source Routing Machine), GraphHopper, and Valhalla to integrate OSM data into their applications, providing tailored routing solutions.
  1. Multi-modal support: OSM routing can provide directions for different modes of transportation, including driving, cycling, walking, and public transit. This makes it versatile for various users and applications.
  1. Custom routes: Users can create custom routes based on their specific needs. For example, avoid highways, add waypoints, or select preferred roads. This flexibility allows for a more tailored navigation experience.
  1. Community-contributed data: The routing is based on data contributed by the OSM community. This includes road networks, paths, and points of interest. The collective effort of millions of users ensures that the data is rich and frequently updated.

Real-World Success Stories with OpenStreetMap Routing Engines

OpenStreetMap (OSM) routing engines are utilized across various industries to provide efficient and flexible navigation solutions. Here are some prominent examples:

1. Valhalla

Language: C++

Valhalla is a robust, feature-rich routing engine known for its flexibility and speed. It can handle global routing with a single instance. Valhalla supports dynamic routing profiles, allowing users to create and extend profiles for specific needs, such as long-distance hauling or heavy trucks. While it excels in flexibility, calculating long routes can be time-consuming.

2. OpenTripPlanner

Language: Java

OpenTripPlanner specializes in public transportation routing. It calculates routes and can be customized with GTFS data. While it is effective for small regions and city areas, scaling it to handle routing for entire countries or continents is challenging.

3. Open Source Routing Machine (OSRM)

Language: C++

OSRM is a high-performance routing engine known for its speed. It provides turn-by-turn routing and time-distance matrices. OSRM requires profile data to be precomputed and may need over 128GB of memory to operate efficiently. It is ideal for applications needing rapid response times for routing queries.

4. GraphHopper

Language: Java

GraphHopper is a fast and efficient routing engine written in Java. It offers turn-by-turn instructions and various road attributes for routes. Similar to Valhalla, GraphHopper supports dynamic route profiles, enhancing flexibility. It efficiently handles routing tasks between multiple points.

These engines demonstrate the diverse capabilities and applications of OSM routing technology, catering to different needs from public transport to long-haul trucking, and showcase the adaptability of OpenStreetMap in real-world scenarios.

Challenges Faced While Using OpenStreetMap Routing

Using OpenStreetMap (OSM) for routing offers many benefits, but it also comes with a set of challenges. Here are some of the issues faced while utilizing OSM routing. Let’s have a look at them:

1. Absence of built-in traffic data

OpenStreetMap does not provide traffic data. Hence, there is no room to insert live traffic conditions into OSM-based routing solutions. This can be a significant limitation for users who require real-time traffic information for accurate route planning.

2. Limited official support

OSM support is primarily community-based, which can be a double-edged sword. While forums and user groups provide a wealth of knowledge, official documentation and support can sometimes be lacking, making it harder for users to find specific solutions.

3. Steep learning curve

Navigating the extensive community resources and documentation can be challenging for new users. The learning curve is steep, and finding precise and relevant information may require significant time and effort.

Is There Any Alternate Routing Solution Available?

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a popular open-source free mapping tool known for its community-driven approach. However, for businesses seeking a more efficient and comprehensive solution, Upper Route Planner, a robust route planning and optimization software, stands out as an effective alternative to OpenStreetMap routing.

Upper is more than routing; it offers advanced features to streamline delivery operations. Here’s why Upper Route Planner is the superior choice for businesses:

1. Automated route planning and optimization

Upper’s intelligent and advanced routing algorithms ensure that routes are planned and optimized, considering multiple factors that ensure efficiency and reliability. Those factors include traffic conditions, delivery windows, vehicle capacities, and driver schedules to provide the most efficient routes possible.

2. Comprehensive integration

Upper seamlessly integrates with various platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, and Salesforce, ensuring your existing systems work harmoniously with our powerful routing capabilities​​.

3. Real-time GPS tracking

Stay informed and make instant decisions with live updates on your fleet’s location, providing full visibility over every delivery route​​.

4. Dynamic customer notifications

Enhance customer experience with real-time updates via text and email, reducing inquiries and boosting satisfaction​​.

5. One-click dispatch

Simplify your dispatch process with the ability to assign routes to multiple drivers with a single click, optimizing efficiency and reducing manual errors​​.

6. Electronic proof of delivery

Capture signatures and photos for each delivery, ensuring accountability and providing clear evidence of delivery completion​​.

Maximize Your Routing Efficiency With Upper

Experience the power of automated route planning, optimization, one-click dispatch, and route adjustments, ensuring your delivery operations are always efficient and reliable.

Frequently Asked Questions

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a free geographic database updated and maintained by a community of volunteers via open collaboration.

The main goal of OpenStreetMap routing is to calculate the shortest path from one point to another. OpenStreetMap data includes information for routing by many modes, including car, foot, bicycle, and horse. Many offline, embedded, and web-based routing services use OpenStreetMap data.

With OSM, you can create custom routes, avoid specific areas, and find the most efficient paths based on real-time data and user contributions.

Yes, OpenStreetMap is free to use in its current format! The tool has been growing in both usage and data map quality. It is also free and provides unlimited usage.

OpenStreetMaps is utilized by various individuals and organizations for various purposes, including travelers, cyclists, tech enthusiasts, developers, and delivery and logistics companies. This software has many users in many areas. For instance, it is used for hiking and geocaching. It is also used by large corporations that don’t want to pay to use APIs.


Finding the best free tool to create a routing map can be challenging. We hope this overview gives you a better idea of the open-source routing applications available on the market. 

As we have covered, the OSM tools are not quite as functional as the paid tools. However, they are growing in popularity. As always, please contact us if we’ve missed anything and if you have any other questions!

Author Bio
Rakesh Patel
Rakesh Patel

Rakesh Patel, author of two defining books on reverse geotagging, is a trusted authority in routing and logistics. His innovative solutions at Upper Route Planner have simplified logistics for businesses across the board. A thought leader in the field, Rakesh's insights are shaping the future of modern-day logistics, making him your go-to expert for all things route optimization. Read more.