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Is Open Street Maps Routing the Right Option for Your Route Planning?

In our series of blog posts and articles, we have discussed many routing algorithms, websites, tools for driving directions for a variety of vehicle types. In all these articles, we have yet to consider the most prevalent open-sourced tool: open street maps routing.

What is this? As this medium article puts it, OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a community-sourced map of the world. In this article, we will look at a bit of the history of this open-source routing service, some of the practical uses, and finally, we will look at whether or not this tool is the right one for you.

What is OpenStreetMaps?



OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a community-created, open-source project to create a free map of the world. The best short way to describe it is the “Wikipedia of mapping.” A Foundation supports the full service. The Foundation is a non-profit organization in the UK.

Who created it?

This open-source routing software was created in 2004 by Steve Coast in the United Kingdom.

Why was it created?

OSM came into being in a fashion like Wikipedia. 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 bring the availability of map data across the world. This project was made possible with the advent of lower-cost satellite navigation devices.

How Does OpenStreetMaps Work?

What is the Purpose?

The data collected by the users and processes with the tools created geographic data and interface. The end goal of this project is to create a map interface for all countries with all roads, options, variants, points, distances, and locations.

How does OSM get its data?

The data is collected in a crowd-sourced and decentralized manner. The users can collect data using their GPS devices, aerial photography, and systematic ground surveys. Information is also collected in bulk from government and commercial sources. The team has unique processes in place to review automated imports to avoid any technical and legal problems. Additionally, the OSM community continues to create tools that aid in data collection and analysis.

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 many users does OSM have?

Upon launch, in 2008, there were 50,000 registered contributors. The growth of users has been constant ever since. By the end of 2009, there were 200,000 users. In April 2012, the users had tripled to 600,000. In 2013, the users had topped the critical benchmark of 1 million contributors. Upon the writing of this article, there are 6,000,000 registered users on the site.

Who are the End Users of OSM?

The main use cases for the data are certain users who want to create a paper map or an electronic one (primarily, like Google Maps). Other uses include routing and route planning (with tools like OSRM, for instance. Established users include Craigslist, Facebook, Seznam, Geocaching, and FourSquare. Many of the users will use GPS devices and OSRM for routing and mapping.

Are the Route Planning Tools Useful?

In February 2015, OSM added some route planning functionalities to the website. It does so by layering external services such as OSRM, GraphHopper, and MapQuest. To answer it’s the best street map route planner, we need to look at a bit closer at the pros and cons of OSRM and the other routing tools.

  • Completely Open Database: OSM is an open database, meaning you can have access to the whole database without limitations. In contrast to GoogleMaps, there are no limitations in terms of use and APIs.
  • Free to Use: The cost of use is free. Again, this contrasts with other services where they will charge you a certain amount to use their APIs or data.
  • Accessible to All: By being free to access, this means that it is available to everyone.
  • Growing Community: The community is growing every day. This growth means the data associated with the project is growing as well.
  • Inconsistent Data: There is an inconsistency of data. This fact occurs because the tool relies on contributors to create the map datasets.
  • Inaccurate routes: Some of the routes in the app can be outdated. This happens if there are new streets, or for instance, a highway whose properties have changed. The application tracks only so much street types and works as much as people provide feedback into it. Distance and approach for all intents and purposes may be a ways off.
  • Lack of Specific Information: There is also missing information in terms of the description of a specific point or path. Missing also are visualizations for certain vehicles. This means tools like OSRM won’t be able to give the correct routing graph in certain situations.
  • Lack of Traffic Information: When using your OSRM routing account, you can see in the browser that the app does not include traffic from cars on the road on which you are traveling.

In short, when you are using the routing options that are open-source and free, there are many limitations and is considered at the present unreliable and uncompetitive compared to the more established players.

For more information, please check out:
Best Route Planner App in 2020


In its current format, it is currently free! The tool has been growing in both usage and data map quality. Not only is it free, but it also provides unlimited usage.

There are many users in many areas for this software. For instance, it is used for hiking and also for 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 is a hard task. We hope this overview gives you a better idea of the open-source routing applications that are available on the market. As we have covered, the OSM tools are not quite at the level of functionality of 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!

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