GIS, Cartographic and Spatial Analysis Tools: Web Mapping

This guide provides an overview of geographic software, libraries and tools supported by or recommended by RDS staff.


ArcGIS Online is the ESRI online mapping platform.  Affiliates can request a personal account through the Columbia Institutional subscription through the CIESIN GIS service center (under "request software authorization").  ArcGIS Online accounts can be used for data storage and sharing, web mapping and some spatial analysis.  Accounts may be necessary for use of other ESRI platforms including ArcGIS Pro and StoryMaps. 

ArcGIS StoryMaps is ESRI's platform for creating interactive, map-based, multi-media, narrative "scrollytelling" web projects. 

CARTO is a "platform as a service" that offers a limited free account.  Users can store data, create interactive web maps and access spatial analysis tools.  Mapbox is a similar platform that likewise offers a limited free account.

The Google Maps platform may odder limited free use with an account and API key.  Similar access is available to the Bing Maps API.

Data and Basemaps

The following is a partial list of tile servers and other basemap services that can be used for web mapping projects for limited free use. 

Many basemap services are based on OpenStreetMap data.   A partial list of these can be found at this OSM Wiki list of tile servers OpenMapTiles provides tools to allow users to create their own vector map tiles from OpenStreetMap data for hosting, self-hosting, or offline use.

We also reccommend this list of over 100 services used in the Leaflet-providers plugin.

Stamen Maps provides some popular map styles from OSM data. 

You can also access CARTO and MapBox basemaps through links on their respective pages. 

Likewise there are a number of ArcGIS Online Basemaps available for use. 


Leaflet is a lightweight open-source library for creating interactive maps in the browser using XYZ tile servers and/or WMS services.  Native support for data in GeoJSON format. 

MapBox.js is an open source library created by Mapbox that is built on top of and leaflet, adding a variety of functions and similarly working with raster tile servers abd GeoJSON. 

MapBox GL JS is the Mapbox library for creating browser based interactive maps from vector tiles. 

OpenLayers is an open source library for creating interactive tile maps in the browser.  Can pull tiles from available XYZ sources, also compatible with vector tiles.  Supports vector data in GeoJSON, KML, GML, WKT and others. d3-geo-projection is a plugin that provides extended geographic projections.

D3 Data-Driven Documents (D3) is a popular library for producing vector based data visualizations.  While not made specifically for cartography, D3 has robust mapping capabilities and projection support.  Works with GeoJSON and KML.

Kartograph is a lightweight framework for SVG based maps without referencing other map servers. Meant to be simple and "created with the needs of designers and data journalists in mind"

Tangram is "a JavaScript library for rendering 2D & 3D maps live in a web browser with WebGL"

ArcGIS API for Javascript is a library for working with ESRIs APIs

Google Maps Javascript API for customizable Google Maps with your own vector or imagery data.  

CARTO.js is a library for working with CARTO APIs