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This guide will walk you through the basics of Symbolizers and how to write them yourself.

You can use this HTML page setup:

<html><head>    <link rel="stylesheet" href="[email protected]/dist/leaflet.css"/>    <script src="[email protected]/dist/leaflet.js"></script>    <script src="[email protected]/dist/protomaps.min.js"></script></head><body>    <div id="map" style="height:400px;width:100%">    <script>        let URL = "{z}/{x}/{y}.pbf?key=YOUR_API_KEY"        let map ="map").setView([51.505, -0.09], 12)
        ... code goes here ...    </script></body></html>

My first rule#

In protomaps.js, the layers of a map are expressed using one or more Rules. A Rule is a JavaScript object that specifies a layer of data in the vector tile source, such as water, buildings, or places, as well as a Symbolizer, which determines how the geographic features are drawn to Canvas.

A very simple "hello world" map with one Rule is below. Try panning or zooming the map.

let PAINT_RULES = [    {        dataLayer:"water",        symbolizer:new protomaps.PolygonSymbolizer({fill:"steelblue"})    } ]
let LABEL_RULES = [] // ignore for now
protomaps.leafletLayer({    url:URL,    paint_rules:PAINT_RULES,    label_rules:LABEL_RULES}).addTo(map) 

My first symbolizer#

The previous code uses the class protomaps.PolygonSymbolizer - but what does that do? PolygonSymbolizer is a pre-made symbolizer that takes a fill color as an argument, and conforms to the PaintSymbolizer Interface.

A PaintSymbolizer just needs to have a method draw:

class MyWaterSymbolizer {    draw(context,geom,properties) {        context.fillStyle = "dodgerblue"        context.beginPath()        for (var poly of geom) {            for (var p = 0; p < poly.length-1; p++) {                let pt = poly[p]                if (p == 0) context.moveTo(pt.x,pt.y)                else context.lineTo(pt.x,pt.y)            }        }        context.fill()    }}
let PAINT_RULES = [    {        dataLayer:"water",        symbolizer:new MyWaterSymbolizer()    } ]

The above dozen lines of code reads the vertices from geom and draws a polygon using the Canvas 2D methods like beginPath and fill. The coordinates x and y are all in CSS pixels; all scaling and transformation is handled for you by the library.

Multiple rules#

When multiple rules are specified, drawing proceeds from the start to the end. Rules that come later will be drawn over objects that come earlier. Let's add another symbolizer that draws point data from the layer places with a fill + a stroke, changes the color based on the feature properties, and only takes effect at zooms 12 and above:

class MyPlaceSymbolizer {    draw(context,geom,properties) {        // console.log(properties)        let pt = geom[0][0]        var fill = "palegreen"        if ( == "suburb") fill = "lightgreen"        if ( == "city") fill = "mediumseagreen"        context.fillStyle = fill        context.strokeStyle = "black"        context.beginPath()        context.arc(pt.x,pt.y,4,0,2*Math.PI)        context.stroke()        context.fill()     }}
let PAINT_RULES = [    {        dataLayer:"water",        symbolizer:new MyWaterSymbolizer()    },    {        dataLayer:"places",        symbolizer:new MyPlaceSymbolizer(),        minzoom: 12    }]

Adding text labels#

The obvious next step is to put labels on our map. Each of those place features in the above example has a name like "London", "Covent Garden" within properties that we can use to draw on the map - try commenting out the logging statement to see them in your console.

The Canvas 2D context object has fillText and strokeText methods we can use to draw the text label, with bottom left corner at the X,Y position of the point:

class MyPlaceSymbolizer {    draw(context,geom,properties) {        let pt = geom[0][0]        var font = "12px sans-serif"        if ( == "suburb") font = "500 14px sans-serif"        if ( == "city") font = "800 16px sans-serif"        context.fillStyle = "darkslategray"        context.font = font        context.fillText(, pt.x,pt.y)    }}

Well, that doesn't look as nice as we hoped. There are a few issues:

  • Labels can be arbitrarily wide based on the length of the text, and the tile-based map rendering might cut off the text midway.
  • Labels overlap with each other.

To solve this, there's another Symbolizer interface called the LabelSymbolizer.

The LabelSymbolizer#

LabelSymbolizers have a more complex interface than PaintSymbolizers. Instead of having a draw method, they have a place method. place returns a bounding box that is tested against an internal layout. place also returns a closure which is executed against the Canvas2D context only if the label is successfully placed.

LabelRules go into a separate list of passed into the layer via the label_rules key. When placing text labels, we usually need to determine the height and width of text to find the bounding box; this is possible via the canvas measureText method. There is a "scratch work" canvas context provided via layout.scratch for this purpose.

class MyPlaceSymbolizer {    place(layout,geom,feature) {        let pt = geom[0][0]        let name =
        var font = "12px sans-serif"        if ( == "suburb") font = "500 14px sans-serif"        if ( == "city") font = "800 16px sans-serif"
        layout.scratch.font = font        let metrics = layout.scratch.measureText(name)        let width = metrics.width        let ascent = metrics.actualBoundingBoxAscent        let descent = metrics.actualBoundingBoxDescent        let bbox = {minX:pt.x-width/2,minY:pt.y-ascent,maxX:pt.x+width/2,maxY:pt.y+descent}
        let draw = ctx => {            ctx.font = font            ctx.fillStyle = "darkslategray"            ctx.fillText(name,-width/2,0)        }        return [{anchor:pt,bboxes:[bbox],draw:draw}]    }}
let LABEL_RULES = [    {        dataLayer:"places",        symbolizer:new MyPlaceSymbolizer()    }]

The two core interfaces of PaintSymbolizer and LabelSymbolizer encompass all of the functionality of protomaps.js. There are many pre-built symbolizers to handle advanced labeling features such as line breaking, dynamic label positioning or text on slanted paths, but if those are not sufficient you are at liberty to implement your own.

Drawing order#

Protomaps.js always operates in this order:

  1. Fetch the tile data for the given display tile.
  2. Run all LabelSymbolizers from first to last, filling the labels quadtree with bounding boxes.
  3. Run all PaintSymbolizers from first to last, painting to the canvas from back to front.
  4. Run all Label closures - the ordering is irrelevant as labels are non-overlapping.

The internal ordering of step 2 has a large effect on which labels ultimately appear on the map. High priority labels should appear in separate rules before low priority labels; thus a "city" rule should appear before a "neighbourhood" rule. If there is intended label priority within a Rule, specify a sort function on a Rule - this will order the features internally before label layout happens.

Finally, there is a cross-tile label resolution step where a label with higher rule precedence can knock out labels with lower precedence when an adjacent tile is loaded. This uses rule precedence only, meaning that the final label layout is non-determinstic; it depends on which tile was loaded first.