CartoDB + Leaflet = Easy

One of the biggest sources of buzz at FOSS4G was CartoDB. It is a hosted solution from Vizzuality that uses PostGIS to allow you to store your spatial data online. I got a beta account a couple of weeks ago but life (i.e. paying work) kept getting in the way but I finally got to play with it recently.

One of the things that intrigued me is that, similar to Google Fusion Tables, CartoDB exposes a SQL interface through a RESTful API (I’m still not sure if the term “API” applies to REST but it’s a convenient shorthand). Essentially, CartoDB exposes PostgreSQL SQL and the spatial SQL extensions of PostGIS. Once your data is loaded, you can query it and return the results as either CartoDB’s JSON syntax, KML or GeoJSON.

With this information, I set out to build a simple application to query property data and display the results on a map in a browser. In addition to CartoDB, I elected to use the Leaflet Javascript library to accomplish the mapping (although I also experimented with OpenLayers). Displaying and styling GeoJSON in Leaflet is very straightforward and this task gave me and excuse to get a little more comfortable with it.

For starters, I downloaded building footprints for St. Mary’s County, Maryland (freely available here). The footprints themselves are countywide so I also downloaded the boundary for Leonardtown, Maryland and used QGIS to clip out just those buildings that fell within the town boundary. Once my data was prepped, I uploaded it into CartoDB.

The CartoDB uploader is very easy to use.

Once the data is uploaded and made public, it is as easy as a URL to pull down the GeoJSON (or even KML). Click here:*%20FROM%20leonardtown_bldgs&format=geojson

You’ll notice that some SQL is embedded in the URL. Finding the commercial properties in the data set is as simple as adding a WHERE clause:*%20FROM%20leonardtown_bldgs%20WHERE%20structure_%20=%20’Commercial’&format=geojson

This became the basis of my sample application. I decided to do a simple property finder that allows a user to find buildings by property type and square footage. As I mentioned, it’s very easy to use GeoJSON with Leaflet. Here is the Javascript function that fetches the buildings from CartoDB and adds them to the map. It uses jQuery to do the actual fetch and then processes the result, adding the features into a Leaflet GeoJSON layer.

[sourcecode language=”javascript”]
function getBuildings()
var bldgLayer = new L.GeoJSON();
//here we also parse the attributes for the popups on the map
bldgLayer.on(‘featureparse’, function(e) {
e.layer.setStyle({ color: ‘#BDBDBD’, weight: 1, fill: true, fillColor: ‘#EF6548’, fillOpacity: 0.85 });
var label = "";
if ( &&{
label += "<b>Address:</b>: " + + "<br/>";
if ( &&{
label += "<b>Property Type:</b>: " + + "<br/>";
if ( &&{
label += "<b>Square Footage:</b>: " + + "<br/>";
if (label != "")

function(geojson) {
$.each(geojson.features, function(i, feature) {


If you look closely, you’ll notice the use of a proxy handler to get past the same origin restriction. This handler is written in .Net. I had been using a Python proxy but urllib2 was indicating header errors in the return from CartoDB so I fell back to this one. I’ll dig into that more later. (Thanks to Javier de la Torre for straightening me out with the use of a callback.) The above routine is basically the template for all the work in the app. Aside from the basemap tiles, the app loads the town boundary and the buildings from CartoDB. A similar funtion drives the query function, building and passing a WHERE clause to CartoDB. The image below shows the interface with query results in blue. The popups are performed by Leaflet.

Selected buildings are shown in blue with popups to display the property details

All told, this app took about 3 or so hours to build and deploy. This version doesn’t actually make use of any spatial SQL yet but I’ll add that soon. The live demo can be found here: (give the buildings a few seconds to load). It seems to work well in Firefox and Chrome and is functional, although clunky, in IE9. I haven’t tried Safari or earlier versions of IE.

CartoDB is still in beta but already seems solid and is definitely powerful. As a hosted solution, there are associated costs but that’s to be expected. I’ll keep playing with it but it’s already impressive.