Why you shouldn't use OSM's "Standard" layer in your map

Posted by SomeoneElse on 5/17/2024

Example of different map styles

Let’s imagine that you’re a pizza delivery company, and you’ve got an app that shows where you are, where your customers are and where a delivery person is between the two. Obviously you need some sort of map that shows the three in context. You can’t use Google Maps for cost or other reasons, and whatever framework your using will accept raster tiles in the almost universal format https://server/Z/X/Y.png, so why not use OpenStreetMap’s standard layer? After all, it’s free!


  • It’s not free, in the sense of free laid out in the tile usage policy. That doesn’t mean that OSM doesn’t tolerate or even encourage some use of those tiles, but it does mean that you have no service level agreement - you probably won’t even get warned if your use is prevented at some point in the future.

  • It’s not a great background map. The “OSM Carto” style tries to do two things at once - it tries to provide feedback to OSM mappers and it tries to be a “nice” standalone map. Both of those make its use as a background less than ideal. To see some alternative map styles (some of which are designed as background maps) have a look at openwhatevermap.xyz.

  • It’s updated on the fly. While OpenStreetMap gets surprisingly little vandalism considering the scale and visibility of the project, it does get some; and any map that is instantly updated will show what there is until the vandalism is fixed both in both the map data and the server-side infrastructure. Your pizza delivery company probably only needs to process updates to a map layer for a small area and when new roads and new housing estates are built; perhaps once every few months or so.

So what can you do?

It’s important to remember that OpenStreetMap’s Data is still free. You’re welcome to use that, and plenty of companies are willing to help.

If you can’t afford that, and can only spare about the price of an average-sized pizza a month, you can do it yourself. Deploying a map as described on this page could cost under €10 per month. If you want to run occasional updates, that’s documented too - just run it whenever it’s convenient for you.

– Andy

(a member of the DWG, and also a maintainer of the “switch2osm” site, but writing this in an entirely personal capacity)

The screenshot at the top is from openwhatevermap - click through from there to see the details of each style and terms of use.