Leaflet maps with Python-flask

Posted on Mon 25 April 2022 in FOSS

I have one website gimmick: interactive webmaps using leaflet and backed by Python-flask.

This may sound like a word salad, but it's a useful and simple (trust me) software stack for making visualisation and exploration of spatio-temporal data easy.

I call it a gimmick because I've used the same core method to create:

Why you might want a site like this

If you want to display geospatial data:

  • at varying scale
  • with selectable layers
  • with different overlays/backgrounds
  • in an interactive manner
  • to non-technical users

This works best with data that can be plotted as lines and points, but polygons are possible too.


  • Some data
  • A reasonable grasp of Python
  • Ability to setup a basic linux cloud server

If any of these are missing, check out the links at the end of this article for some tutorials and datasets.

Tech stack

The core library here is flask, a Python micro-framework. It is a very minimal framework that allows us to make a slim website with no real database to complicate things. We will also use:

  • leaflet maps
  • jinja2 templates
  • json

First, imitate

I personally find it a lot easier to start by downloading, building and deploying a functional app than to start from scratch. This gives you a realistic view of the amount of work required to share your app and helps separate errors of code from errors of implementation.

With that said, let's begin!

  1. Download the nbp2202 website source code from GitHub click here to get the zip file
  2. Create a Python environment using pip and the requirements.txt file or conda and the environment.yml file. Each works as well as the other
  3. navigate to the directory where the environment files are and run the command python itgc/app.py
  4. Open a browser window and go to
  5. That's it! You're running the app on your very own PC. You should see a website that looks and functions just like the one at nbp2202map.com but it is running solely on your PC

Next, remix

I recommend using git to keep track of changes to the codebase of this project. If you're particularly keen, maybe you already forked the repo in step 1 to start editing your own version.

The first place to make changes is in index.html this is the code for the webpage that the user interacts with Here are some suggestions of things you might change:

  • The default starting location and zoom with map.setView
  • The base layer and optional overlays of the map in maplayers
  • The text on the page in the container instructions section.

If you want to change the data itself, like adding more points and lines, you'll need to make a few of changes.

Each dataset is made into its own layer, which is then added to the map. See, for example, how we add the kasten and megacore sites. This is done in three steps on the map:

First we define an icon, with a size and an anchor point (which part of the image is placed at the location of the core site).

let thorIcon = L.icon({
    iconUrl: '/static/img/icons/thor.png',
    iconSize:     [30, 35], // size of the icon
    iconAnchor:   [20, 15], // point of the icon which will correspond to marker's location
    popupAnchor:  [0, -15] // point from which the popup should open relative to the iconAnchor

Next, we create a layer for the map. For this we read in a geoJSON dictionary and make a layer from points, calling an extra function popupText to make the little popup boxes that contain metadata on the core site

let thorLayer =  L.geoJSON(thorDict, {
        pointToLayer: function (feature, latlng) {
            return L.marker(latlng, {icon: thorIcon});
        onEachFeature: popupText

Finally, we add the layer to the map as an optional layer that the user can select

"mega/kasten core ⛏": thorLayer,

These are the steps to display the data, but first we need to coerce our dataset itself into geoJSON. geoJSON is a well defined format. I have written a few scripts to write geoJSON from a pandas dataframe of lon, lat, datetime and metadata of some kind. You can download it here. You should be able to adapt it to your needs.

Once you have a way of converting your data to geoJSON, you import it into the app in the file viewmodels/mission/mission_viewmodel.py. The process of importing json files happens at the top of the add_events function. Just add your dataset to the list and copy the json file to the static/json/nbp_data directory. The advantage of adding the data through Python rather than just reading geoJSON straight into the leaflet map, is that it enables the temporal subsetting feature that allows a user to display only data within a certain time window.

Exploring this file, you will see similar functions for adding isobaths and may optional layers of satellite data.

On to the web

You've done it! A website of your own. Assuming you wish to share it with others (why else would you make a website?) you now need to host this on a server somewhere. This can seem daunting at first, but it's just a few easy steps. I have included the exact commands necessary in code blocks

Get a cloud server running Ubuntu

Check out links at the bottom of this page for some suggestions. I have used a Shared CPU Nanode (1 GB) from linode running Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.

Login with SSH and update your server

apt update && apt upgrade -y

Recommended follow this guide to securing your server

Install key packages and libraries for the app

apt install -y -q build-essential git unzip zip nload tree
apt install -y -q python3-pip python3-dev python3-venv
apt install -y -q nginx
apt install --no-install-recommends -y -q libpcre3-dev libz-dev

Open ports and enable firewall

We'll want 22 (ssh), 80 (http) and 443 (https). Make sure you opened 22 before enabling the firewall or you could lock yourself out of the machine

ufw allow 22
ufw allow 80
ufw allow 443
ufw enable

Copy the app to the server

Make a new directory /apps and copy your app to it. Use your own github repo here if you've already made some changes

mkdir /apps
cd /apps
git clone https://github.com/callumrollo/itgc-2022-map.git
chmod 777 /apps/itgc-2022-map/

Create and activate the app environment

cd /apps/itgc-2022-map
python3 -m venv venv
source venv/bin/activate
pip install --upgrade pip setuptools
pip install --upgrade httpie glances
pip install --upgrade uwsgi
pip install -r requirements.txt

In this example I'm using pip. All of these packages are available on conda-forge too though if you prefer conda.

Set up the app

We create a service under uwsgi. This will manage instances of the app for every user that view the page. Enable the service so that it starts automatically when the server is rebooted

cp /apps/itgc-2022-map/server/nbpmap.service /etc/systemd/system/nbpmap.service
systemctl enable nbpmap

Check that the service is running successfully with systemctl status nbpmap. If there are errors, check that the paths in nbpmap.service match the paths on your server

Setup nginx

nginx is the web server that will to handle requests to the app from the internet

rm /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default
cp /apps/itgc-2022-map/server/nbpmap.nginx  /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/nbpmap.nginx
update-rc.d nginx enable
service nginx restart

You should now see your site if you navigate to the server's IP address in a browsers

Optional: get a domain

You can purchase a domain like mycoolapp.com, set up an A record pointing to the IP address of this server and get free SSL certificates from Lets Encrypt:

sudo snap install core; sudo snap refresh core
sudo snap install --classic certbot
sudo ln -s /snap/bin/certbot /usr/bin/certbot
sudo certbot --nginx

Now your users can securely visit the app with https rather than just plain http. This is essential if you decide to add users and authentication later and is generally good practice. Also you get a cool domain name, not just a dotted quad of numbers to visit.

Going further

If this has given you an appetite for web development, you can build on this simple web app.

This app only has one webpage, but you can easily add more. You could also try adding a database. This makes your application more performant and really increases the scope of actions you can support. I recommend TalkPython fm's Flask course for a thorough explanation of these, link in the section below. You can also check out the source code for the other two projects linked above for examples with SQL and MongoDB.

Resources and links

  • I learned flask from TalkPython Training's Flask course it goes into a lot more detail and enables you to make a really powerful, flexible website. It also covers deployment to the web in good detail
  • You can learn enough html and CSS to get by just by googling things when they break. w3schools have some good resources though, and the bootstap docs are pretty good.
  • leaflet maps have some great tutorials. You could get most of the functionality of this app just using leaflet and json.
  • You can set yourself up with a cloud server for less than $/£/€ 10 a month from a cloud host like Linode or DigitalOcean. Personally I'd avoid AWS at first as the learning curve is steeper, and it's a lot easier to end up accidentally running up a large bill. You can also search for credit codes/sign up links. You can typically get several months free this way.