As I wrote in the previous chapter, a whole lot happened in it, but really, the tools were all the same sort of tools we have been using all course: strings, arrays, Objects, a few .forEach() method calls and some new jQuery tricks. This is important to emphasize: you already have the tools at your disposal; the trick is to realize what kinds of tools the situation calls for. The solution to use JSON to feed the whole General Prologue into the page may have been unexpected, but if you had just repeated making the line1 array with a line2 array all the way up to line18, you would have been doing the same exact thing, just less efficiently.

Most importantly, however, was the added level of conceptual complexity. In using JSON, you separated out the data (the text of the General Prologue) from the logic of the program. Our webpage made assumptions about how the data were organized (a .lines property that was an array of arrays of word-Objects), and then you wrote an application around it. When the data structures get more complex, it becomes more and more important to be confident of the data’s integrity, and to write around it. You’ll see what I mean now that we are moving into making JavaScript maps using Leaflet.

Map structure

It’s probably a safe assumption that you’ve used a map on a webpage before, like Google Maps or OpenStreetMap (OSM). It might help to imagine, abstractly, what’s going on in a web map before we start building our own.

  1. First, a map goes in an HTML container that isolates the map from the rest of the webpage. We’ll use a generic container, a <div>, for this.
  2. Next, a map has “the map itself,” which is called the tile layer or base layer. This is a layer of images (assembled like tiles) with roads and parks and buildings drawn on them. Google has a specific style they use, and OSM uses a few different ones. For many uses of web maps, this is it.
  3. Above the tile layer can be, however, an overlay layer. This provides added content, like a marker or a polyline (a line made up of many segments, like driving directions) or even a polygon. If you search for something in Google Maps, for example, it will draw something on the overlay layer to let you know where what you’re looking for is.
  4. Above the overlay layer is the popup layer. When you click on a marker, sometimes a little popup appears. This is typically on a separate layer from the marker, so that it appears above it (and the other markerts).
  5. Finally, we have the control layer. This includes controls for zooming in and out and maybe other controls, depending. It’s always on the top of all of the layers.

Most of these layers are of the set-it-and-forget-it variety. We’ll be working mostly with the overlay and popup layers. The rest provide either usability (controls) or context (tile layer). In other words, we won’t be redrawing OSM maps. We’ll be drawing on top of them.

Tour of Leaflet

Leaflet.js is a JavaScript library for making maps on the web. Unlike other software for making web maps, like ESRI’s ArcGISOnline or Google Maps, Leaflet is entirely free and, more importantly, both easier to use and more permissive of a wide array of customization. Much of this chapter builds on their quick start guide, but I think I’ll provide extra context to help you with thinking through your own project.

Leaflet creates an Object, L, that has a bunch of methods that we can use to create and manipulate maps. Our map is, itself, an Object. The tile layer? A different Object. Markers are Objects, polylines are Objects, polygons are Objects, popups are Objects, and so on. And they have properties and methods, too.

Setting up the HTML

The best way to show how these Objects work, of course, is by making them work. So let’s get started. In Atom, open up your index.html file and add another link below the one to the Prologue:

<h2><a href="leaflet.html">Leaflet page</a></h2>

Save and close index.html. Now, create a new document, leaflet.html, that looks like this:

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="utf-8">
    <title>Working with Leaflet</title>
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1, shrink-to-fit=no">
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="" integrity="sha384-rwoIResjU2yc3z8GV/NPeZWAv56rSmLldC3R/AZzGRnGxQQKnKkoFVhFQhNUwEyJ" crossorigin="anonymous">
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="[email protected]/dist/leaflet.css" integrity="sha512-M2wvCLH6DSRazYeZRIm1JnYyh22purTM+FDB5CsyxtQJYeKq83arPe5wgbNmcFXGqiSH2XR8dT/fJISVA1r/zQ=="
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="leaflet.css" />
    <div class="container">
      <h1>Working with Leaflet</h1>
      <div id="first-map" class="map"></div>
      <p>Above, you can see a Leaflet map.</p>
    <script src=""></script>
    <script src="" integrity="sha384-DztdAPBWPRXSA/3eYEEUWrWCy7G5KFbe8fFjk5JAIxUYHKkDx6Qin1DkWx51bBrb" crossorigin="anonymous"></script>
    <script src="" integrity="sha384-vBWWzlZJ8ea9aCX4pEW3rVHjgjt7zpkNpZk+02D9phzyeVkE+jo0ieGizqPLForn" crossorigin="anonymous"></script>
    <script src="[email protected]/dist/leaflet.js" integrity="sha512-lInM/apFSqyy1o6s89K4iQUKg6ppXEgsVxT35HbzUupEVRh2Eu9Wdl4tHj7dZO0s1uvplcYGmt3498TtHq+log==" crossorigin=""></script>
    <script src="leaflet.js"></script>

In the <head>, there are two changes from before. First, the page is also loading Leaflet’s own CSS files. Second, the page is loading leaflet.css. Unlike in the example with the General Prologue, CSS will be important in this chapter.

In the <body>, there is a <div> with an id #first-map and class .map. That’s where the map will go. And at the bottom, note that the page is loading Leaflet and a new file, leaflet.js. That’s about it for HTML in this chapter.

If you save and reload your index.html in the browser, the link to leaflet.html will appear. When you click on it, you should see some text, but no map. Commit. Let’s get to work on getting the map to show.

Setting up the CSS

Create a new file in Atom called leaflet.css. Type in these three lines:

.map {
  height: 400px;

This means that everything that has a class .map should have its height property set to 400 pixels. You can change this number if you like, but the property must be there. Leaflet’s one demand of CSS is that the map container have a defined height. Save and reload leaflet.html in the browser. Now the line “Above, you can see a Leaflet map.” should be separated from the <h1>, “Working with Leaflet,” by a considerable amount of white space.

Initializing the Leaflet map

Now create the last file for this chapter in Atom, leaflet.js. In it, type:

let firstMap;
firstMap ="first-map");

firstMap is now an Object you can use in JavaScript to control the map on the webpage. Note the syntax. .map() is a method that L (Leaflet) has that creates a map in the <div> with the id given as the parameter. If you save everything and reload leaflet.html in the browser, you should see a map.

But it will be a boring, gray map. Why? For starters, because you have not loaded a tile layer. Define a variable tileLayer and assign it:

let firstMap, tileLayer;
firstMap ="first-map");
tileLayer =
L.tileLayer("https://cartodb-basemaps-{s}{z}/{x}/{y}.png", {
      attribution: "&copy; <a href=''>OpenStreetMap</a> &copy; <a href=''>CARTO</a>",
      subdomains: "abcd",
      maxZoom: 18

The details of the tile layer are not important, but you should note that if you save and reload, you still get a boring, gray map.1 The tile layer needs to be added to the map, of course, but then the map also has to be told what part of the world to show:

firstMap.setView([40.730833, -73.9975], 16);

Save and reload. You should now see a map zoomed in on Washington Square Park. Commit, if that’s the case. Whenever we create an Object in Leaflet, be it a tile layer, marker, or whatever, we have to add it to the map, using .addTo(), a method that all of these Objects have. The map itself has a method, .setView(), that takes two parameters: an array of coordinates (latitude and longitude), and a zoom level. The highest zoom level—which is to say, the most zoomed in, is 19. We’ll learn about other, similar methods as we continue. But now the map itself is initialized.

Adding a marker and popup

With the map zoomed in like this, we can add a marker to Bobst Library. For people unfamiliar with NYU, this library is on the edge of the park.2 From the Wikipedia article, we can get Bobst’s coordinates, 40.729444 and -73.997222. Initializing a marker is similar to the tile layer:

let bobstLibrary;
bobstLibrary = L.marker([40.729444, -73.997222]);

Binding a popup to the marker is one more step:

bobstLibrary.bindPopup("This is Bobst Library.");

When you add those lines to leaflet.js, save, and reload, the marker should appear right over the library. Click on the marker, and the popup appears. Everything works? Commit.


The next chapter is devoted to building up data sets of geographical information, but in this chapter, we’ll keep using toy data so that you get familiar with Leaflet. Both with the marker Object and the .setView() method, you saw that Leaflet demanded coordinates. Leaflet doesn’t know where places are, and it knows nearly nothing about distances.3 All it knows are latitude and longitude coordinates. In fact, these are their own Object in Leaflet:

let bobstCoords;
bobstCoords = L.latLng(40.729444, -73.997222);

Here, bobstCoords becomes a latLng Object, created by using the L.latLng() method with two parameters, a latitude and a longitude. Note that latLng has a capital “L” in the middle. Throughout Leaflet, you can either create latLng Objects or continue using coordinate arrays like you did earlier. Now consider the .panTo() method at the end. That’s a method that changes a map, in this case firstMap. If you save and reload, you’ll see that the map is now centered on the library, not the park. If you open the console and type in:

> let eiffelTower;
> eiffelTower = L.latLng(48.858222, 2.2945);
> firstMap.panTo(eiffelTower);

You can watch the map swing over to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

This much is clear, then, but finding coordinates can be tricky when creating datasets, so here are four tips:

  1. The coordinates I have used so far in this chapter come from Wikipedia. Many places have coordinates listed in the top right corner of their Wikipedia pages. If you click on them, it takes you to a GeoHack page, which includes the coordinates in decimal format. Leaflet won’t understand coordinates given in arc-minutes and arc-seconds.
  2. In Google Maps, if you click on a point, a little window appears at the bottom with the address (if it can guess it) and the coordinates.
  3. For larger entities, like countries, sometimes they have a single coordinate associated with them. You can look that up at GeoNames, a gazetteer. For France, for example, GeoNames gives [46, 2], which is more or less in the middle of L’Hexagone.
  4. Converting to decimal degrees can cause errors. You can use sites like LatLong to do the conversion, but always do a sanity check afterward, especially when you have data on both sides of the Prime Meridian, the antimeridian, or the Equator.

Finally, coordinates from Google Maps, when taken out to six significant digits, give an illusion of precision that is unwarranted. At American latitudes, the difference between one ten-thousandth of a degree (4 digits) in longitude is only a few meters. And the difference in latitude is not much greater, as I’ll show in the next section.

Beyond the marker

In addition to making markers, Leaflet can also build polylines, polygons, and circles. The syntax for the first two is identical: you build an array of coordinates and feed it as a parameter to either the L.polyline() or L.polygon() methods. Delete everything pertaining to Bobst Library from leaflet.js, and add:

let washingtonSquarePark, washingtonSquareParkMarker;
let tenThousandth, tenThousandthPolygon, thousandth, thousandthPolyline;
washingtonSquarePark = L.latLng(40.730833, -73.9975);
washingtonSquareParkMarker = L.marker(washingtonSquarePark).addTo(firstMap);
tenThousandth = [[40.7307, -73.9976], [40.7307, -73.9974], 
                 [40.7309, -73.9974], [40.7309, -73.9976]];
tenThousandthPolygon = L.polygon(tenThousandth, {
                                  color: "#268bd2",
                                  fillColor: "#fdf6e3"

Here you add a marker at the center of Washington Square Park (washingtonSquareParkMarker) and then construct an array of coordinates, tenThousandth, which is a box two ten thousandths of a degree wide and tall, more or less centered around the marker. Then you add that to the map. Notice that I’ve collapsed assigning the leaflet Object with the .addTo() method. Furthermore, the .polygon() method can take an options Object parameter as well, and, in this case, I defined the tenThousandthPolygon.options.color property as a shade of blue and the .fillColor property as a light yellow.

There are also two variables here that are not assigned, but are declared: thousandth and thousandthPolyline. Use them so:

thousandth = [[ + 0.001, washingtonSquarePark.lng + 0.001],
              [ + 0.001, washingtonSquarePark.lng - 0.001],
              [ - 0.001, washingtonSquarePark.lng - 0.001],
              [ - 0.001, washingtonSquarePark.lng + 0.001]];
thousandthPolyline = L.polyline(thousandth, {color: "#d33682"}

Save and reload, and your Leaflet map should now show both a polygon and three line segments, or a polyline. Notice how, because I defined washingtonSquarePark as an L.latLng Object, it now has two properties, .lat and .lng, corresponding to its latitude and longitude. This is one reason to make use of the L.latLng Object instead of just continuously using arrays of coordinates.

Circles are even easier:

let circle;
circle =, {radius: 100,
                                         color: "#859900",
                                         fillColor: "#cb4b16",
                                         opacity: 0.9,
                                         fillOpacity: 0.25}

The property is measured in meters. Note also that Leaflet provides you with control over the opacity of both the border and the fill., L.polygon, and L.polyline all inherit these options from the Leaflet Object L.path, and Leaflet provides a list of all of that Object’s options that you can look at to style your lines and polygons as you like. Similarly, there are two Objects I don’t mention that you might like to look up. Instead of L.markers, you can use L.circleMarkers (I actually prefer them), and there is also a vanilla L.rectangle Object, similar to what we built for the tenThousandthPolygon above. Circlemarkers will return in a later chapter.


  1. Create two new files, derive.html and derive.js. Have them include a Leaflet map with the two dérives you made for class drawn on them. Or it can be two walks you’ve taken, if you’re not in my class. The dérives should be different colors. Save, commit, and push to GitHub when you’re done. Use this site’s coordinate catcher to quickly get your coordinates. Just click on the map, and it will give you the correct latitude and longitude.


  1. In creating the tile layer, you specify the server from which Leaflet should get its tiles (in this case from, and then add three options. The attribution option describes what appears in the bottom corner of the map. 

  2. Bobst is also where most of this course was drafted. 

  3. There is a .distance() method that will calculate the distance, in meters, between a LatLng Object and another one passed as the parameter.