Technical Description

Background Information

Smart Atlas was developed by the Coastal and Marine Research Centre (CMRC) as part of UNESCO's International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) Ocean Data and Information Network of Africa(ODINAFRICA) project. It is being deployed and used by ODINAFRICA and SPINCAM partners.

Smart Atlas

Smart Atlas is an 'atlas in a box' that is easy to deploy and customise. It allows users to publish maps on the web in an easy way. Smart Atlas relies on UMN MapServer's MapScript as a server side. It has a web graphical user interface developed using GeoExt and ExtJS.


Smart Atlas is a web GIS that allows access to, and visualisation of data and metadata. It can be connected to an OGC catalogue service (CSW 2.0.2) that supports Dublin Core [ISO03] and ISO-19139 metadata standards (e.g.GeoNetwork). It relies on UMN MapServer to render maps.


Smart Atlas has the following features:

-          Mapping interface with common map controls (zoom, pan, feature information, distance measuring, navigation to an area of interest, print, etc.)

-          A variety of base maps (ESRI maps, Google maps and Open Street Map)

-          Data browsing by a hierarchy of categories

-          Simple and advanced data search

-          Layer management (transparency, order, etc.)

-          Layer information (summary/full metadata and legends)

-          Data download - if download links are provided as part of metadata delivery information according to the GeoNetwork protocol naming convention

Figure 1 Smart Atlas View Services. This example shows bathymetry of Ireland's surveyed sea territory

Client Side Interface

An interface has been implemented based on the latest AJAX frameworks and APIs, notably ExtJS and GeoExt. The interface has been implemented as a rich Internet application (RIA) with a fairly interactive and flexible layout. It has been designed in a modular way that makes it flexible and easily customisable. Particular attention was paid to cross platform browser compatibility. The mapping interface (c.f., Figure 1) includes four areas:

1.Banner: A customisable HTML banner for containing the atlas title, sub-title, organisation, logos, personal menus, etc.

2.Layer Area: a resizable, collapsible/expandable area that contains three views of layers organised in different tabs:

1.[Base] Built-in base layers, such as Google maps and Open Street maps

2.[Overlays] Atlas layers

3.[Selected Layers]: contains the list of active layers, sorted by depth, with possibility of changing the layer order by simple drag and drop, and layer transparency using a slider.

3.Map: GeoExt-based map with support for WMS and common base maps (ESRI maps, Google Maps, and Open Street Maps). The map supports dynamic tiling. A tile caching mechanism allows quick map loading. In addition to the classical navigation controls (zoom in-out, pan, full extent, feature information, etc.), the mapping interface included tools for adding features, drawing, measuring, printing, and previous and next in history. The map may be visualised in full screen by collapsing the layer and information areas.

4.Information: Information on a selected layer is displayed in this area. Access is also provided to the Search Functionality via this area.

Server Side Code

The server side code is developed in PHP and requires MapServer's MapScript API. It extends MapScript's capabilities by supporting hierarchical categories of layers and the customisation of feature information display.


Search capability

Smart Atlas can be configured to connect to one or more catalogue services implementing the OGC CSW 2.0.2 specification (e.g., GeoNetwork). This allows users to search for datasets through metadata stored in catalogue services.


   Smart Atlas supports distributed CSW search. The search can be done through the following search criteria as shown in Figure 2 :

         Simple Search

         Advanced Search

To carry out a simple search user enters free text in the search box and clicks on the search icon. Any relevant records found are returned in the window below.





Figure 2 Simple Search interface


            Advanced search allows user to fill in a number of optional fields. These are described in more detail here:

*         What: The user can specify the title of the target metadata record, keywords and any text that might be included in the metadata file. This is done through the 'What' panel in the information tab - refer to Fig 3 below

Figure 3 'What' Tab in Advanced Search Panel

*         Where: User can select a geographic extent for the searched metadata records. A map is provided where the user can pan, zoom-in, zoom-out to the target area of interest and then draw a bounding box around that area. Refer to Fig 4 below

Figure 4 'Where' Tab in Advanced Search Panel


Three visualization methods are now in place for metadata record results:

Summary Metadata Record

A simple metadata record visualization which contains basic metadata fields like title, abstract and subject of the record. Refer to Fig 5 below. Individual metadata records are available with 'Download data' button to download the datasets associated with a metadata record if available and 'View in map' button that can overlay the dataset on the mapping area for visualization or further processing.

Figure 5 Summary Metadata Record

Full Metadata Record:

A full metadata record which is rendered using external visualization/transformation scripts for displaying the full metadata record. Refer to Fig 6 below:

Figure 6 Extract from a Full Metadata Record. A user can view the full record by scrolling

FAQ Metadata Record:

The Metadata record is viewed with simple FAQ style where basic questions/answers about the metadata record are introduced. Refer to Fig 7 below:

Figure 7 Metadata Record FAQ


Configuration and Customization

The atlas can be configured and customized using a set of configuration files and style sheets (CSS) that are documented in the installation manual (provided with Smart Atlas). You can customize the look and feel, as well as the atlas parameters (bounding box, catalogue services, datasets and categories, area of interest, etc.).

Known Issues

Smart Atlas has the following known issues, which can be further addressed/improved:

-          Smart Atlas currently supports Geonetwork 2.6 which is not up to date. upgrading to support Geonetwork 2.10 is recommended as it provides new functionality like multiple languages search, revised metadata record visualisation and optimized search

-          Information tab functionality is basic at the moment and can be improved to include a wealth of data information about individual layers that can be set in an external spread sheet files

-          Full metadata section and style sheets can be improved to extract these from Geonetwork metadata server

-          A launch page template can be developed to be provided alongside the atlas to contain introductory information about national atlases

Online help and user manual

Online help (fig 9) is now integrated in the atlas. Users can hit the help button to get an overview of the atlas and get more information about specific functionality on the different areas and tools that can be used through the atlas. A word document user manual is also available that illustrates in detail the use of the atlas and the different functionality and tools available. It also includes a FAQ section that include a set of common questions and tasks that user may need to do using the atlas.

Figure 9 Smart Atlas online Help page

Download Page

A download page (fig 8) is now available at

This page contains software packages of smart atlas for Windows and Linux

Packages contain read-me files for instructions on how to install the atlas and the Linux package contains a shell script to install the atlas from a command line.

Figure 8 Smart Atlas software Download/Registration page