A good way to learn about GISsurfer is to first read the overview section you see below. Then for more detailed information you can come back and look at any of the following PDF files. You can also look at the FAQ and "What's new" page. Then when you are looking at a GISsurfer map, look at the upper left corner. You may see a map title along with a "Map tips" link that leads to both general information about GISsurfer and specific information about the map you are looking at. And keep en eye on the interface screens that GISsurfer displays since a number of them have 'Help' buttons that will display context sensitive tips.

For the most recent updates on my work, you can follow MappingSupport on twitter (https://twitter.com/MappingSupport) and/or follow GISsurfer on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/GISsurfer).

PDF Help Files

Since the contents of these PDF files will be updated from time to time, it is recommended that you not save these PDF files on your harddrive. Instead, come here and grab a fresh copy whenever you want to refer to this information.

1. List of parameters you can use in a GISsurfer map link
Includes examples of GISsurfer map links using different parameters.

2. Tips for surfing GIS servers


GISsurfer has two interfaces. If you are using a mobile device then a touch-friendly interface will be displayed. Otherwise, a mouse-oriented interface will be displayed. Are you using a laptop or desktop with a touch screen? Include the &interface=touch parameter in the GISsurfer map link and the touch-friendly interface will be displayed.

The map always displays a 'Menu' button which gives access to various features. Next to the 'Menu' button is the basemap button which lets you turn on/off different basemaps and overlays. The basemap button always displays the name of the current basemap.

You can control how the map looks when it opens by adding parameters to the map link. If you click a GISsurfer link that has no parameters, then the default map of the world will open. Like so:

Three of the most important parameters are center, zoom and basemap. Below are two example map links using those parameters. Find the '?' character in the following links. To the left of the '?' is the command to start GISsurfer. To the right of the '?' are parameters that control how the map looks when it opens. Each parameter is in the form name=value. Every parameter name, except the first one, has a '&' character in front.

Yosemite National Park

Seattle space needle

To learn about other parameters you can include in a GISsurfer map link, see one of the PDF files near the top of this page. And as you make your own GISsurfer map links, make sure there are no spaces in the map link. Use the underline character instead of a space when you specify the basemap name and any overlays that will be 'on' when the map opens.

Tips for using basemaps

The NAIP aerial is hosted on a federal server and covers the USA. Sometimes response is slow.

And sometimes data on the map will be hard to see. Maybe the data consists of small dots and/or the data has the same color as the basemap. If you change the basemap to "All white basemap" then the only thing on the screen will be data.

You can add more basemaps by including the data parameter in a GISsurfer map link. But at the present time you cannot add basemaps via the GIS surfing sidebar. Instead, the sidebar only lets you add overlays.

Tips for using overlays

1. Overlay stacking order and attribute data

The best way to learn about overlay stacking order and attribute data is to play with a map. Below is a GISsurfer map link I produced with lots of overlay layers related to rain and floods. After the map opens, click the basemap button (next to the 'Menu' button) then look under the 'Overlay' heading (mobile users scroll down). Overlays that are 'on' are stacked on top of each other and assigned a number starting with 1. Click an overlay to turn it on and again to turn it off. Each time you turn an overlay on it may take a few seconds for the data to appear.

The highest numbered overlay is 'on top' of the stack. The 'top' overlay can be clicked and will display all the attribute data the GIS server has for the thing that you clicked. Sometimes this attribute data includes links that lead to more information. Try making different layers the 'top' overlay and then clicking the map to see what attribute data that layer contains. Note that the order with which you turn overlays 'on' can greatly affect the appearance of the map.

Open rain and flood map:

2. Overlay zoom level to see data on the map

The zoom levels at which overlay data will appear on the map are defined on the GIS server and cannot be changed by software that displays the data. Some data layers will display at all zoom levels while other data layers will only display at certain zoom levels. If you turn on an overlay layer and do not see any data, then try zooming the map in or out. You can also turn on the "All white basemap" which will help if the data is simply hard to see.

Tips for using the 'Menu' button

1. Menu ==> Link to this map

Here is how to make your own custom GISsurfer map link:

First, make the map look on your screen the way you want it to look when the map opens. Note that the order in which you turn on overlay layers determines the overall appearance of your map and also determines which layer is 'on top' and therefore clickable.

Second, click Menu ==> Link to this map. The link you see will replicate the map on your screen including the current coordinate format.

The GISsurfer link that is displayed uses the data parameter. If you click "Switch to text file" then syntax for a GISsurfer text file will be displayed. Note that the text file syntax will only list overlay layers that you added to the map via surfing with the sidebar during your current GISsurfer session.

If you click "Switch to GISsurfer link" then you will again see the GISsurfer link with the data parameter. For more information on the data parameter please see the PDF file near the top of this page that lists all the parameters you can include in a GISsurfer map link.

2. Menu ==> Embed this map

First make the map look on your screen the way you want it to look when the map opens. Then use this feature to get code that can be used to embed the map on a web page.

The embedded map will be 600px by 600px. Embedding a map that is less than 500px wide is not recommended since the various map controls and interface elements might overlap.

3. Menu ==> My location

A red circle will appear on the screen at your current location. Tap the symbol to see your coordinates and the accuracy value for those coordinates. The coordinates will be displayed using the current coordinate format.

The default behavior (which you can turn off) is that the red symbol follows you as you move. When the symbol gets close to the edge of your screen then the map will automatically re-center. For more information, open the PDF file that lists all the parameters that can be in a GISsurfer map link and read about the mylocation parameter.

Caution: This geolocation feature is intended for smartphones and tablets that include a GPS chip. If you use this feature on a desktop or laptop then the red symbol will appear but most likely it will not correctly show your location. Also, some tablets do not include a GPS chip.

4. Menu ==> Search

You can search on addresses, names of places, names of geographical features and coordinates. For example, if you search on Mistymoon Lake, the map will center at a spot in the Cloud Peak Wilderness of Wyoming.

Searching on coordinates supports UTM, MGRS, USNG and most reasonable ways to write latitude longitude. If you get an error when searching on latitude longitude then try your search again but delete all letters and special characters. For example, searching on degrees minutes seconds of 47 36 10 -122 20 21 will take you to a dock on the Seattle waterfront.

5. Menu ==> UTM - USNG/MGRS - LatLng

This choice lets you change the coordinate format. The current format is used to display the coordinates for the center of the screen in the upper or lower right corner. On non-mobile devices the coordinates for the cursor are also displayed.

The current coordinate format is used by Menu ==> Link to this map. It is also used by Menu ==> My location (tap the symbol to see your coordinates).

If you select UTM, USNG or MGRS then you will see grid lines and labels on the screen. And in case you do not know, USNG is the same as MGRS except USNG is written with spaces so it is easier to read.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has adopted USNG as the coordinate system it will use for ground operations. To read more about USNG see this PDF file:

6. Menu ==> Open Google maps

A plain Google map will open with the same center and zoom level that GISsurfer is presently using. You can then use 'streetview' or any other Google map feature.

7. Menu ==> GISsurfer special maps

One of the ways to display GIS (Geographical Information System) data with GISsurfer is to (1) make a text file that identifies the GIS data the map can display, (2) put that text file online and (3) make a GISsurfer link that points to the text file.

This Menu choice has a number links that open GISsurfer maps that display GIS data using this feature. Some maps display disaster related data such as wildland fires and flood events. Other maps display recreation data including maps for a number of national parks. Each map has a 'Map tips' link in the upper left corner with the map legend and other information to help you get the most benefit from the map.

Tip: When you look at a GISsurfer map, remember to check the upper left corner for a "Map tips" link.

Anyone can download any of these text files and look at how the GIS data is identified. Some of the overlay specifications in those text files are noticeably longer than others. That longer syntax is telling the GIS server to restyle the data (i.e. change color, line width, etc) before sending the data to your screen. This is only possible if the server supports dynamic layers.

Tips for adding a title to a map

You can help people understand your map by including a title. You can do this either by using the data parameter. Below is a map with a simple title. Notice that there are underlines instead of spaces. Also, the <em> tag will make the title bold.


The next link is the same map but with a title that is three lines. The tag <br/> is a line break. The third line is a link to a web page I made with a few general tips for using GISsurfer. Anyone may use that link in their map titles. The tips page will open in a new browser tab. This is necessary otherwise your GISsurfer map would close. Notice where you see %20 in the map link. That is computer-speak for a space. Map links should not have any spaces.


Another way to put a title on your map is to include the title information in a text file. To do this, include a title= line in your text file. You do not need to worry about spaces since your title is in a text file and not in the GISsurfer map link. Here is an example of a title for a text file.

title=<em>Yosemite National Park<br/>California<br/><a href='https://mappingsupport.com/p2/gissurfer-general-map-tips.html' target='_blank'><span style='background-color:yellow;'>Map Tips</span></a></em>

Tips for getting coordinates for any spot

You can right click the map and see coordinates in various formats for the spot you clicked. Mobile users can simulate a right click by tapping the > symbol at the left edge of the screen. A symbol will appear with a crosshair. Drag that symbol and then tap it. Tap the < symbol at the left edge of the screen to turn the simulated right click symbol off.

Tips for getting elevation and magnetic declination for any spot

Rightclick the map as described above. The elevation and magnetic declination for the spot you clicked are included in the display. That data comes from federal servers and might take a few seconds to appear.