Learn to Map

This site provides step-by-step instructions to help volunteers like you learn to map and get involved in humanitarian initiatives.

  1. Set up an account and get a log in from OpenStreetMap.


    5–10 minutes

    Set up an account and get a login from OpenStreetMap. After you confirm your OSM account and opened the first map, return here.

    Visit OpenStreetMap, and begin creating your account.

    During your account set up you will see a “Contributor Terms of Agreement”. It may be different depending on which country you live in. You can select “France” “Italy”, or “Rest of the World” if you live in another country.

    Next, click on the checkbox to allow your edits to be in the public domain. This ensures that all of the map data is open and available to the world. Once you’ve done that, click on “agree”.

    Check your email and confirm your OpenStreetMap account by clicking the link provided.

    Now that you have your account, proceed to Step 2 to learn and practice mapping.

  2. Learn to map with us. Watch the video and follow the written instructions.


    1–3 hours

    1. We will walk you through the process of mapping.
    2. You will practice mapping a place you’ve never visited.

    Learn How to Map in OpenStreetMap

    Goal: Learn to map points (used to mark places), lines (used to mark roads and paths) and areas (used to mark outlines of buildings, fields, or any other large area) in OpenStreetMap. Make sure you have already set up an OpenStreetMap account. You can find instructions on how to do that in Step 1.

    Whether you are brand new to online mapping or familiar with the process, this guide will explain OSM tools and workflow. Estimated time: Plan on 1-3 hours.

    Overview of OpenStreetMap

    Log in to OpenStreetMap.

    Try out the map controls on the right side of the screen. You may zoom in, zoom out and view your current location. Select between layers, view the map key, share the map and make comments.

    Try out the search OpenStreetMap function on the left side of the screen. Search for any location; type in any location to load a map of that area.

    Use the zoom in button on the right of the screen to examine the map closely. Depending on where you've selected, you should be able to see the three main elements of OpenStreetMap: points, lines and areas.

    How to Edit in OpenStreetMap

    To create points, lines and areas in OpenstreetMap, click the drop down arrow next to the word Edit. Select the option Edit with iD (in browser editor.)

    The iD editor opens by showing you the location you previously selected.

    At the top of the iD editor are the main controls. Select an action to perform: map a point, line or an area. The buttons to go back, forward and save are also at the top.

    By clicking save after making an edit to OpenStreetMap, your changes go live to the entire world. Save often!

    Use the dialogue box to the left of the map to input information about the points, lines, and areas that you map. You do not need to know the name of the place, road or area. Just marking it on the map is very helpful for others who can add in details.


    To the right of the map, there is a help button and the option to walkthrough the process of editing in OpenStreetMap. You may have completed the walkthrough previously. If not, take the walkthrough to become familiar with the elements of the iD OpenStreetMap editor and how to view buildings, roads and areas on satellite imagery.

    Select an area to start practice mapping

    Select an area with little existing map data - not a major city or heavily developed area. Type the location you'd like to practice mapping into the search box and click go. A map of the area you selected appears.

    Map a Point
    To map a point in the OpenStreetMap iD editor:

    • Select the Point button in the top left of the map. It will turn blue to let you know that it's been selected. Then click a position in the map where there is a building or area that you'd like to define.
    • A Node icon appears. (Wikipedia defines a node as: “One of the core elements in the OpenStreetMap data model. It consists of a single point in space defined by its latitude, longitude and node id.”)
    • The Set feature type /Set feature type dialog box also appears to the left of the map with a series of descriptive inputs. If you know the name of the building or area, or additional details, enter them here.
    • Once you've finished adding details connected to the node, close the dialog box by clicking on the X to the right of Edit Feature at the top.
    • To edit the node again, click on it again and the dialog box will reopen.
    • To delete a node that is incorrect, or created by mistake, click on node. A trashcan icon appears next to it. Click on the trashcan to remove the node.
    • If you ever need to step back a few edits, click the back arrow icon at the top of the editor. You can allow step forward a few edits with the forward arrow icon.
    • Click save at the top of the editor to make sure your edits are logged into the OpenStreetMap database.

    Map a Line
    To map a line in the OpenStreetMap iD editor:

    • Click the Line button at the top of the iD OpenStreetMap editor. It turns blue to indicate it is selected.
    • Click on a position on the map. A dot appears connected to a line.
    • Click on another other point on the map; another dot appears and the line will connect those two points.
    • Draw more points to establish the line or, click the Esc escape button on your keyboard to finish drawing the line.
    • The line then glows red to let you know that it has been created and a dialog box opens up to the left of the map editor.
    • Specify whether the line is a road, path, river or other options.
    • You may be specific or general depending on the satellite picture.
    • To modify a line that has already been created, click on it. The dialog box reopens next to the editor along with the trashcan icon next to the line.
    • Always remember to hit save at the top of the editor so your edits are logged into the OpenStreetMap database.

    Map an Area
    An area can be a park, a building, a lake, a forest or other types of enclosed filled land. To map an area in the OpenStreetMap iD editor:

    • Click on the area button at the top of the editor. It turns blue to let you know that you've selected it.
    • Select the edges of the building or land you want to define. Just click on the corners and the editor will fill in the space between.
    • Once you've fully outlined what you want, double click on the last created point to complete the area. The area will turn red to let you know that it's been created.
    • A dialog box will appear next to the map editor and allow you to classify the area you've just defined. There are numerous options and you may be as general or specific as possible.
    • If you do not know the specific name of the area, leave this section blank. Just label what you can see from the satellite imagery — such as a "lake" or "building".
    • Click save at the top of the editor to make sure your edits are logged into the OpenStreetMap database.
    • Once you hit save your edits are live and part of the OpenStreetMap data and immediately available to anyone in the world.
    • Take some time to practice what you’ve just learned. Once you feel confident in your ability to map, continue.

    Congratulations on completing step 2 — Learn to Map!

  3. Choose a mapping project from the list and fill in the data points.


    30 minutes or more

    How to Select a Project in the OpenStreetMap Tasking Manager

    Goal: Select a Project and map a tile. You do not need to be at the location and do not need to know the names of roads and buildings. You will look at satellite imagery and trace roads, paths, buildings and areas.

    Estimated time to spend each time you sit down to work on a map tile that is part of a project: 30 minutes or more.

    • Select the Project you wish to work on; a new browser tab or window (depends on browser settings) opens, taking you directly to the mapping project on the OpenStreetMap Tasking Manager website.
    • Log in with your OpenStreetMap account. If you are still logged into OpenStreetMap, you will not need to enter your login info.
    • You will see a map and information about the project including instructions on what to map.
    • Select a tile to work on.
    • Use the interactive map and zoom in on the highlighted tiles. The job has been broken up into small tile areas of the map to allow you to do a little bit of mapping rather than trying to map the entire area. This also lets other simultaneously map other tiles, or areas.
    • When you select a tile, your task is to map that specific tile by tracing satellite imagery.
    • Gray tiles represent all of the tasks available in this job. Orange tiles are areas that have been marked as done. Green tiles are areas that were marked as done and have been validated. Gray tiles with yellow outlines are areas that are currently being worked on.
    • Click on a gray tile to select it. The task tab opens. Click on the green button that says, "Start Mapping". By selecting a tile you are "checking it out". No one else will be able to edit this tile while you are working on it. Once you have completed working on the tile you will need to "check it back in" so others can validate or build on your work. The "check in" process is explained later in these instructions.
    • The task tab has a few additional sections: extra instructions (information about the imagery you are about to work with. In some cases, you will need to adjust the imagery in the iD editor), information on how to credit your edits (what you will copy and paste into the iD editor so your edits can be logged correctly) and history of this task.
    • To work on your tile, select iD from the editing tool options. This opens a new tab or window in your browser.
    • If needed, adjust the satellite imagery to match with an existing map edit by:
      • clicking on the layers button
      • scrolling down to "fix alignment"
      • using arrow buttons to line up the high resolution satellite imagery with the existing map edit. You may need to zoom in to do this.
    • Add roads, paths, buildings and areas in your tile. When you make a map edit, a dialogue box will appear. As you trace, you may not know the specific name of the road or building, which is okay. For instance, when you select the "Building" button in the iD editor, your map edit is automatically tagged as a building.
    • Credit your work each time you save your edits. A collection of map edits are called a changeset, and when you save your edits, you are essentially applying a "commit" to the OSM database. The iD editor will ask if you want to provide a "commit message" to your collection of edits. This information will help us understand when an edit was made as part of MapGive.
    • To credit your edits:
      • Click back to the OpenStreetMap tasking manger browser tab.
      • Scroll down to the credit section in the task tab.
      • Copy the credit. Click back on the iD editor browser tab.
      • Paste the credit in the tag section of the dialogue box.
    • When you finish or wish to stop mapping a tile, return to the OpenStreetMap tasking manager.
    • Either "unlock the task" or "mark it as done." Unlocking the task means that you have done some of the map edits but there are more to do. Marking the task as done means that you have completed the tile.
    • When you unlock a task, the tasking manager allows you to input comments. You may indicate how much of the tile is complete and specific features that need work. If you have no comments, write "no comments".
    • TIP: Unlocking a task = "checking it back in"
    • If you saved your edits in the iD editor, they will still be there others or for you to come back to.
    • Thank you for learning how to map and also for mapping to make a difference. For further help, please watch the video tutorials on this site.

    Congratulations on completing step 3 — Start Mapping!

  4. What are you waiting for, let's get started!
    View MapGive featured projects on the Start Mapping Page
    View all projects on the HOT Tasking Manager