OpenStreetMap Without Servers [Part 1]

At Digital Democracy we are working with indigenous communities in the Amazon to create maps of their own neighbourhoods, their territory: farms, fishing sites and hunting trails essential to feeding the family; old village sites where grandparents lie buried; sacred spaces for reflection and healing. Armed with maps they themselves create, our partners are fighting to protect their ancestral rainforest home and hold oil, mining and logging companies accountable for contamination and deforestation of their territory.

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a free, editable map of the world created by volunteers. Easy to learn tools make it simple for anybody to map their house, their street, their neighbourhood, and collaborate with thousands of other users around the world to create a global map that rivals Google Maps for accuracy and detail.

OpenStreetMap tools are a great fit for our partners: they allow anybody in the community to learn and collaborate to create a map, and OSM makes no assumptions about what is mapped or how. However, collaborating on OSM requires an internet connection, and the global OSM database is not the appropriate place for more sensitive community information.

That is why we have created osm-p2p, an OpenStreetMap database that does not require a server or central source of truth. Every device – laptop, phone or tablet – can have its own database with a copy of the map. Users can synchronize edits with other users over the internet, a local network connection, or synchronize edits to a USB drive and send it on a canoe downriver to the next village.

Map editor with Waorani

We’ve built an experimental map-editor as an installable offline application, based on iD Editor. All it takes to start working on your own, custom OSM database is to download the app and start creating and editing data.

We built osm-p2p in response to the needs of the indigenous communities we work with:

However, we hope that osm-p2p will be useful beyond our work with indigenous territory mapping. We are working on import of regions from the global public OSM database and export of osm-p2p edits back to We hope this will have applications for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and other situations where teams need to collaborate on OSM edits in areas with little or no internet connectivity.

If you are a developer, read more details about how to get started with osm-p2p and if you can, hop-in and help us improve the tool and increase compatibility with the OSM ecosystem. If you are keen to start using osm-p2p for your own mapping projects, stay tuned for tutorials about how to start mapping with your own, private OpenStreetMap.

Read more about osm-p2p in this blog post by our lead programmer, James Halliday.

osm-p2p development was supported by a grant from the Knight Prototype Fund

  1. Redundancy is similar to having backups, but in a peer-to-peer system every peer has a complete replica of the data, so any one peer can loose their database and recover by connecting to another peer. Redundancy means that more than one person has a replica of the database.