Using Earth Files

An Earth File is an XML description of a map. Creating an earth file is the easiest way to configure a map and get up and running quickly. In the osgEarth repository you will find dozens of sample earth files in the tests folder, covering various topics and demonstrating various features. We encourage you to explore and try them out!

Contents of an Earth File

osgEarth uses an XML based file format called an Earth File to specify exactly how source data turns into an OSG scene graph. An Earth File has a .earth extension, but it is XML.

Fundamentally the Earth File allows you to specify:

  • The type of map to create (geocentric or projected)
  • The image, elevation, vector and model sources to use
  • Where the data will be cached

A Simple Earth File

Here is a very simple example that reads data from a GeoTIFF file on the local file system and renders it as a geocentric round Earth scene:

<map name="MyMap">
    <image name="bluemarble" driver="gdal">

This Earth File creates a geocentric Map named MyMap with a single GeoTIFF image source called bluemarble. The driver attribute tells osgEarth which of its plugins to use to use to load the image. (osgEarth uses a plug-in framework to load different types of data from different sources.)

Some of the sub-elements (under image) are particular to the selected driver. To learn more about drivers and how to configure each one, please refer to the Driver Reference Guide.

Multiple Image Layers

osgEarth supports maps with multiple image sources. This allows you to create maps such as base layer with a transportation overlay or provide high resolution insets for specific areas that sit atop a lower resolution base map.

To add multiple images to a Earth File, simply add multiple “image” blocks to your Earth File:

<map name="Transportation">

    <!--Add a base map of the blue marble data-->
    <image name="bluemarble" driver="gdal">

    <!--Add a high resolution inset of Washington, DC-->
    <image name="dc" driver="gdal">


The above map provides two images from local data sources using the GDAL driver. Order is important when defining multiple image sources: osgEarth renders them in the order in which they appear in the Earth File.

Tip: relative paths within an Earth File are interpreted as being relative to the Earth File itself.

Adding Elevation Data

Adding elevation data (sometimes called “terrain data”) to an Earth File is very similar to adding images. Use an elevation block like so:

<map name="Elevation">

    <!--Add a base map of the blue marble data-->
    <image name="bluemarble" driver="gdal">

    <!--Add SRTM data-->
    <elevation name="srtm" driver="gdal">


This Earth File has a base bluemarble image as well as a elevation grid that is loaded from a local GeoTIFF file. You can add as many elevation layers as you like; osgEarth will combine them into a single mesh.

As with images, order is important - For example, if you have a base elevation data source with low-resolution coverage of the entire world and a high-resolution inset of a city, you need specify the base data FIRST, followed by the high-resolution inset.

Some osgEarth drivers can generate elevation grids as well as imagery.

Note: osgEarth only supports single-channel 16-bit integer or 32-bit floating point data for use in elevation layers.


Since osgEarth renders data on demand, it sometimes needs to do some work in order to prepare a tile for display. The cache exists so that osgEarth can save the results of this work for next time, instead of processing the tile anew each time. This increases performance and avoids multiple downloads of the same data.

Here’s an example cache setup:

<map name="TMS Example">

    <image name="metacarta blue marble" driver="tms">

        <!--Specify where to cache the data-->
        <cache type="filesystem">


This Earth File shows the most basic way to specify a cache for osgEarth. This tells osgEarth to enable caching and to cache to the folder c:/osgearth_cache. The cache path can be relative or absolute; relative paths are relative to the Earth File itself.

There are many ways to configure caching; please refer to the section on Caching for more details.