MS RFC 32: Support for Anti-Grain Geometry (AGG) Rendering Engine

Author:Steve Lime, John Novak
Contact:Steve.Lime at DNR.State.MN.US


Presently MapServer supports GD ( as its primary raster rendering backend. While GD is sufficient in many instances it is not capable of high quality output especially with regards to anti-aliased line work. MapServer does support pseudo anti-aliased wide lines using variable opacity “fuzzy” buffers, but the results are not as good as they could be.

AGG has emerged as one of the premier software-only rendering solutions and it holds the promise of superior output quality with little or no apparent loss in performance. In fact, AGG may well be faster than GD in some instances even with the higher quality output.

That said, we are still heavily vested in GD for many things. Text positioning and raster rendering in particular use GD functions directly. On the other hand, AGG does not have built in functions to read or write popular graphics formats such as GIF, JPEG or PNG. It makes sense then to consider a hybrid solution wherein we can take advantage of aspects of GD that make sense such as buffer management and I/O capabilities, and let AGG worry about rendering features. That’s exactly what is proposed- AGG rendering into a GD managed image buffer. A secondary benefit is that AGG functionality can be added incrementally as time and resources permit. For example, since an AGG imageObj is really just a gdImagePtr we can use current code that renders to a GD image along side any AGG routines.


See AGG Rendering Specifics for more information.

Technical Solution

The goal of this initial implementation is to be able to render the symbol and style definitions the same way as GD does. That is, the AGG renderer should produce output similar to GD but of a higher quality. No attempts are made at this stage to introduce rendering capabilities specific to AGG unless otherwise noted. As a result no additions to the MapServer symbolObj or styleObj are necessary at this point.

For the most part, the AGG renderer can ingest processed shapeObj’s, styleObj’s and symbolObj’s just as GD. That said, since AGG uses sub-pixel computations to render features it does not want feature coordinates rounded to integer values, so a special AGG-only map to image coordinate conversion function msTransformShapeAGG. Note, that it may be that GD could also make use of the non-rounded features and could just cast the doubles to ints when passing x’s and y’s to GD (in fact the code already does this), but further testing will be necessary.

C API Changes

In reality adding a new renderer has little or no effect on the MapServer core. The following files are to be modified to add AGG specific processing blocks that are basically straight copies of GD support:

  • mapdraw.c
  • mapdrawgdal.c
  • maperror.c
  • maplegend.c
  • mapoutput.c
  • mapraster.c
  • mapresample.c
  • maputil.c

No new functionality is added to these files, rather just else-if blocks.

The bulk of the AGG functionality can be found in a new source file, mapagg.cpp. For better or worse it mimics the rendering API found in mapgd.c. So, for example msDrawLineSymbolGD has a counter part in msDrawLineSymbolAGG. Various helper functions/methods can also be found in that file.


No changes.


An output block like this will trigger AGG rendering:


Issues and Caveats

  • The AGG driver only supports RGB output at this time. A fundamental difference in how GD and AGG interpret alpha channel values (GD is backwards) means that AGG cannot write to a GD alpha channel and have the output interpreted correctly. This really shouldn’t be a deal breaker though since vector rendering in MapServer does not write to the alpha channel except when dealing with layer transparency, otherwise alpha blending occurs. In addition, GD is back under active development and there are plans to define a proper RGBA buffer.
  • Text and raster layers are drawn using GD. While text placement could certainly benefit from sub-pixel placement there are not enough resources to complete that support at this time. Hopefully it can be addressed soon. Raster layer rendering doesn’t appear to benefit from AGG and will remain a GD function at this time.
  • The following symbol, style combinations do not work under AGG: TODO
  • The AGG license was changed between versions 2.4 (BSD style) and 2.5 (GPL) ( MapServer should use version 2.4 of the library until all implications of this change are clarified.

Bug ID

None assigned

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