MS RFC 138: Reference SLD files in Mapfiles


Seth Girvin


Last Updated:



Targeting MapServer 8.4



1. Overview

This proposal outlines how Styled Layer Descriptor (SLD) files could be referenced directly in a Mapfile, allowing styles to be applied using SLD files rather than MapServer’s CLASS and STYLE blocks.

This would allow easier creation of Mapfiles from other applications, such as QGIS, which could export a Mapfile referencing SLD files, rather than attempting to translate QGIS styles directly to MapServer Mapfile syntax. It would make it easier to reuse styles between different applications.

It is proposed that the LAYER’s STYLEITEM keyword is used to reference the SLD files, as in the example below:

  STYLEITEM "sld://mysldfile.xml" # uses SHAPEPATH and if not set then relative path to the Mapfile or absolute path
  CLASS # define an empty CLASS here

The mechanisms to load and apply a file from disk referenced in a Mapfile could also be used in the future to apply future styling formats for example e.g. OGC styling could use file://style.json.

2.1 Proposed Solution

In MapServer 6.6 the LAYER STYLEITEM property was updated to allow a path to a JavaScript file that would return a string containing a STYLE or CLASS definition. See STYLEITEM JavaScript for more details. The same approach will be taken for SLD files, so no new Mapfile keywords or concepts are required.

MapServer currently supports drawing layers in a Mapfile using SLD files in the following scenarios:

  • When applying SLD from a client application using the SLD_URL and SLD_BODY parameters to a MapServer layer - see the SLD docs

  • When using the WMS client - wms_sld_body can be used to specify SLD to apply to the WMS

  • When using the WMS client - wms_sld_url can be used to specify a URL pointing to an SLD file

Currently msSLDApplySLDURL saves an SLD file a URL to a temporary file, and then applies this SLD to the layer. Much of the code is already available and can be reused to implement applying SLD directly from a file.

2.2 Limitations

Currently all uses of SLD rely on the NamedLayer Name property matching the LAYER NAME. For example popplace in the SLD file:


Will only be applied if the LAYER NAME, or WMS name are also popplace:

LAYER "popplace"
    "wms_title" "popplace" # this property is also checked for a match

If an SLD file is defined within a layer, it is proposed there is no need for the NamedLayer property to match the LAYER NAME. This would allow SLD files to be more easily reused, and would avoid confusion as to why the SLD isn’t being applied when specified in the Mapfile.

MapServer supports applying multiple NamedLayers to a LAYER, by creating a copy of the layer and applying subsequent NamedLayer styles to these copies. It is proposed only one NamedLayer will be applied to a LAYER when defined as a file in the STYLEITEM property. Cloning layers already containing a STYLEITEM will make the code overly complex, and a Mapfile author is free to create as many LAYERs in the Mapfile as they wish. If multiple NamedLayers are contained in the SLD file only the first will be used.

2.3 Testing

Mapfiles and sample SLD files will be created and added to the msautotest test suite. There are several conflicting features that will need to be tested. Tests will include:

  • Applying SLD to a LAYER

  • Checking an error is returned if the SLD file cannot be found

  • Checking if multiple NamedLayer files are contained in an SLD file only the first is used

  • Checking SLD is applied even if the LAYER NAME doesn’t match the NamedLayer Name

  • Checking Legends are correctly generated

  • Checking SLD can be supplied from a URL or querystring to override the SLD in the STYLEITEM

Reviewing SLD support in MapServer highlighted several use cases which do not currently have tests. Tests may be added as part of this implementation. These include:

  • Using wms_sld_body in a WMS client

  • Using wms_sld_url in a WMS client

Several other SLD tests however are provided:

  • Passing SLD via sld_body in a querystring is tested in many cases for example msautotest/wxs/

  • Passing in an SLD URL is tested in msautotest/sld/

2.4 Security Concerns

MapServer already accepts SLD from remote URLs and client requests, so local SLD files shouldn’t cause any concerns.

2.5 MapScript

MapScript currently includes an applySLD function on both Map and Layer objects. The layerObj also includes a styleitem property which can be used to set the STYLEITEM property.

3. Implementation Details

3.1 Affected files

  • mapdraw.c

  • maplayer.c

  • mapogcsld.cpp

More files may be affected once implementation is underway.

3.2 Ticket Reference

TODO - add GitHub pull request URLs.

3.3 Documentation

Documentation will be added to the STYLEITEM docs. A link to these docs will also be added to the “Other Items Implemented” section on the SLD docs page.

4. Voting History