Geographic Information Management for all


What is GeoNetwork opensource

GeoNetwork opensource is a standard based and decentralised spatial information management system, designed to enable access to geo-referenced databases and cartographic products from a variety of data providers through descriptive metadata, enhancing the spatial information exchange and sharing between organisations and their audience, using the capacities and the power of the Internet. The system provides a broad community of users with easy and timely access to available spatial data and thematic maps from multidisciplinary sources, that may in the end support informed decision making. The main goal of the software is to increase collaboration within and between organisations for reducing duplication and enhancing information consistency and quality and to improve the accessibility of a wide variety of geographic information along with the associated information, organised and documented in a standard and consistent way.

Main Features

  • Instant search on local and distributed geospatial catalogues
  • Uploading and downloading of data, documents, PDF’s and any other content
  • An interactive Web map viewer that combines Web Map Services from distributed servers around the world
  • Online map layout generation and export in PDF format
  • Online editing of metadata with a powerful template system
  • Scheduled harvesting and synchronisation of metadata between distributed catalogues
  • Groups and users management
  • Fine grained access control

Background and evolution

The prototype of the GeoNetwork catalogue was developed by the Food and Agriculture organisation of the United Nations (FAO) in 2001 to systematically archive and publish the geographic datasets produced within the organisation. The prototype was built on experiences within and outside the organisation. It used metadata content available from legacy systems that was transformed into what was then only a draft metadata standard, the ISO 19115. Later on, another UN agency, the World Food Programme (WFP) joined the project and with its contribution the first version of the software was released in 2003 and operational catalogues were established in FAO and WFP. The system was based on the ISO19115:DIS metadata standard and embedded the Web Map Client InterMap that supported Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) compliant Web Map Services. Distributed searches were possible using the standard Z39.50 catalogue protocol. At that moment it was decided to develop the program as a Free and Open Source Software to allow the whole geospatial users community to benefit from the development results and to contribute to the further advancement of the software.

Jointly with the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), FAO developed a second version in 2004. The new release allowed users to work with multiple metadata standards (ISO 19115, FGDC and Dublin Core) in a transparent manner. It also allowed metadata to be shared between catalogues through a caching mechanism, improving reliability when searching in multiple catalogues.

In 2006, the GeoNetwork team dedicated efforts to develop a DVD containing the GeoNetwork version 2.0.3 and the best free and open source software in the field of Geoinformatics. The DVD was produced and distributed in hard copy to over three thousand people and is now also available for download from the GeoNetwork Community website.

GeoNetwork opensource is the result of the collaborative development of many contributors. These include among others the Food and Agriculture organisation (FAO), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CSI-CGIAR), The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), The European Space Agency (ESA) and many others. Support for the metadata standard ISO19115:2003 has been added by using the ISO19139:2007 implementation specification schema published in May 2007. The release also serves as the open source reference implementation of the OGC Catalogue Service for the Web (CSW 2.0.2) specification. Improvements to give users a more responsive and interactive experience have been substantial and include a new Web map viewer and a complete revision of search interface.

The use of International Standards

GeoNetwork has been developed following the principles of a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and based on International and Open Standards for services and protocols, like the ISO-TC211 and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) specifications. The architecture is largely compatible with the OGC Portal Reference Architecture, i.e. the OGC guide for implementing standardised geospatial portals. Indeed the structure relies on the same three main modules identified by the OGC Portal Reference Architecture, that are focused on spatial data, metadata and interactive map visualisation. The system is also fully compliant with the OGC specifications for querying and retrieving information from Web catalogues (CSW). It supports the most common standards to specifically describe geographic data (ISO19139 and FGDC) and the international standard for general documents (Dublin Core). It uses standards (OGS WMS) also for visualising maps through the Internet.

Harvesting geospatial data in a shared environment

Within the geographic information environment, the increased collaboration between data providers and their efforts to reduce duplication have stimulated the development of tools and systems to significantly improve the information sharing and guarantee an easier and quicker access of data from a variety of sources without undermining the ownership of the information. The harvesting functionality in GeoNetwork is a mechanism of data collection in perfect accordance with both rights to data access and data ownership protection. Through the harvesting functionality it is possible to collect public information from the different GeoNetwork nodes installed around the world and to copy and store periodically this information locally. In this way a user from a single entry point can get information also from distributed catalogues. The logo posted on top each harvested record informs the user about the data source.

GeoNetwork and the Open Source Community Development

The community of users and developers of the GeoNetwork software has increased dramatically since the release of version 2.0 in December 2005 and the subsequent releases. At present, the user and developer mailing lists count well over 250 subscriptions each. Subscription to these lists is open to anyone interested. The archive of the mailing lists provides an important resource for users and can be freely browsed online. Members provide feedback within the community and provide translations, new functionalities, bug reports, fixes and instructions to the project as a whole. Building a self sustaining community of users and developers is one of the biggest challenges for the project. This community-building process relies on active participation and interaction of its members. It also relies on building trust and operating in a transparent manner, thereby agreeing on the overall objectives, prioritization and long term direction of the project. A number of actions have been taken by the project team to facilitate this process.

The foundation for the establishment of a GeoNetwork Advisory Board was laid at the 2006 workshop in Rome and membership criteria were defined.

A work plan is presented and discussed at the yearly GeoNetwork workshop; subsequently, the plan is maintained and updated throughout the year where needed. The project management team reports back to the advisory board about the reached developments and objectives during the annual workshops.

Two public Websites have been established. One focuses on the users of the software (, while the other one is dedicated to the developers ( Both can be updated and maintained online by trusted members of the community. They provide documentation, bug reporting and tracking, Wiki pages et cetera. A small part of the community connects through Internet Relay Chat (IRC) on a public irc:// channel. But most interaction takes place on the user and the developer mailing lists.

During the 2006 workshop, the Project Advisory Board decided to propose the GeoNetwork opensource project as an incubator project to the newly founded Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo). This incubation process is currently ongoing but close to conclusions. The project Websites have been moved to servers accessible under the umbrella of the OSGeo foundation. Web pages have been updated to reflect the OSGeo principles and a source code review performed.

Source code is maintained in a publicly accessible code repository, hosted at an independent service provider, that hosts thousands of FOSS projects. Developers and users have full access to all sections of the source code, while trusted developers can make changes in the repository itself. A special mailing list has been established to monitor changes in the code repository. This so-called “commit mailing list” delivers change reports by email to its subscribers.

The documentation is written in reStructuredText format using the Sphinx framework to ensure versioning and support of multiple output formats (e.g. HTML and PDF).