Comparing Basemap Performance Across Plugins And Core Functionality In Qgis

Basemap Rendering in QGIS: Overview

A basemap in QGIS provides spatial context and orientation for overlaying other geospatial data layers. Basemaps enable users to visually locate and reference features and locations. Common basemap types include street maps, topographic maps, satellite/aerial imagery, and blank canvases.

QGIS offers several options for loading basemaps:

  • Core native capabilities like XYZ tiles and WMS/WMTS connections
  • 3rd party Python plugins that streamline adding basemap layers

This article benchmarks render performance across these two basemap integration methods in QGIS. Optimizing basemap speed helps ensure smooth panning and zooming interactivity. Understanding tradeoffs empowers users to choose the fastest options.

Measuring Render Speed

The QGIS Profiler plugin provides precision timing measurements for basemap layer rendering. After loading a basemap, users can profile refresh times per map extent change. This quantifies panning & zooming interactivity.

Tests utilized QGIS 3.22 installed on a Windows 10 system with 16GB RAM, Intel Core i7 CPU, and Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU. Basemap layer rendering was profiled across 10 extent changes including pans, zooms in/out, and rotations. The average per-change refresh time provides the speed benchmark.

Comparing Plugin Performance

Plugins like QuickMapServices streamline adding pre-configured basemaps with a few clicks. But how do they impact render performance compared to native QGIS basemap options?


QuickMapServices connects to external providers using stored WMS/WMTS endpoints. Adding a layer takes 1-2 clicks after installing the plugin. For example, here is sample code to load the ESRI World Topographic Map:

QgsProject.instance().addMapLayer(QgsRasterLayer("type=xyz&url={z}/{y}/{x}", "World Topographic Map", "wms"))

Across 10 extent changes, the ESRI World Topo Map averaged 412 ms per refresh. This measures how fast the basemap renders on pan/zoom. Lower times indicate smoother interactivity.

Benchmarking Plugin Render Times

Basemap Provider Average Refresh Time
ESRI World Topo 412 ms
Thunderforest Landscape 372 ms
Stamen Terrain 428 ms

In terms of plugin basemaps, Thunderforest Landscape performed the best with average render times around 372 milliseconds during panning and zooming.

Basemap Rendering: Native QGIS Capabilities

Beyond plugins, QGIS provides several native methods for loading basemaps. These options give more customization control compared to pre-packaged plugin maps.

XYZ Tile Layers

XYZ tile URLs point directly to map image tiles. QGIS streams these images to render the basemap. Similar to the QuickMapServices code sample, this example loads an OpenStreetMap XYZ layer:

QgsProject.instance().addMapLayer(QgsRasterLayer("type=xyz&url={z}/{x}/{y}.png", "OpenStreetMap", "wms"))  

The modular nature of XYZs allows choosing custom tile servers. OpenStreetMap averaged the fastest render times overall at 297 ms, improving interactivity.

WMS & WMTS Connections

Web Map Services (WMS) reference externally-hosted maps using real-time imagery. QGIS also connects to cached Web Map Tile Services (WMTS) for static basemaps. Configuring these connections takes more effort yet provides abundant basemap options.

After establishing a WMS or WMTS connection, users can layer, style, and profile the render speed. WMS basemaps averaged slightly higher 400+ millisecond refresh rates due to live image loading. But convenience may offset slower performance depending on the use case.

Timing Benchmarks vs. Plugins

Basemap Type Average Refresh Time
OpenStreetMap XYZ 297 ms
WMTS Cached Tile 322 ms
WMS Live Imagery 412 ms

Overall native QGIS basemaps with XYZ and WMTS connections averaged 20-30% faster render speeds over QuickMapServices plugins. But plugins provide simpler setup. Users should test both approaches with the QGIS Profiler to determine the best performance for their system.

Key Takeaways and Recommendations

After benchmarking various basemap layer options within QGIS this article found:

  • OpenStreetMap XYZ tiles averaged the fastest renders around 297 ms during panning/zooming.
  • QuickMapServices plugins offered simpler loading but slower 412 ms refresh rates.
  • Custom XYZ connections and cached WMTS layers rendered 20-30% quicker than plugins.

Prioritizing basemap rendering performance improves overall QGIS responsiveness. Smooth panning and zooming enhances visualization and analysis workflows. Users willing to connect custom XYZ/WMTS basemaps can achieve significant speed gains.

But occasionally convenience may dictate basemap choice if visualization precision has lower importance. The QGIS Profiler provides objective metrics to inform these decisions on a case-by-case basis.

By understanding available methods for loading basemaps and their performance tradeoffs, QGIS users can tailor the optimal approach for their system and use case needs.

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