The MapRoulette Blog

Using Overpass to create Challenges

Published: (Updated: ) in Tutorial by .

This post also appears on the MapRoulette Learn web site. You will find many more resources there to get the most out of MapRoulette, including how-tos, screencasts and reference documentation.

Overpass is a powerful query language for OSM. You can ask it things like “Show me all water fountains in Rome” or “Show me banks that are more than 1km away from a police station”.

You can use Overpass queries directly in MapRoulette to generate tasks when you create a new Challenge. In this post, I want to help you do this, and avoid common mistakes.

A simple example

Imagine that you want to create a Challenge to have mappers look at bus stop nodes in a certain area. This Overpass query will give you all highway=bus_stop nodes in Salt Lake City:

area[name="Salt Lake City"]->.a;
out meta;

Explaining the full syntax of Overpass QL (the language this query is written in) is outside the scope of this article. Please look at the language referenceexamples and other Overpass related pages on the OSM wiki. OSM user Binette also has some MapRoulette specific query examples on their user page.

You can plug this query right into MapRoulette when you create a Challenge:

After completing the Challenge wizard, your Tasks will reflect the result of the Overpass Query:

Common Pitfalls

Define an area

Overpass queries span the entire map, unless you specify an area to limit the query to. Queries that do not specify an area can generate huge results and take a long time to complete. Unless you really know what you are doing, please specify an area to limit your query to.

Don’t Use Overpass Turbo Extensions

Overpass Turbo lets you test Overpass queries, share them, and download results in a variety of formats. It also offers a wizard that helps you with common queries. We highly recommend using Overpass Turbo to test your queries before you use them in MapRoulette.

Overpass Turbo uses a few language extensions that are not part of Overpass QL. MapRoulette does not understand these extensions, so you cannot use them in MapRoulette to generate tasks.

The most common extension Overpass Turbo uses is <<bbox>>. This indicates the currently visible map extent. Overpass Turbo replaces this with the actual longitude / latitude bounds before sending the query to Overpass. If you want to use a query that contains, you need to select Export > Query > Copy as standalone querybefore pasting into MapRoulette.

Beware of Recursions

Overpass lets you use recursion (>) to select all nodes belonging to a way, or all nodes and ways belonging to a relation. If you use recursion in a query to create Tasks in MapRoulette, you will often get more results than you expected. This is because MapRoulette will interpret each separate node as a Task, as well as the Way itself. To avoid this, use out geom. So instead of…

out body;
out skel qt;

… do this:

out geom;


Complex queries or queries that span a large area can take a long time to complete. MapRoulette uses a default query timeout of 180 seconds (3 minutes). This should be enough for most scenarios. If you really need MapRoulette to tell Overpass to wait longer, you can use Overpass’s native [timeout] setting to override this.

A word on out meta

Strictly speaking, you don’t need all OSM metadata to build the tasks. You can just use the out statement with no parameters which, according to the documentation, gives you “all information necessary to use the data”. By using out meta you get “everything output by body for each OSM element, as well as the version, changeset id, timestamp, and the user data of the user that last touched”.