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Alternative object creation using TopoJSON

15. May 2013

Today I will present my new approach on data driven topological ‘consistent’ line simplification applied to topologic connected polygonal geometries, proofed and tested on a dataset of administrative units.

Starting point

Since a while I am playing with the compressed file format ‘TopoJSON‘ and/combined with linear simplification applied to map overlays processed in JavaScript…as you can see in recent posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)!

You can see in this example, that I had early the idea to implement topologic ‘consistency’ by not removing the connecting (‘anchor-‘) points of the connected polygonal geometries. But this implementation had a big problem:

I was able to only apply topologic consistent simplification to the lines of the dataset, called by the ‘mesh’-function (topojson.v0.js) –> example

  • Disadvantage: no access to the corresponding polygon…and therefore…no interactivity like hovering

– or –

apply topologic INconsistent simplification to the polygonal geometries of the dataset, called by the ‘object’-function (topojson.v0.js – this is now ‘feature’ in ~.v1.js) –> example

  • Disadvantage: only topological consistent on connecting (‘anchor’-) points but not along the borders

I was NOT able to get topologic consistent polygons!!! Especially, because topojson.v1.js does not offer a possibility to rebuilt the polygonal geometries from the topologic simplified mesh.

So…I had to implement something…


The basic idea consists of the following steps:

  1. Take arcs of an object (resp. feature) singulary,
  2. build their geometries (LineString)
  3. simplify this linear geometry and
  4. build the polygonal geometries from the simplified arcs

This way…each redundant line gets simplified only once and has therefore exactly the same ‘Visvalingham’-value attached. (more infos on that!, own examples)

–> this keeps topology of neighbors

Additionally…I know the start- & end-points of each arc…and can define this as ‘anchor point’ (always keep)

–> this keeps topology at least at the connected points

But wait…I spoke about ‘data driven’…where is it?

This is the thing I like on TopoJSON! It is basically a file format to compress the file size…but it can also be used to support keeping topologic consistency! Especially, when you create a TopoJSON-file, you can add different layers to it.

Let’s have a look at an example:

One layer with german states: TopoJSON checks for redundancy within that layer and between the state geometries

–> 1 arc / state border

Two layers with german states and counties: TopoJSON checks for redundancy between the two layers and the inner connectivity of county & state geometries

–> 1 arc / county border & n arcs / state border

Three layers with german states, counties and municipalities: TopoJSON checks for redundancy between the three layers and the inner connectivity of municipality, county & state geometries

–> 1 arc / municipality border & n arcs / county border & m arcs / state border

You can see: The amount of data, within a TopoJSON-file, influences the granularity of the arcs. And that influences also the topologic consistency for the outline simplification. I described, that I set start-&end-points of the arcs as fixed ‘anchor’ points, which will not get removed. When there are more arcs in the file…there will be also more start-&end-points…so there will be more ‘anchor’ points!?!


I made an application to proof this basic idea and visualise the data-driven topologic consistency of line simplification for polygons. The following images show the polygons when all ‘non-anchor’ points are removed from the geometries. I apply Visvalingham-simplification to the borders of german states and set it to the maximum value…so all points are removed instead they are start- or end-points of an arc.

TopoJSON containing 1 layer – only states


–> you see…only start- & end-points and shared borders are kept – slightly topologic consistent but not correct

TopoJSON containing 2 layers – states & counties

counties–> that looks more like germany – the additional anchor points of the counties make it look like a schematised visualisation, but especially the outline of germany is not correct

TopoJSON containing 3 layers – states, counties & municipalities


–> that looks very good – that is really a simplified version of germany – good inner and outer topologic consistency


So…I hope…I was able to demonstrate my idea.

With this implementation, I am able to apply topologic consistent linear simplification, independent of geometry type. I just simplify the arcs and build the corresponding object from the simplified arc-geometries, afterwards.

I also tried to demonstrate how the layers of a TopoJSON-file influences the application of generalization. I think this is really straight forward…as the data influences it’s own degree of generalization.

Images are too boring and you like it more interactive?!?…play with the application!

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