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Building a Module

20 Apr 2009

I was asked to do a presentation on coding in Drupal for our local Drupal user group. “Coding” is a pretty general topic, and the audience at our user group is pretty varied. So, I was not sure what specifically I should present that would encompass “coding”. As the time came along and I had to make a decision, I looked to the module that I currently spend most of my free time developing: OpenLayers.

What is OpenLayers?

OpenLayers is a free, open-source Javascript library that provides an easy interface to bring together any sort of map tiles, markers, features, and other GIS goodness. OpenLayers was initially developed by MetaCarta, now a project of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation. Think Google Maps but open-source and more accepting of other worldly GID data. The OpenLayers has many examples and gallery of sites.

Where Drupal Fits In

Drupal is a great content management system and development framework. OpenLayers fits well into this because it basically is a really great visualization tool for content (the most obvious visualization being maps). Drupal can basically provide the ability to create and management data/content and OpenLayers can be a fun vehicle to displaying that content.

The History

The Drupal OpenLayers Module has actually been around for almost 2 years. Started by bdragon, he saw early on its strength of offering a nice interface for creating features. His work was later merged with crischan. All that was pretty much scrapped and the module was restarted once again in late March of 2009.

Having worked with Brandon before, I approached him to see what he was planning with the module and if I could help out at all. We discussed plans to create a simple API and a CCK widget for the Geo field.

Pretty much the day after Brandon and I talked about what we wanted to do with the module, phayes released the geo_gui. I wrote a post about how it would be nice to have Drupal’s GIS efforts a little more in sync, and Patrick was quick to respond.

Brandon, Patrick, and I sat down in IRC and figured out quickly that we had the same goals, and that the OpenLayers module would be the more appropriate place for our efforts. We also discovered that our skills complimented each other well, Patrick knowing GIS and Javascript well, I knowing Drupal and PHP, and Brandon being a master of all things.

About this Discussion

This article is mostly about how we have developed this module, and what kind of practices, standards, techniques we used along the way. Please keep in mind, at the time of this writing, we are still actively developing, and with all programming, there is always another way to do the same thing.

Some assumptions I want to make up front as we start getting into the code:

  • You have built a Drupal site from start to finish, and understand the basic concepts of Drupal.
  • You have a good understanding of important contributed modules like Views and CCK.
  • You are familiar with mapping on the web, meaning you have used Google Maps before.
  • You know PHP, meaning you know the syntax and can read it on a simple level.
  • You know Javascript and jQuery, again, to a basic degree (being able to read).
  • You know HTML and CSS. You should be able to write both of these as these are the building blocks of any modern website.

You can learn a lot of these technologies and more at the W3 Schools site.

Drupal Coding References

The following are good references for writing Drupal code (assuming Drupal 6):

The Development

I was given the responsibility of creating the first prototype. I was lucky to have Patrick’s module to help with the Javascript and OpenLayers side of things, but there was still a need to do things the Drupal way. The two basic functions of the core OpenLayers module that would provide an interface for further functionality are the following:

  • An associative array to hold all the data that is needed to render a map.
  • A set of Javascript functions to handle the data that is passed to it.

Please note that the following code is from a version that is still in development, and at a point that we have not taken the time to fully audit our code and release the module.

A Basic Map Array and Sensible Defaults

A very basic map array is below. Note the different depths as these usually mean separate processing.

This function also points out an important topic: Sensible Defaults. Sensible defaults basically mean that given no user input or customization, how will the system react. This is important from a usability standpoint, as it means that the module works without any configuration. Specifically for this module, it means that a map can be rendered without having to set any values.

 * Get Map Defaults
 * @return
 *   map array
function _openlayers_get_map_defaults() {
  $map_default = array(
    'id' => _openlayers_create_map_id(),
    'width' => 'auto',
    'height' => '300px',
    'center' => array(
      'lat' => '0',
      'lon' => '0',
      'zoom' => 2,
    'options' => array(
      'projection' => 4326,
      'displayProjection' => 4326,
    'controls' => array(
      'LayerSwitcher' => TRUE,
    'layers' => array(
  return $map_default;

Rendering the Map

The following if the rendering function for a map. The input is the associative array talked about above.

 * Render Map
 * Given perimeters, render an OpenLayers map
 * @ingroup API
 * @param $map
 *   Associative array of map paramters
 * @return
 *   Boolean if successful
function openlayers_render_map($map = array()) {
  // Check array

  if (!is_array($map)) {
    return FALSE;
  // Intialize

  if (openlayers_intialize() == FALSE) {
    return FALSE;
  // Check ID

  if (!$map['id']) {
    $map['id'] = _openlayers_create_map_id();
  // Merge with site defaults (saved values)

  $saved_defaults = variable_get('openlayers_defaults', array());
  $map = openlayers_merge_maps($saved_defaults, $map);
  // Merge with module/system defaults

  $system_defaults = _openlayers_get_map_defaults();
  $map = openlayers_merge_maps($system_defaults, $map);
  // Process layers

  $map['layers'] = _openlayers_layers_process($map['layers'], $map);
  // Hook for one last alter

  // hook_openlayers_map_alter(&$map = array())

  drupal_alter('openlayers_map', &$map);

  // Check our map for errors


  // Add map container to drupal JS settings

  $openlayers = array(
    'openlayers' => array(
      'maps' => array(
        $map['id'] => $map,
  drupal_add_js($openlayers, 'setting');
  // Add themed HTML (no need for it to go to JS)

  $map['themed'] = theme('openlayers_map', $map);
  return $map;


The rendering process actually involves 3 different hooks (though some are within sub-functions):


This hook gathers information on layers that are available to a map. The main goal of this hook is to get data on how to get more detailed data. This is important so that we are not unnecessarily processing a lot of data until the right time.

hook_openlayers_layers_handler_info($map = array())

This hook gathers information on how to handle layers, specifically which Javascript function to call in order to process the layer.

hook_openlayers_map_alter(&$map = array())

This is an alter hook, which is a little more specific that a regular hook. It’s most prominent use is with Drupal forms. This basically passes around the map array to any module that wants it to see if there is any final processing to do.

The OpenLayers Layers module, at the moment, is just implementation of the first two hooks. In the future it will become an actual interface for managing layers, but will still remain implementations of these hooks.

Javascript Processing

The following is the very top level of the map array processing. We are sending the map array with drupal_add_js($array, ‘setting), which can be accessed with something like: Drupal.settings.array.key.

 * When document is ready for JS
jQuery(document).ready(function() {
  // Store rendered maps and other OpenLayer objects in Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects

  Drupal.openlayers = {}
  Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects = [];
  Drupal.openlayers.mapDefs = Drupal.settings.openlayers.maps;
  // Go through array and make maps

  for (var i in Drupal.openlayers.mapDefs) {
    var map = Drupal.openlayers.mapDefs[i];
    // Check to see if there is a div on the page ready for the map. If there is then proceed.

    if ($('#' + > 0) {
      // Make div the right dimensions and add custom controls

      $('#' +'width', map.width).css('height', map.height);
      $('#' +'<div class="openlayers-controls" id="openlayers-controls-' + + '"></div>');
      $('#openlayers-controls-' +"position","relative").css("bottom",map.height);
      // Set-up our registry of active OpenLayers javascript objects for this particular map.

      Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[] = {};
      // Set up places for us to store layers, controls, etc.

      Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].controls = [];
      Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].layers = [];
      Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].active = false;

      // Render Map


 * Render OpenLayers Map
function openlayersRenderMap(map) {
  // Create Projection objects

  Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].projection = new OpenLayers.Projection("EPSG:" + map.options.projection);
  Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].externalProjection = new OpenLayers.Projection("EPSG:" + map.options.displayProjection);
  // Create base map options

  var options = openlayersCreateMapOptions(map.options, map.controls,;
  // Store map in our registry of active OpenLayers objects

  Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].map = new OpenLayers.Map(, options);
  // Add ID to map.

  // @@TODO: Properly namespace this.

  Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].map.mapid =;
  // Add events to the map 

  for (var evtype in{
    for (var ev in[evtype]){ 
      //@@TODO: Do this without eval. See on why we should not use eval.

      eval("Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[],Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].map," +[evtype][ev] + ");");
  //On MouseOver mark the map as "active".

  $('#' +{
    Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[$(this).attr('id')].active = true;
    Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[$(this).attr('id')].active = false;
  // We set up all our layers

  // Make some layers editable and set-up the editing interface.

  if (map.draw_features) {
  // Add layers to map

  for (var l in Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].layers) {
    var layer =  Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].layers[l];
  // Add controls to map

  for (var c in Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].controls) {
    var control = Drupal.openlayers.activeObjects[].controls[c];
    if (control.activeByDefault) control.activate();
  // Zoom to Center

  var center = new OpenLayers.LonLat(,;

Open Discussion and Collaboration

After too many emails, we decided to take out discussion out in the open about how to develop this module. This allows for us to have a more focused conversation and for other people to join in on the conversation.

One of the best parts of this project is collaborating with other developers around the world. One of the major strengths of open-source is having code reviewed by many people, and this project has been a small example of that. We are able to make the project much better by working together and discussing openly how and why we do things. Though we may not always agree on the best way to do things, we are able to discuss openly and come to a compromise and learn from each other.

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