TileMill Tutorial – Installation

May 6th, 2011

Update: TileMill version 0.4 has been released and offers a simple one-click installation. Parts of this post are now out-of-date and can be ignored.

TileMill is a new map development environment that is free for anyone to use. In their own words:

“TileMill is a modern map design studio powered by open source technology.”

TileMill allows you to take raw GIS data (shapefiles and rasters) and generate high-quality maps. In addition, it allows exporting maps to a set of map tiles which can be used on a website or transferred to a mobile device (there currently is an iPad app available).

Unlike many of our other tutorials, this probably isn’t for beginners. You need to have some background in GIS, HTML/CSS and have access to a Mac or Linux computer. Don’t let this scare you off though as TileMill may just be the future of map design and distribution.

Installation Setup

The TileMill website provides the basic instructions for installing TileMill on Mac or Linux. In our testing, we successfully installed it on an older MacBook running Snow Leopard.

TileMill require several applications to be installed first. Xcode version 4 was first installed from the Mac App Store. Next, Mapnik for Snow Leopard was downloaded and installed.

TileMill’s distribution package was then downloaded from the website as a zip file. After extracting the files, the folder was renamed to just tilemill and copied into the applications folder using the Finder.

Installing from the Terminal

TileMill needs to be built from Mac’s Terminal. We launched Terminal and navigated to the TileMill folder.

cd /Applications/tilemill

Continuing with their instructions on the website, we executed the build command:


The building process runs through a series of steps. In our case, there were 69 steps it slowly progressed through. At step 50, it seemed to hang and even show an error message.

[50/69] libv8.a: deps/v8/SConstruct -> build/default/libv8.a
scons: warning: Ignoring missing SConscript 'obj/test/release/SConscript'
File "/Applications/tilemill/src/node-0.2.6/deps/v8/SConstruct", line 1097, in BuildSpecific

But eventually the process continued and finished. It appears this is known issue according to their support site. The important thing to note is several times it appeared to hang but don’t lose faith!

Running TileMill

TileMill needs to be started from the Terminal by running this command.

cd /applications/tilemill/tilemill.js

A message should appear informing you it is ready to use.

Started TileMill on port 8889

TileMill is a unique in that it is a local, web-based application so you need to open a web browser to access it. Enter the following in the address bar:


TileMill should appear and several demo projects will already be visible.

Explore TileMill

Browse the existing projects to get a sense of how TileMill works. Remember the software is still really new so don’t be surprised if you run into a crash or freeze. In our testing, reloading the browser usually resolved any issues.

Check out this tutorial video on how you can use TileMill. We will explore it in more detail in a future post.

TileMill: Open Source Map Design from Development Seed on Vimeo.