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Interface service or file download service – which do you choose?

Do you need the National Land Survey of Finland’s (NLS) maps or geospatial data? What about basic or background maps, laser scanning data, the topographic database, elevation models, aerial photos or the cadastral register’s data?

Text: Leena Hirvelä, Information Services Specialist

NLS data products: background map, topographic map and cadastral index map, hillsade, laser scanning data and aerial photograph.
National Land Survey od Finland

Data is available in the interface service and the file download service. Are you thinking about when to use the interface service and when the file download service?

Here are a few tips for selecting the correct service.

Interface service – up-to-date data online

To use the interface service, you need a program that knows how to search for a map segment or data on the NLS server using your search terms. You can always access the most up-to-date data available. The idea is not to save the data on your computer, but to search for up-to-date data every time you need it. Of course, you can also save the data.

File download service – download data on your computer

The file download service is a self-service for downloading open data. In the service’s user interface, you can select what data you need and from what area. You can also choose the file format and coordinate system. After making your selections, the service will give you a link through which you can save the data on your computer. Files consist of data saved at a specific time.

Select the service according to your needs

“Which one to choose?” is not a question with a simple answer. You can consider which service to use based on different needs and requirements. In some cases, the use of both services can be the best option. 

The amount of data

If you need individual datasets infrequently or over a small area, the easiest way is to download them using the file download service. Then again, if you need different datasets often and over a number of areas, the interface service is a flexible option. When using the interface service, you do not need to know beforehand whether you need a basic map of Utsjoki or an aerial photo taken in Raahe. 

If you need data over a large area, such as the whole of Finland, downloading will take time and storage will consume large amounts of space. For downloading large amounts of data, we offer the directory user interface to make downloading easier.

Data users and devices

For smaller engineering firms or individual users, the easiest way may be to download the data required using the file download service. Then again, larger engineering firms may benefit from employees who work in different locations having easy access to the data they need through the interface service. Not everyone needs to download the same data separately. 

Data available in the interface service, such as map tile services (WMTS or vector tiles), is ideal for web or mobile services. 

The reliability and speed of data

In some cases, maintaining data in saved files is useful, necessary even. It is necessary if any interruptions in the interface service or data connections are critical considering operations. Files can be used offline if Internet connections are unavailable or temporarily down.  Often, files saved on a computer are also quicker to access. 

Up-to-date data and updating

For many users, it is important that data is up to date. For example, up-to-date property data is essential in different planning and permit processes or, say, in forest management. In addition, up-to-date road data is necessary when you need to reach your destination. In these cases, the interface service can be a smart choice.

While data downloaded through the file download service can become outdated, it can be updated using the data update service. You can search for updated data, after which you will be given direct links to updated files. In this way, you can easily update your datasets with updated files only.

Modifiability and flexibility of data

The customisation and visualisation of files is easier than the modification of data retrieved through the interface service. However, users can, for example, modify vector tiles accessible through the interface service more easily and in more diverse ways than conventional raster data.

Deployment requirements

Interface services are available as openly accessible and contractual versions. Open interfaces are free of charge, and only an API key is required to use them. Contractual services are subject to a charge and require a username and password. Preparing an agreement takes time. Starting to use a file download service is very simple: all you need is an email address. 

The deployment of an interface service usually requires more IT skills than the use of a file download service. Interface services are usually used by professionals, whereas it is easy to download files from a file download service, for business or leisure.

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