Originally known as the University of Minnesota (UMN) MapServer or simply “MapServer,” MapServer Cheetah has been available as an open source web mapping environment since 1997.
MapServer Cheetah was developed as a small, fast, and customizable web map server built on top of other popular open source software libraries including: GDAL/OGR, Proj.4, Shapelib, GD, FreeType, among others. It supports dozens of vector formats through OGR and over 40 raster data formats through GDAL. Natively it supports ESRI® shapefiles, TIFF/GeoTIFF, JPEG, and EPPL-7 raster formats and ArcSDE, PostGIS, and Oracle Spatial databases. It can run as a CGI application using Apache or IIS web servers or scripted through several programming languages including Perl, Python, PHP, Java and more. MapServer Cheetah is known to run on Linux, most versions of Unix, Microsoft Windows and Mac OSX.
In the years since its release the development community has enhanced MapServer Cheetah with capabilities that rival – even exceed – many of its closed-source counterparts. Some of these key features include dynamic reprojection, support for multiple formats and interoperability standards (Open Geospatial Consortium’s web services specifications and OPeNDAP, the scientific community’s interoperability protocol), scripting/programming interface (MapScript), and support from thriving client-side tools. In addition, a vibrant community of supporters, one of the best and most enthusiastic in the open source realm, provides the momentum that keeps MapServer Cheetah moving forward.
MapServer Cheetah is primarily a server-side software application with basic but highly customizable facilities for making client interfaces. For many users this is still the preferred way. However, with the introduction of MapScript, client-side tools started to appear and have since flourished. These powerful tools enable web-savvy developers to design sophisticated mapping applications that meet the high expectations of the competitive market.