Create Geo Data Sources and APIs With the New Mapbox Surface API

October is turning out to be a busy month for map design and publishing tools provider Mapbox. Last week, it announced two upcoming APIs, the Mapbox Upload API and the Mapbox Walking Directions API. This week, the company announced the private beta release of the new Mapbox Surface API, the third API to be added to the suite of Mapbox APIs this month.


Using data from and the Mapbox Surface API, Mapbox created an interactive San Francisco bicycle theft-rate density map.

The Mapbox Surface API is essentially a custom geographic API allowing developers to query Mapbox maps programmatically at certain points for specific data. The API features a flexible query interface that can be used to create custom geographical data sources. Using uploaded data and the Mapbox Surface API, developers can create their own geo APIs. The API comes with the Mapbox elevation data set; however, the company plans to include additional data sets with the API in the future.

ProgrammableWeb reached out to Mapbox CEO Eric Gundersen, who had this to say:

While the real power of the Surface API is in letting users upload their own custom data to Mapbox, we are also going to open additional data sets, like land type and weather data. Just with these three data sets, someone can make an app that lets them see how far they ran, their elevation gain, how hot it was during the run and if they were running on roads or dirt trails.

Using custom vector tiles from Mapbox Studio, different types of geographical data sources can be created, queried and analyzed, such as prices, temperatures, precipitation and walkability. Any Mapbox ID can be queried, and it is best to use data sets that are not overly complex. It should be noted that the Mapbox Surface API only works with line and polygon data at this time.

Gundersen told ProgrammableWeb:

We're like a Lego company, building a series of blocks for developers to build their own custom apps. Part of this is having a great-looking map that fits their style, but a lot of the power of the map is fading into the background of apps, and this is where the Surface API comes in. The Surface API lets developers interact with the data behind the map.

He went on to say, "We're as much an API company as a mapping company."

For more information about the Mapbox Surface API and the Mapbox Platform, visit

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: Google Introduces Signed-In JavaScript Maps API