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Valhalla [Part 3]: How to build with elevation support on Ubuntu

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Valhalla Tutorials

This Tutorial is part of our Valhalla tutorial series:

How to configure and run Valhalla with elevation support on Ubuntu


Valhalla is a high-performance open source routing software (MIT license) written in C++ and mainly designed to consume OpenStreetMap data.

Through its hardware near design, Valhalla offers a wide range of scalable and stable features, e.g.:

  • Turn-by-turn directions: Routes from point to point for a given profile with a wide range of options.
  • Time/distance matrices: Rapidly calculate many-to-many / one-to-many or many-to-one distances and times between locations.
  • Optimized routes: What is the shortest route to visit a set of locations (traveling salesman).
  • Isochrones/isolines to determine reachability: Compute the reachability of how far one can travel in a given time from a given location.
  • Map matching: Match noisy GPS data to the street network.

There are some noteworthy & considerable advantages why to use Valhalla:

  • The street network as tiled data structure: Similarly to digital web maps and their specific zoom levels, Valhalla generates and exposes its routing graph as street network tiles which have a relationship to each other.
  • OpenStreetMap: Valhalla consumes OpenStreetMap data and its huge range of tags into a consistent roadway hierarchy (tiles!) and is able to consider country-specific driving rules and speed limits.
  • Narrative guidance: Turn-by-turn routes comprise rich narrative guidance which are available in multiple languages and ready for output as text-to-speech (TTS) on a smartphone.
  • Different traveling profiles: Car, bicycle, pedestrian, heavy vehicle and much more..
  • Dynamic costing: One can influence the routing costs on the fly by changing costing parameters in each query.

The following list of companies using Valhalla in their productive systems emphasizes the quality of this well-established routing engine:

  • Scoot (Electric vehicles)
  • Mapillary (Street imagery)
  • Mapbox(Directions, isochrones, time-distance matrices APIs)
  • Tesla (Electric cars)
  • Sidewalk Labs (Urban real-estate development and operations)

The Valhalla code and more details can be found at their GitHub repository which is maintained by many contributors.

Goals of this tutorials:

  • Learn how to set up Valhalla with elevation support on Ubuntu
  • And as usual some new things about how to use Ubuntu and Linux ;)...

Validity only confirmed for Ubuntu 18.04 and Valhalla 3.0.2.
Building and installing software from scratch is always a difficult and unforeseeable task that may render your running system or the software unusable. You may continue this tutorial at your own responsibility.

Basic vocabulary

  • bounding box is the smallest enclosing box around a geographical feature e.g. the digital representation of a country.


Hard prerequisites

  • A running Ubuntu with an installed Version of Valhalla or in best case completed our tutorial How to build and install Valhalla on Ubuntu 18.04 and be ready to configure your Valhalla setup on Ubuntu 18.04.
  • You definitely need all the dependencies from the previous tutorial installed.


Build virtually: If you're new to building software, don't try this tutorial on a setup you depend on. Every system is unique and even if you follow each step correctly in this tutorial, building software from scratch is always bonded to system sensitive tasks and can easily mess around with your live system.
Alternatively we recommend you to directly use the elevation setup from our Valhalla tutorial How to setup and run Valhalla on Ubuntu 18.04 in Docker or run this tutorial in a freshly installed Ubuntu 18.04 with Virtual Box.

If you have read to this line I assume you're interested in building and installing Valhalla with elevation support. The following steps will guide you through the whole process and should cover all necessary details.

1. Preparations

  • Again, be sure to have a running Ubuntu OS with the latest version of Valhalla and/or completed our tutorial How to build and install Valhalla on Ubuntu 18.04
  • I expect you to have all the dependencies from the previous tutorial installed. You're going to need them!

As a first step towards the elevation support, we need to install a vital dependency that wasn't part of the previous tutorial:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install -y parallel
  • apt-get update will update your ubuntu repositories and give you access to the latest software sorces.
  • parallel is a shell tool that let's you execute multiple tasks at the same time and is used by Valhalla to efficiently build the elevation tiles on multiple cores at the same time.

Test your Valhalla installation

First you should test your local Valhalla installation by typing the following commands into your terminal:

valhalla_build_tiles -h
  • valhalla_build_config should return a long JSON output into your terminal.
  • valhalla_build_admins should return Unable to parse command line options because: the option '--config' is required but missing.
  • valhalla_build_tiles -h should return valhalla_build_tiles 3.0.2 and a few more lines explaining the tool.
  • valhalla_service should return something like … [ERROR] Usage: valhalla_service config/file.json [concurrency]. This is a good sign for now and shows us that the tool is installed.
  • valhalla_build_elevation should return something similar to /usr/bin/valhalla_build_elevation min_x max_x min_y max_y [target_dir=elevation] [parallelism=8] [decompress=true]

If all of this is the case, Valhalla should be installed and you're good to go. If something isn't working as expected, please rebuild/reinstall Valhalla using our tutorial How to build and install Valhalla on Ubuntu 18.04.

Starting fresh: Create your new temporary folders

Now you're going to clean your temporary folder from the previous tutorial and create a fresh one:

rm -rf ~/valhalla
mkdir ~/valhalla && cd $_
mkdir valhalla_tiles && mkdir conf
  • rm -rf ~/valhalla recursively deletes our old temporary valhalla folder with all of its content if it exists.
  • mkdir ~/valhalla creates the new temporary folder in your home folder ~/.
  • cd $_ changes the terminal path directly to the newly created folder. $_ is a system variable and holds the output of the last command line call. In this case the path to the newly created folder.
  • valhalla_tiles will hold your processed Valhalla files.
  • conf will hold your Valhalla config file.

Download the script files

Stay in the same folder and run the following commands to download and prepare the needed scripts:

git clone ~/valhalla_git/
cp -r ~/valhalla_git/scripts/ ~/valhalla/scripts
rm -rf ~/valhalla_git
  • git clone will give you access to the latest Valhalla code.
  • rp -R will recursively copy the needed scripts to our script folder.
  • rm -rf will recursively delete the valhalla_git. It's not needed anymore.

Download the desired OSM extract

In order to build tiles for Valhalla you need an OSM extract. You can download your desired region from Geofabrik. Just copy the *.osm.pbf link to the extract of your choice. In this tutorial we will once again download Albania. Not only to keep things small, but also because Albania is a really beautiful country ;):

curl -o ~/valhalla/albania-latest.osm.pbf
  • This will download the albania-latest.osm.pbf OSM extract to our temporary folder.

2. Build the elevation tiles

Now we're going to build the elevation tiles for our OSM extract of Albania from Geofabrik:

cd ~/valhalla/
valhalla_build_elevation 18 38 22 43 ${PWD}/elevation_tiles
  • cd ~/valhalla/ will change the working directory to our temporary folder.
  • valhalla_build_elevation 18 38 22 43 ${PWD}/elevation_tiles will download and construct the elevation data into the folder elevation_tiles for the extend of Albania's bounding box.

The result should look similar to this:

extracting 420 elevation tiles
Academic tradition requires you to cite works you base your article on.
When using programs that use GNU Parallel to process data for publication
please cite:

  O. Tange (2011): GNU Parallel - The Command-Line Power Tool,
  ;login: The USENIX Magazine, February 2011:42-47.

This helps funding further development; AND IT WON'T COST YOU A CENT.
If you pay 10000 EUR you should feel free to use GNU Parallel without citing.

To silence this citation notice: run 'parallel --citation'.

Computers / CPU cores / Max jobs to run
1:local / 8 / 8

Computer:jobs running/jobs completed/%of started jobs/Average seconds to complete
checking all files exist
checking file sizes

Important are the last two lines checking all files exist and checking file sizes. They should look exactly the same as in the example above. They are the only hint that the build was successful.

Note: If you're using a different OSM extract please adjust the bounding box accordingly. If your're looking for a good source for bounding boxes head over to In the search field just search for your desired country or manually adjust the bounding box on the map. Once the bounding box is set, change the value of Copy & Paste at the bottom of the page to TSV. E.g. for Albania it would be 19.12 39.64 21.06 42.66 in this exact order. As a next step you should remove the decimal parts and round the first two values down and the last two up. That way we can ensure that decimal numbers won't break things as well as we have enough buffer at the edges of our elevation data, covering all of the OSM extract when we cut the decimals. After that just use the values in the same order as an alternative input for valhalla_build_elevation.

World Bounding Box If you're about to build with the OSM world file, you can use the following bounding box:

valhalla_build_elevation -180 -90 180 90 ${PWD}/elevation_tiles

But be careful, this will take some time to build and consume around 1.6TB (Yes, Terabyte!) of your space.

3. Prepare the config files

Build your config file

The config file is the core part of the Valhalla setup and will hold all necessary file paths, so Valhalla knows where to look for and where to store data. Be sure to follow the instructions strictly. This time we additionally have to add our newly generated elevation data:

cd ~/valhalla
valhalla_build_config --mjolnir-tile-dir ${PWD}/valhalla_tiles --mjolnir-tile-extract ${PWD}/valhalla_tiles.tar --mjolnir-timezone ${PWD}/valhalla_tiles/timezones.sqlite --mjolnir-admin ${PWD}/valhalla_tiles/admins.sqlite --additional-data-elevation ${PWD}/elevation_tiles > conf/valhalla.json
  • cd ~/valhalla changes our working path to our temporary valhalla folder.
  • ${PWD} is the system variable for the current working directory.
  • valhalla_build_config is the Valhalla tool to build the needed config file.
  • --mjolnir-tile-dir defines the folder where the Valhalla tiles will be processed.
  • --mjolnir-tile-extract defines the file where the tarred Valhalla tiles will be stored.
  • --mjolnir-timezone defines the folder where the SQLite file holding the time zone areas will be stored.
  • --mjolnir-admin defines the path where the SQLite file holding the admin areas will be stored.
  • --additional-data-elevation ${PWD}/elevation_tiles defines the path where we created our elevation tiles in the step before.
  • > conf/valhalla.json is the output file path for the config file.

Build admin areas

The admin areas are used by Valhalla to process calculations whenever they cross administrative areas. As long as you're building a single country it is not necessary. Be sure to include them when you use sub-regions with multiple countries in it:

valhalla_build_admins --config conf/valhalla.json albania-latest.osm.pbf
  • valhalla_build_admins is the designated tool to build the admin areas.
  • --config conf/valhalla.json defines the path to the config file.
  • albania-latest.osm.pbf defines the OSM extract to be used. Change this according to your individual OSM extract.

Build time zones

The time zone areas are used by Valhalla to calculate departure and arrival times:

./scripts/valhalla_build_timezones conf/valhalla.json
  • This command will execute the designated script from the downloaded script files. It is important that you run valhalla_build_timezones in the script folder!

4. Build your tiles with elevation

cd ~/valhalla
valhalla_build_tiles -c conf/valhalla.json albania-latest.osm.pbf
find valhalla_tiles | sort -n | tar -cf "valhalla_tiles.tar" --no-recursion -T -
  • cd ~/valhalla will bring us back to the important folder, in case you accidentally switched to another one ;)...
  • valhalla_build_tiles is the needed tool to build the Valhalla tiles.
  • -c conf/valhalla.json shows the tool where to find the config file.
  • albania-latest.osm.pbf shows the tool where to find the used OSM extract.
  • find is a Linux tool from the findutils package and is used to find folders and files. In the current example it will find the valhalla_tiles folder.
  • sort is part of the coreutils package and will sort the files in -n a numerical order.
  • tar is the tape archiver tool and is used to store files into archives with the ending of .tar.
  • -cf is going to create a new archive c and write it to the desired filename f.
  • "valhalla_tiles.tar" is the file name for the archive file.
  • --no-recursion prevents the tar command to scan sub directories.
  • -T - will use the content of the valhalla_tiles folder and store it in the current directory.

5. Run and test Valhalla

Run Valhalla

First we need to run Valhalla:

valhalla_service ~/valhalla/conf/valhalla.json 1
  • valhalla_service will start Valhalla with the correct config file valhalla.json.
  • 1 defines how many messages Valhalla will yield into the terminal when first started.

Test Valhalla

Valhalla should be running now and we're going to test if the integration of the elevation data was successful.

If you used the example OSM extract you can just use the following command:

curl -X POST \
  http://localhost:8002/height \
  -H 'Content-Type: application/json' \
  -H 'cache-control: no-cache' \
  -d '{
    "range": true,
    "shape": [
        	"lat": 41.327326,
        	"lon": 19.819336
        	"lat": 41.178654,
        	"lon": 19.577637
            "lat": 40.346544,
            "lon": 19.940186
}' | jq '.'
  • curl -X POST http://localhost:8002/height will call to the server running at localhost with the port 8002 using the POST protocol.
  • -H 'Content-Type: application/json' tells our local server what format our POST body will look like. In this case a JSON.
  • -H 'cache-control: no-cache' tells the server to deliver live data instead of returning an old cached value.
  • range if true the server will add distance data to the return value. The distance is always calculated based on the first coordinate.
  • shape holds the coordinates the Valhalla server will be queried with.
  • jq '.' will take the returned JSON response and print it nicely in the console.
  • If you used another OSM extract replace the lat and lon variables from the curl command with ones inside your extract.

Assess the response

The response of your Valhalla server should return something like the following structure, depending on your OSM extract and the used coordinates:

  "shape": [
      "lat": 41.327328,
      "lon": 19.819336
      "lat": 41.178654,
      "lon": 19.577637
      "lat": 40.346542,
      "lon": 19.940186
  "range_height": [
  • shape represents the original coordinates you queried the service with.
  • range_height represents in the same order as the coordinates in shape the calculated values. The first value is the distance to the first coordinate. Therefore the first value from the first result block is 0. The second value defines the height of the queried coordinate. If the second value states NULL the coordinate lies either outside the bounding box you generated the elevation tiles for, or something went wrong while building the graph or generating the elevation tiles.

Next steps:

Now that Valhalla is successfully running with elevation, head over to our Tutorial How to setup and run Valhalla on Ubuntu 18.04 in Docker and see how easy it can be to set up an All-In-One solution of Valhalla with Docker.


  • Height value is returned NULL. Please check the order of the provided bounding box carefully. It's most commonly the problem.