Working with MapSource

Table of Contents

Working with Maps
Working with tracks, waypoints, routes
Working with real time tracking
Other features


This discussion is based on Mapsource version 4.09.

Garmin requires that users use their product called MapSource to upload maps and poi's (points of interest) to their gps units. For this reason I have written this chapter to cover the use of MapSource with handheld gps receivers. This chapter is not intended to replace the Garmin documentation but will provide some tips that may help in understanding the most effective ways to use this product.

MapSource is the name of the software program itself but this name is often used interchangeably with the names of the various maps. This can lead to confusion particularly when dealing with features differences which are map specific. This chapter will always use the term MapSource to refer to the program. This program can provide three separate but related functions for the gps user. It can upload purchased maps and/or to the gps device, it can manage user data such as waypoints, tracks, and routes, and finally it can provide a real time tracking ability when the gps is attached to a pc while traveling down the road. In addition the program has the ability to aid in route planning depending on which maps are owned and being used by the user. MapSource can provide autorouting as well if the underlying database has the appropriate data. The resultant route can then be downloaded to the gps even though it does not have autorouting capability.


Product installation on a pc is pretty simple using the standard setup command. If you try and load a second product it will sense that an existing product is loaded and install only the map information. Mac users have indicated that a pc simulator can be used with this product although there have been mixed results with the actual download of the map data to the gps. Generally you may have to run the serial interface at less that full speed on mac simulators.

If you have the latest version of mapsource on the cdrom you will be given a choice of a full install. Selecting this will cause the entire cdrom to be loaded on your hard drive such that the cdrom will not be required to run the program. In addition the city select and newer metroguide product also installs all or most of the maps so that autorouting can be performed on the cd. However, most product installs require the cdrom be used to contain the data. If you would prefer to be able to run without the cdrom on one of these older versions of mapsource simply copy the entire cdrom to the hard drive and then perform the setup directly from the hard drive copy.

Once installed, use the about button under the help menu to check the version. Garmin releases new versions of MapSource frequently which can be downloaded from their web site. However, the cdroms are not re-released when the program changes so it is very likely that the cdrom installed a down level version. The download from Garmin requires a previous installation of mapsource to install. The about button is also the place to check which map products are loaded and the version of these products as well. As with the gps units Garmin always releases a product as version 2.0. Versions 1.X are used for testing.

A few of the map sets sold by Garmin use unlock codes to enable the maps. These unlock codes are keyed to the gps itself and will support up to two gps devices for each key. If the map set you purchased requires an unlock code the installation will prompt you to run the unlock wizard. You can run this during installation or later. Generally unlock codes can unlock a region of the cd or the full cd depending on what you purchased. Often a cdrom purchase will include only one region in the base price with additional regions requiring additional purchases.


When you start Mapsource you may need to have the cdrom already loaded so that Mapsource can use the maps that are on it, however the equivalent of the basemap is already present on the hard disk so some map viewing can be done even if the cdrom isn't loaded. Look at the view menu and find the entry for 'show gps map detail'. This is a toggle and, if set to off, you can view the basemap and any zoom level without needing the cdrom. The screen will look something like this:

The standard menus of file, edit, view, tools, and help are provided. Many of frequent commands from the file and edit menus are available as icons on the next row followed by some favorite viewing options. Much of the time you will be using the tools menu which is duplicated as icons on the third row. The left side contains a tab separated text area while the right portion shows the map itself. There is a movable bar between these two items. A status bar appears at the bottom of the screen.

MapSource is only able to work with one database at a time but it is possbile to run multiple copies of mapSource which can use different databases. It is possible to cut and paste data between these separate copies.

Working with Maps

The primary purpose of Mapsource is to select and download maps to the gps. In early versions of Mapsource this is about all the product would do. And it still is the only thing that you can't use another program to do.

The maps must be loaded as a set to the gps since a full table of maps is created by mapsource. There is no provision to update a map on the gps incrementally and thus there is no need to erase the map memory before starting the transfer. You can erase the map memory if you wish by downloading a map set that contains no maps. Some of the gps units include a memory capacity bar but this is not used for map memory although it is used to store the table of map contents.

Download Step

To use the product to download maps perform the following steps:

  1. Start the MapSource program
  2. If necessary, Place the cdrom containing the desired maps in the cdrom drive and select the correct region from the view menu or the pull down choice on the second row.
  3. Use the pan tool (or the scroll bars on the map edge) and the zoom tool (or the view menu zoom items) to get the desired area on the screen.
  4. Use the tools menu or tool bar to select the map tool.
  5. When you move the cursor over the map using the mouse the map area choices will be highlighted in yellow as shown in the figure above. The status bar will show the name of the selected area.
  6. Use the left mouse button to select the map you wish. This will cause it to change colors and it will show up on the left area list as a selected map.
  7. If you can't see the map in the list click the map tab above the list area to bring this into view. There are three columns, the map name, the area the map is in, and the size. You can use the mouse to move the column widths or center bar so that they are all visible.
  8. Repeat the map selection steps as needed to select the maps you wish. Note that clicking a previously selected map will remove it from the list.
  9. The order that you click the maps is the order that they will appear in this list and in the list that is in your gps so you may wish to be careful to select them in the order you want. You cannot move them around once they are on the list, however you can sort them if you wish. They can be sorted by name, location, or size but clicking the banner for the sort you wish. Clicking again reverses the sort order.
  10. At the bottom of the list is a total size for the maps you have chosen. Watch this number to ensure you do not exceed the memory capacity of the gps device you intend to download to. Common capacities are: 1.4 Meg on the III+, 8 Meg on the Legend and the Map76, 24 Meg on the Vista and 76S, and 19 Meg on the GPS V. The emap capacity depends on the cartridge size you purchased.
  11. You can mix maps from different cd's by just changing the cd and then selecting the one you wish from the pull down. Later during the actual download you will be prompted as needed for install the correct cd.
  12. When you have selected all the desired maps you are ready to perform the download to the gps unit.
  13. Name the map set as desired by clicking on the map set name button at the bottom of the list screen or use the default name of first and last map.
  14. You may wish to save this list of maps on your hard disk for future use. Use the Save icon or the File menu Save As command to bring up the save form. Name the file as desired and click ok. This will create a .mps file on your disk.
  15. Click the Save to Device icon or the File menu item to bring up the save to Device Form.
  16. Use the Serial tab if you intend to download to a real gps even if it is hooked to the computer via a serial to USB adapter. Use the USB tab only for downloading to the Garmin USB cartridge tool.
  17. Make sure the gps is hooked up and is set to Garmin or Garmin/Garmin mode from the main menu interface choice. It is best to set the gps to simulator, use indoors, or gps off mode to avoid any conflicts with it trying to do two things at once. If you are running the gps from batteries, make sure you have a good set installed before trying to download maps.
  18. Click auto Detect to test the interface connect and resolve any problems before proceeding. Generally the fastest baud rate is the one you want but if you have problems with the download you may want to retry by selecting a lower baud rate.
  19. Select the button turn off after the download to save battery power. Do not select any transfers except map. Otherwise you may mess up your routes, waypoints, and tracklogs. It is possible to set up a mps file to transfer everything at the same time but I would recommend you keep it simple for now. Note that routes, waypoints, and tracklogs are always transferred at 9600 baud no matter what baud rate you select.
  20. Select Save to perform the transfer. This will take a long time if you have several maps to load. Be patient.
  21. Resolve any error messages you see. If the memory capacity is exceeded you may need to remove a map or two and retry. If you get transfer errors you may need to lower the baud rate and retry.

As stated in the above steps you can mix maps from multiple map sets in the same download. You cannot alter the maps or poi information. The individual map size is fixed. Garmin does sell a special poi database product that allows you to custom select poi's and this can be mixed with other map sets for a download. Some products support poi's but not maps. These products will not display maps even if you manage to download some to them.

There is one preference setting that effects map download. If you are not using a gps V but have maps sets that would expect to download autorouting data such as the Metroguide USA maps you can significantly reduce the download size of the map data by not downloading the autoroute data. To do this select the preferences menu item from the edit menu and select the transfer tab. There is a check box to choose to delete this data from the download. Other preference items include the default com port and default baud rate.

Unlocking maps

Some map sets require unlock codes in order to use the maps with a gps. These codes are keyed to individual gps units Garmin permits one purchased unlock code to be used with up to 2 devices. Most map sets do not require unlock codes. If you need to unlock a map you will also need to determine the gps id code. Both the unlock form and the id form are on the tools menu. There is also an unlock wizard installed if you install a product that requires unlock codes.

If you receive the long 25 character unlock code you can enter it directly into the unlock form. This form is also the place to display map sets that were previously unlocked. You may have received an 8 digit coupon instead of the full unlock code. In this case you will need the unlock wizard which can be launched from windows on the start menu but selecting programs and finding the mapsource entry. The unlock wizard can use an internet connection to download the unlock code.

To obtain the id from the Garmin receiver you will need the receiver set to Garmin or Garmin/Garmin mode.

The unlock form can also be used to export or import an unlock database. It is a good idea to backup your unlock database onto a floppy or other safe media.

Working with Tracks, Waypoints, and Routes.

The MapSource product provides the ability to manage the Tracks, waypoints, and routes databases that are inside your gps. This can provide for backup of this data and will also provide for the ability to edit this using a keyboard and mouse which is usually much easier than trying to do it on the gps itself. There are many other programs that can also be used to manage this data but Mapsource provides some unique features that allow it to directly work with the same maps that you can download to the unit.

The ability to work with tracks, waypoints, and routes is available for all Garmin units, even if they do not support maps or poi's. However to get the product itself the use must purchase a product containing maps or poi databases and the map on the pc can still be used for real time tracking or to help in route and waypoint creation.

Prior to releasing MapSource Garmin had another product called PCX5 (Dos based) that could be used to manage tracks, waypoints, and routes. This product has been discontinued but there is still the ability to import databases created with this product to Mapsource. The import menu selection on the file menu offers this option. Unfortunately you cannot export files in this format, nor can you import files in any format that you can export so Mapsource does not permit working with its data outside of the mapsource environment. As a work around some folks actually download Mapsource data to their gps and then upload it into another program or vice versa to do data exchange.


Waypoints can be downloaded from the gps and modified in mapsource or they can be created directly in mapsource. The easiest way is to create them graphically on the map itself. If you are using the waypoint tool you can just click to place a new waypoint. You can also right click and select new waypoint at any time to create a new waypoint. Once the waypoint is selected a form will appear that allows you to modify any of the data for the new waypoint. Click OK to create the point or cancel if you decide you don't want to create a new waypoint. There are several fields on the form that may or may not transfer when the waypoint is sent directly to the gps. For example some gps units do not support altitude while others do not support the description data; the oldest units don't support icons. If the gps doesn't support some particular field it will simply be ignored during the gps upload.

There are several preferences that effect waypoints and waypoint generation. You can select the grid and datum you wish to use to display the location and the units for altitude and depth. You can also pick the default prefix to be used in name generation as well as the length of the name. Note that older Garmin units only support a 6 character name while the newer units support a 10 character name. The units, position, and datum information are only for the purpose of display and data entry. They will be converted to an internal format when uploaded to the gps so it really doesn't matter which you use. Leave the datum at WGS84 unless you are trying to match the information from a paper map you are using as a reference.


A route represents a collection of waypoints/mappoints connected in a prescribed order. It defines the desired path from one place to another. Generally it identifies the critical turns that need to be made by the user to get from their starting location to a destination and the gps can be used to provide directional guidance from one point on the route to another. Routes are usually created manually by the user as part of the planning process for a trip, but they can also be created automatically by Mapsource if the correct mapping database is used or they might be created on the gps itself and stored for later use by Mapsource.

The unique thing about routes made in mapsource is the fact that they can take advantage of mappoints on some units. Mappoints are locations on mapping receivers that are identified and reference to map locations and are not waypoints. Thus they do not appear in the waypoint memory and are not limited to the 500 or so locations supported as waypoints. (They do effect the amount of memory reported in on the memory used display.) The user will need to be careful here since some Garmin units do not support mappoints and for these units the mappoints will need to be converted to actual waypoints. This can be done by right clicking on a mappoint and selecting waypoint to create a waypoint from the mappoint data. The MapSource documentation does not always make the distinction between mappoints and waypoints clear.

Generally a route is built in MapSource by clicking on successive map locations and these are mappoints by default so long as the point clicked contains a mapping object. Once the desired route is created it can be uploaded to the gps and used for navigation. When building a route the user will need to consider the capabilities of the gps unit that they own. For example, routes have a limit to the number of total points that can be contained in one route. Many units limit this number to 30 while some units allow up to 50 points, and the GPS V can support up to 250 mappoints. If you build a route with more than the prescribed number of points it will be truncated when you load it to the gps. In these cases you will need to split it into several routes or remove some of the intermediate points.

Another way to work with routes is to use the route properties (select with right mouse click or from edit menu) to add, delete, or edit property data. An existing route can be duplicated as a starting point for a new route or as a step in splitting the route.

It is possible to reuse the same waypoint or mappoint in more than one route and this is often done when splitting a route into sections. Routes and portions of routes can be cut and pasted inside the mapSource product or even between two copies of the program running simultaneously.


Tracklogs cannot be created manually in MapSource but it is possible to do some editing on the tracklogs that are downloaded from the gps. In addition it is possible to create a tracklog using the real time display capability (described below). All Garmin units support an active tracklog but many also support up to 10 saved logs in addition to the active log. When uploading the log back to the gps it must be named "Active Log" in order for it to replace the active log, otherwise it will be stored in one of the saved logs on these units.

Tracklog data can be displayed in MapSource and will include some information that is not directly stored in the tracklog. Active logs include information about the time and location and can include breaks. Some logs will also include altitude data. Mapssource can use this information to compute speed data, leg length, and direction which can be shown using the track properties on the right mouse button. It is even possible to display a vertical profile for logs containing altitude data. Saved logs do not include the time stamps so the speed data cannot be calculated. MapSource will also show breaks in the active log as if there were multiple logs but there is really only one active log.

To edit the tracklog start by displaying the properties. You can cut and paste individual tracklog entries. You can paste from one tracklog to another. Be careful you do not exceed the length capacity of the log. If you make a mistake use the edit undo command to fix it. You can also rename the tracklog or invert it.

Downloading and Uploading data to the gps

The upload/download dialog box allows you to select whether you wish to work with waypoints, routes, tracks, maps or any mix of the above. When uploading and download data the full list is used. All of the waypoints in the gps are downloaded at once, as are the routes and tracks, if selected. If your maps are not tied to your waypoints I would suggest you always work with them separately such that maps are not stored in the same database as routes, waypoints, and tracks. This is done simply by saving the data in separate files.

If you upload a route that uses waypoints you will need to ensure that you also loaded the appropriate waypoints as well. Otherwise the route could reference existing points at the wrong location or fail to work at all.

The oldest Garmin units do not use names for routes but rather have the routes numbered. On these units MapSource will display the name comment but uploads will start with 01 and multiple routes will be uploaded sequentially erasing any routes with the same number on the unit.

Working with Real Time display.

Garmin also supports a real time display option with MapSource. Using this feature permits an attached pc to provide mapping display and tracklogging while directly attached to a gps in real time. There is realtime display support for NMEA mode or Garmin mode. Some of the Garmin units do not support real time output in Garmin mode but if your gps does then this is the preferred mode for real time display. In NMEA mode the update is every two seconds while in Garmin mode it is every second which makes the display feel a bit more responsive to what is actually happening in your car. In addition, the maps that have an unlock code require Garmin mode so that they can check the lock status.

To set up the display just pick the gps tab on top of the list display screen and then click on start tracking. The program will automatically sense whether the unit is set to NMEA mode or Garmin mode and will begin track. There are only two options. You can force the current location to remain on the screen and you can turn on tracklogging if you wish. If track logging is turned on it creates an active log on the pc in the same format as it would be if it were collected with the gps except that it records a point at each sample of the data. If you stop the log or stop the gps tracking then start it again it will create a new active log. The current log will be displayed on the screen as a bread crumb track of your current movements. You will need to save the tracks in a file if you wish them to last longer than one session. If you scroll the window the keep car on screen flag will turn off. Click the flag to return the screen to the gps location.

All of the data displayed is under control of the preferences form reached from the Edit menu. You can change the display formats just like you can in the gps itself. It will be saved automatically. Note that dop (dilution of precision) may or may not be displayed depending on whether the gps is sending this information. You might try switching between Garmin mode and NMEA mode to see this data as NMEA generally supplies it.

While the gps display provides real time tracking it will not display navigation data. The compass display shows your current track direction which is the sam information as the digital readout just above the display. The compass output is customizable using the preferences settings.

Other Features

Mapsource has many special features beyond the basic ones shown above. In many cases these features will be enabled only if you have the correct map product installed and selected. The menus and forms may have additional items and choices available to match the particular map set. For example, if the map set supports autorouting on the pc then additional menus will be available to perform this task.

Setting the PC clock

If you have your gps hooked to the pc and tracking satellites you can use it to set the pc clock from the gps. This provides a very accurate source of time information for the pc. Simply select the 'Set PC clock' from the tools menu.

Working with the Find command

The Find command is available as a icon (binoculars) or as a menu select item from the View menu. This mimics similar functionality that is on the gps itself but often the gps can find object types that will not be found using the pc product. The form that appears is dependent on the map set you have currently selected. A basic form provides the ability to search for cities in your database but an advanced form will appear if your map set supports advanced searches. Advanced search include city, poi look up, as well as street and address searches. Searches are limited to the selected map region. If you are using a map with a lock code the advanced search functions will only work in the unlocked area although you can do city searches on the full map.

Another way to find objects is just to display a map of the area of interest and move the mouse cursor over objects on the map. A popup display will appear identifying the object under the cursor.

Once you have found the desired object you can view it on the map. Even though you have selected to view the object on the map you may need to zoom the map in to actually see the object. Use the right mouse button on the object to view a menu. If the menu offers the choice of map features then select this and then select the properties choice. This will generally happen if you are zoomed out too far and mapsource isn't sure which object you are interested in. If the choice is clear to mapsource it will offer the properties choice on the first menu. For a poi this will show quite a bit of additional information about the object.

Working with the autorouter

If you own a mapset that permits autorouting on the pc you will find that Mapsource has added this feature to its menus. Once the route is created it can be treated like any other route that you might have created manually and can be downloaded into a gps even though the gps does not directly support autorouting. A route downloaded in this fashion is subject to the standard route limitations of the gps itself so the names of route points could be truncated and the number of the route points in the route could be truncated during the download. You may need to split the route into several routes to load it into your unit.

Measuring Distances

MapSource can measure distances and bearings between points on the map. This is available as a tool icon or by using the right mouse button to select a starting point. Each click will add a leg to the measured distance. The right mouse button can be used to cancel the current distance measurement or to clear the measurement and begin again. The total distance and the bearing from the beginning point will be shown on the status bar.

Return to toc

by: Dale DePriest - all rights reserved.


02/08/09 Initial Release.