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I have a series of coordinates data which I plot onto an API-generated heatmap visualization using Google Maps API. The data changes daily, and I'd like to capture the heatmap and save it as a PNG or JPG image programmatically from within PHP so that a particular day's map can be recalled without regenerating the map and a number of maps could be sequenced together to show the changes animated over a given time period. I also need to be able to export a PDF report including a heatmap and this obviously would not work with a dynamic webpage frame.

Does anyone know:

  • of a way to save a Google-generated heatmap to a static PNG or JPG file, other than manually taking a screenshot and then cropping it to the bounds of the map? The solution needs to work in a GUI-less shared hosting environment as it will be deployed to many users with many different hosting configurations, the majority will not be skilled Linux experts or running a VPS; or

  • of an alternate tool for plotting coordinates onto a map and producing visualisations from this such as heatmaps, that can be saved into PNG or JPG files, from within PHP, and using only freely available PHP classes or default-installed PHP modules? (this is my prefered route if anyone has any tools in mind)

share|improve this question

It is possible to take screenshots programatically rather than manually. I do this on my charts and graphs site. The graphs are generated client side using JavaScript but I need thumbnail images created from them.

I'm using Java instead of PHP, but it should be similar.

  1. Install xvfb (X virtual frame buffer) so that Firefox can run on a headless server. Start it as a daemon configured as screen 99.
  2. Install a known version of firefox (eg /opt/firefox33/). I've found that selenium drivers are often not compatible with the newest release of firefox until the libraries get updated. Installing a known version gives me a lot more control over the upgrade process
  3. When you need a screenshot, have your code set the screen environment variable and start selenium with your installed firefox.

Here is an article about getting started with selenium from PHP that includes a screenshot example.

share|improve this answer
Hi Stephen, I've tried playing with Selenium but found it easier to just take the screenshots manually in the end. Ideally I'm looking for a solution that requires nothing more than PHP classes and modules normally installed so that it can be included in software that will be deployed by many different people without requiring a very prescribed hosting setup. The majority of end-users will likely be on shared hosting not VPS. – richhallstoke Nov 14 '14 at 12:43
I've just edited the question to make the scope/requirements more clear. Thank you for your suggestions. – richhallstoke Nov 14 '14 at 12:54

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