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Tools for conversion of OSGB (Eastings and Northings)

0.2 2015-09-09 21:14 UTC

This package is auto-updated.

Last update: 2021-07-20 17:53:21 UTC


Ordnance Survey (OS) National Grid for Great Britain (GB) reference conversion tools.


To create a square, pass it a National Grid Reference (NGR) string:

$square = new Academe\OsgbTools\Square($ngr_string);

A square is a square area on the OSGB National Grid which is identified by its South-West corner. The size of the square, i.e. the accuracy of the location, is determined by the number of digits and letters. A two-letter and five-digit NGR is a square of 1m, the smallest unit supported by OSGB.

The NGR string can take any form, so long as the letters come first, then the easting then the northing. Examples for OSGB (these are all the same location):

NT 0456 1230 (to 10m)
NT 04560 12300 (to 1m)
N 30456 11230
0304560,0612300 (to 1m)
304560, 612300 (to 1m)

The letters and the digits are both optional:

NT 00000 00000 (to 1m)
NT (to 100km)
N (to 500km)
0,0 (square 'S' to 1m)
0000000,0000000 (square 'S' to 1m)
401250,1234350 (to 1m - note 7 digit northing to reach Orkneys)

Note: The leading zeroes are important when letters are used, as the most significant digit represents the same square corner regardless of how many digits follow it. When no letters are used, the number-only values are handled as metres from the false origin. A more detailed explanation follows.

Although the treatment of the digits can follow the pattern from two letters, through one letter down to no letters, it does introduce some ambiguity. When letters are involved, the digits supplied are assumed to start with the most significant digit. This allows 1, 10, 100, 1000 etc. to all reference the same point (the SW corner of a square) though with varying accuracies (different sizes squares). However, numeric-only easting/northings are stated to be always measured in metres and describe the distance from a point at square SV. Thus 1, 10, 100 etc. will be very different eastings or northing values in a numeric-only reference. For this reason, the library will be treating numeric-only references differently to letter/digit references. Numeric-only is always a point of 1m squared.

Note that a single letter identifies a 500km square, so "N 712 834" will extend beyond that square and come out as "J 212 334" (shifted North and East by one 500km box). This is done in preference to raising an exception; "N 712 834" would not normally be used ("N 000 000" to "N 499 499" would be normal), but still represents a real location. However, this library will not gererate out-of-range digits, so if you pass in "N 712 834" you will always get "J 212 334" (or equivalent) out on the J square.

Any non-alphanumeric characters used in the NGR will be ignored. That includes spaces and commas.

The accuracy (size of the box in metres) is returned by:


Parts of the formatted reference can be extracted separately:

$letters = $square->getLetters();
$easting = $square->getEasting();
$northing = $square->getNorthing();
echo "OSGB reference = " . trim("$letters $easting $northing");

Or it can be formatted in one go:

echo (string)$square; // e.g. 'SE 0123034300'
echo $square->setNumberOfLetters(1)->format(); // e.g. 'S 401230434300'
echo $square->format('%l %e %n', 1, 3); // e.g. 'S 401 434' with 1 letter and 3 digits
echo $square->format('%x,%y'); // e.g. '401250,1234350' numeric-only easting/northing metres from false origin

By default, the format of the parts will be the same as passed in. This can be overridden:

$square->setNumberOfLetters($number_letters); // 0, 1 or 2
$square->setNumberOfDigits($number_digits); // 0 to 7

As you change the number of letters, the number of digits will change automatically to try to retain the same accuracy, i.e. to represent the same square size. You can still change the number of digits after that to get more or less accuracy.

Not all letter combinations cover land that the OS maps. Only 500km squares H, N, O, S and T are used by the OS. The squares do extend beyond that in theory, but the accuracy drifts out quickly. Inside these 500km squares, only a selection of 100km squares are mapped by the OS. Again, 100km squares outside of this range are still supported by this library, but they have no meaning on OS maps.

Just as an aside, 500km square O covers just a tiny corner of Yorkshire, with the majority of that square being in the North Sea. For this reason, the only 100km square prefixed O is OV.

To check if the current reference lies within a valid 100km square mapped by the OS, use this method:

if ($square->isInBound()) echo "Yes, this place is on a printed map";

Example Coordinate Conversion

This bit is work-in-progress, and is very much subject to change. However, it does demonstrate the process.

  • Academe\OsgbTools\Convert::osGridToLatLong() will return a Academe\OsgbTools\Coordinate
  • Academe\OsgbTools\Convert::latLongToOsGrid() will return a Academe\OsgbTools\Square

We are going to convert SE0123034300 to Lat/Long. First create the square:

// Spaces in the reference are optional - they are shown here for clarity.
$square = new Academe\OsgbTools\Square('SE 01230 34300');

Then extract the Easting and Northing:

list($Easting, $Northing) = $square->getEastNorth();
// Easting = 401230, Northing = 434300

This gives us the 7-digit numeric only values. The Convert class has a method to convert this to Lat/Long values. Note that this will be in the Airy Datum (also known as OSGB Lat/Long) and a further ellipsoid conversion will be necessary if comparing to GPS coordinates.

$convert = new Academe\OsgbTools\Convert;
$lat_long = $convert->osGridToLatLong($Easting, $Northing);
// object(Academe\OsgbTools\Coordinate)#8 (2) { ["latitude":protected]=> float(53.805230674459) ["longitude":protected]=> float(-1.9810171150917) }

The same conversion can also be seen here:

Another tool to check: (paste in the OSGB reference "SE 01230 34300"). I suspect all the tools are suffering from rounding errors in different ways, or are maybe using different ellipsoids. They need investigating to find the right one.

The conversion can be done in one step now:

// Conert an OSGB NGR to lat/long object (\Academe\OsgbTools\Coordinate).
$lat_long = Academe\OsgbTools\Convert::osGridToLatLong('SE 0120 3430');
// A Square or array can also be passed in, as well as the examples further back:
$lat_log = Academe\OsgbTools\Convert::osGridToLatLong(array($easting, $northing));
$lat_log = Academe\OsgbTools\Convert::osGridToLatLong($square);

Converting the opposite way can also be done. The Lat/Long values must be in the Airy datum, so convert it from whatever datum is used if it is not.

$convert = new Academe\OsgbTools\Convert;
$square = $convert->latLongToOsGrid($latitude, $longitude);
echo $square;
// e.g. SE 01230 34300
// or
$square = Academe\OsgbTools\Convert::latLongToOsGrid($latitude, $longitude);
$latitude = 53.804781271911;
$longitude = -1.9813210410013;
$lat_long = new Academe\OsgbTools\Coordinate(array($latitude, $longitude));
$square = Academe\OsgbTools\Convert::latLongToOsGrid($lat_long);

Some terms: Geodetic (also known as geographic) coordinates consist of geodetic latitude, geodetic longitude, and geodetic height. Geocentric coordinates are Cartesian coordinates (X, Y, Z) that define the position of a point with respect to the center of mass of the earth.

Again to note: this will change, and is just a quick library put in to demonstrate (getting more stable though).


  • Currently this supports the GB national grid only. The Irish grid is similar, and we should be able to extend the OSGB to cover the Irish grid too. The Irish grid uses just one 500km square, and that square is not listed in the references. Instead, just one letter is used to denote the 100km square in the 5x5 grid of 100km squares.
  • Conversions to other Datums (namely WGS84) including conversion to the appropriate ellipsoid. Some refactoring may be needed to keep the various concerns separated. It does not look like there are any composer dependencies we can pull in to just handle the conversions, so whether we create a separate library (based on other tried-and-tested libraries) or incorporate the code into this library, I'm not sure. Probably the latter, then we can fork it off later. The key here though is to keep the NGR (the square/location references) and the conversions to and from other coordinate systems, separate. This will aid testing and understanding. No other composer library I've found does this.

Useful Links

Ideally, the OSGB (Northing/Easting + grids) would convert directly from/to WGS84 and not Airy.

A class to handle OSGB coordinates all all their variations, will be necessary.