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Geo::Coordinates::OSGB - Convert coordinates between Lat/Lon and the British National Grid

An implementation of co-ordinate conversion for England, Wales, and Scotland based on formulae published by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain.

These modules will convert accurately between an OSGB national grid reference and lat/lon coordinates based on the OSGB geoid model. (For an explanation of what a geoid model is and why you should care, read the Theory section below.) The OSGB geoid model fits mainland Britain very well, but is rather different from the international WGS84 model that has rapidly become the de facto universal standard model thanks to the popularity of GPS devices and maps on the Internet. So, if you are trying to translate from an OSGB grid reference to lat/lon coordinates that can be used in Google Earth, Wikipedia, or some other Internet based tool, you will need to do two transformations: first translate your grid ref into OSGB lat/lon; then nudge the result into WGS84. Routines are provided to do both of these operations, but they are only approximate. The inaccuracy of the approximation varies according to where you are in the country but may be as much as 5 metres in some areas. See the note on accuracy below for more details.

To get more accurate results you need to combine this module with its companion Geo::Coordinates::OSTN02 which implements the transformation that now defines the relationship between GPS survey data based on WGS84 and the British National Grid. Using this module you should be able to get results that are accurate to within a few millimetres, but it is slightly slower and requires more memory to run.

Note that the OSGB (and therefore this module) does not cover the whole of the British Isles, nor even the whole of the UK, in particular it covers neither the Channel Islands nor Northern Ireland. The coverage that is included is essentially the same as the coverage provided by the OSGB "Landranger" 1:50000 series maps. The coverage of the OSTN02 data set is slightly smaller, as the OS do not define the model for any points more than about 2km off shore.


Examine $Geo::Coordinates::OSGB::VERSION for details.


  use Geo::Coordinates::OSGB qw(ll_to_grid grid_to_ll);

  # Basic conversion routines
  ($easting,$northing) = ll_to_grid($lat,$lon);
  ($lat,$lon) = grid_to_ll($easting,$northing);


These modules provide a collection of routines to convert between coordinates expressed as latitude & longtitude and map grid references, using the formulae given in the British Ordnance Survey's excellent information leaflet, referenced below in the Theory section. There are some key concepts explained in that section that you need to know in order to use these modules successfully, so you are recommended to at least skim through it now.

The module is implemented purely in Perl, and should run on any Perl platform.

In this description `OS' means `the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain': the British government agency that produces the standard maps of England, Wales, and Scotland. Any mention of `sheets' or `maps' refers to one or more of the map sheets defined in the accompanying maps module.

This code is fine tuned to the British national grid system. You could use it elsewhere but you would need to adapt it. Some starting points for doing this are explained in the Theory section below.


The following functions can be exported from the Geo::Coordinates::OSGB module:

    grid_to_ll                  ll_to_grid

    shift_ll_into_WGS84         shift_ll_from_WGS84

    parse_trad_grid             format_grid_trad
    parse_GPS_grid              format_grid_GPS
    parse_map_grid              format_grid_map


    parse_ISO_ll                format_ll_trad

None of these is exported by default, so pick the ones you want or use an :all tag to import them all at once.

  use Geo::Coordinates::OSGB ':all';

When called in a void context, or with no arguments ll_to_grid does nothing.

When called in a list context, ll_to_grid returns two numbers that represent the easting and the northing corresponding to the latitude and longitude supplied.

The parameters can be supplied as real numbers representing decimal degrees, like this

    my ($e,$n) = ll_to_grid(51.5, 2.1);

Following the normal convention, positive numbers mean North or East, negative South or West. If you have data with degrees, minutes and seconds, you can convert them to decimals like this:

    my ($e,$n) = ll_to_grid(51+25/60, 0-5/60-2/3600);

Or you can use a single string in ISO 6709 form, like this:

    my ($e,$n) = ll_to_grid('+5130-00005/');

To learn exactly what is matched by this last option, read the source of the module and look for the definition of $ISO_LL_PATTERN. Note that the neither the + or - signs at the beginning and in the middle, nor the trailing / may be omitted.

If you have trouble remembering the order of the arguments, or the returned values, note that latitude comes before longitude in the alphabet too, as easting comes before northing. However since valid latitudes for the OSGB are in the range 49 to 61, and valid longitudes in the range -9 to 2, ll_to_grid accepts argument in either order. If your longitude is larger than your latitude the values of the arguments will be swapped.

The easting and northing will be returned as a whole number of metres from the point of origin of the British Grid (which is a point a little way to the south-west of the Scilly Isles).

If you want the result presented in a more traditional grid reference format you should pass the results to one of the grid formatting routines, which are described below. Like this.

    $gridref = format_grid_trad(ll_to_grid(51.5,-0.0833));
    $gridref = format_grid_GPS(ll_to_grid(51.5,-0.0833));
    $gridref = format_grid_map(ll_to_grid(51.5,-0.0833));

However if you call ll_to_grid in a scalar context, it will automatically call format_grid_trad for you.

It is not needed for any normal work, but ll_to_grid() also takes an optional argument that sets the ellipsoid model to use. This normally defaults to `OSGB36', the name of the normal model for working with British maps. If you are working with the highly accurate OSTN02 conversions supplied in the companion module in this distribution, then you will need to produce pseudo-grid references as input to those routines. For these purposes you should call ll_to_grid() like this:

    my $pseudo_gridref = ll_to_grid(51.2, -0.4, 'WGS84');

and then transform this to a real grid reference using ETRS89_to_OSGB36() from the companion module. This is explained in more detail below.


Formats an (easting, northing) pair into traditional `full national grid reference' with two letters and two sets of three numbers, like this `TQ 102 606'. If you want to remove the spaces, just apply s/\s//g to it.

    $gridref = format_grid_trad(533000, 180000); # TQ 330 800
    $gridref =~ s/\s//g;                         # TQ330800

If you want the individual components call it in a list context.

    ($sq, $e, $n) = format_grid_trad(533000, 180000); # (TQ,330,800)

Note the easting and northing are truncated to hectometers (as the OS system demands), so the grid reference refers to the lower left corner of the relevant 100m square.


Users who have bought a GPS receiver may initially have been puzzled by the unfamiliar format used to present coordinates in the British national grid format. On my Garmin Legend C it shows this sort of thing in the display.

    TQ 23918
   bng 00972

and in the track logs the references look like this TQ 23918 00972.

These are just the same as the references described on the OS sheets, except that the units are metres rather than hectometres, so you get five digits in each of the easting and northings instead of three. So in a scalar context format_grid_GPS() returns a string like this:

    $gridref = format_grid_GPS(533000, 180000); # TQ 33000 80000

If you call it in a list context, you will get a list of square, easting, and northing, with the easting and northing as metres within the grid square.

    ($sq, $e, $n) = format_grid_GPS(533000, 180000); # (TQ,33000,80000)

Note that, at least until WAAS is working in Europe, the results from your GPS are unlikely to be more accurate than plus or minus 5m even with perfect reception. Most GPS devices can display the accuracy of the current fix you are getting, but you should be aware that all normal consumer-level GPS devices can only ever produce an approximation of an OS grid reference, no matter what level of accuracy they may display. The reasons for this are discussed below in the section on Theory.


This routine returns the grid reference formatted in the same way as format_grid_trad, but it also appends a list of maps on which the point appears. Note that the list will be empty if the grid point does not appear on any of the defined maps. This can happen with points in the sea, or in other areas not covered by the any of the British OS maps (such as Northern Ireland or the Channel Islands). In most cases the list will contain more than one map -- this is because (a) there are several series of maps defined and (b) many of the sheets in each series overlap at the edges.

In a list context you will get back a list like this: (square, easting, northing, sheet) or (square, easting, northing, sheet1, sheet2) etc. There are a few places where three sheets overlap, and one corner of Herefordshire which appears on four Landranger maps (sheets 137, 138, 148, and 149). If the GR is not on any sheet, then the list of sheets will be empty.

In a scalar context you will get back the same information in a helpful string form like this "NN 241 738 on A:41, B:392, C:47". Note that the easting and northing will have been truncated to the normal hectometre three digit form. The idea is that you'll use this form for people who might actually want to look up the grid reference on the given map sheet, and the traditional GR form is quite enough accuracy for that purpose.

See the section below on Maps for more details, including the series of maps that are included.


Turns a traditional grid reference into a full easting and northing pair in metres from the point of origin. The grid_ref can be a string like 'TQ203604' or 'SW 452 004', or a list like this ('TV', '435904') or a list like this ('NN', '345', '208').


Does the same as parse_trad_grid but is looking for five digit numbers like 'SW 45202 00421', or a list like this ('NN', '34592', '20804').

parse_landranger_grid(sheet, e, n)

This converts an OS Landranger sheet number and a local grid reference into a full easting and northing pair in metres from the point of origin.

The OS Landranger sheet number should be between 1 and 204 inclusive (but I may extend this when I support insets). You can supply (e,n) as 3-digit hectometre numbers or 5-digit metre numbers. In either case if you supply any leading zeros you should 'quote' the numbers to stop Perl thinking that they are octal constants.

This module will croak at you if you give it an undefined sheet number, or if the grid reference that you supply does not exist on the sheet.

In order to get just the coordinates of the SW corner of the sheet, just call it with the sheet number. It is easy to work out the coordinates of the other corners, because all OS Landranger maps cover a 40km square (if you don't count insets or the occasional sheet that includes extra details outside the formal margin).


Attempts to match a grid reference some form or other in the input string and will then call the appropriate grid parsing routine from those defined above. In particular it will parse strings in the form '176/345210' meaning grid ref 345 210 on sheet 176, as well as 'TQ345210' and 'TQ 34500 21000' etc. You can in fact always use "parse_grid" instead of the more specific routines unless you need to be picky about the input.

grid_to_ll(e,n) or grid_to_ll(grid_ref)

When called in list context grid_to_ll() returns a pair of numbers representing longitude and latitude coordinates, as real numbers. Following convention, positive numbers are North and East, negative numbers are South and West. The fractional parts of the results represent fractions of degrees.

When called in scalar context it returns a string in ISO longitude and latitude form, such as '+5025-00403/' with the result rounded to the nearest minute (the formulae are not much more accurate than this). In a void context it does nothing.

The arguments must be an (easting, northing) pair representing the absolute grid reference in metres from the point of origin. You can get these from a grid reference string by calling parse_grid() first.

An optional last argument defines the geoid model to use just as it does for ll_to_grid(). This is only necessary is you are working with the pseudo-grid references produced by the OSTN02 routines. See Theory for more discussion.

format_ll_trad(lat, lon)

Takes latitude and longitude in decimal degrees as arguments and returns a string like this

    N52:12:34 W002:30:27

In a list context it returns all 8 elements (hemisphere, degrees, minutes, seconds for each of lat and lon) in a list. In a void context it does nothing.

format_ll_ISO(lat, lon)

Takes latitude and longitude in decimal degrees as arguments and returns a string like this


In a list context it returns all 6 elements (sign, degrees, minutes for each of lat and lon) in a list. In a void context it does nothing.


Reads an ISO 6709 formatted location identifier string such as '+5212-00230/'. To learn exactly what is matched by this last option, read the source of the module and look for the definition of $ISO_LL_PATTERN. Note that the neither the + or - signs at the beginning and in the middle, nor the trailing / may be omitted. These strings can also include the altitude of a point, in metres, like this: '+5212-00230+140/'. If you omit the altitude, 0 is assumed.

In a list context it returns ($lat, $lon, $altitude). So if you don't want or don't need the altitude, you should just drop it, for example like this:

   my ($lat, $lon) = parse_ISO_ll('+5212-00230/')

In normal use you won't notice this. In particular you don't need to worry about it when passing the results on to ll_to_grid, as that routine looks for an optional altitude after the lat/lon.

shift_ll_from_WGS84(lat, lon, altitude)

Takes latitude and longitude in decimal degrees (plus an optional altitude in metres) from a WGS84 source (such as your GPS handset or Google Earth) and returns an approximate equivalent latitude and longitude according to the OSGM02 model. To determine the OSGB grid reference for given WGS84 lat/lon coordinates, you should call this before you call ll_to_grid. Like so:

  ($lat, $lon, $alt) = shift_ll_from_WGS84($lat, $lon, $alt);
  ($e, $n) = ll_to_grid($lat,$lon);

You don't need to call this to determine a grid reference from lat/lon coordinates printed on OSGB maps (the so called "graticule intersections" marked in pale blue on the Landranger series).

This routine provide a fast approximation; for a slower, more accurate approximation use the companion Geo::Coordinates::OSTN02 modules.

shift_ll_into_WGS84(lat, lon, altitude)

Takes latitude and longitude in decimal degrees (plus an optional altitude in metres) from an OSGB source (such as coordinates you read from a Landranger map, or more likely coordinates returned from grid_to_ll()) and adjusts them to fit the WGS84 model.

To determine WGS84 lat/lon coordinates (for use in Wikipedia, or Google Earth etc) for a given OSGB grid reference, you should call this after you call grid_to_ll(). Like so:

  ($lat, $lon) = grid_to_ll($e, $n);
  ($lat, $lon, $alt) = shift_ll_into_WGS84($lat, $lon, $alt);

This routine provide a fast approximation; for a more accurate approximation use the companion Geo::Coordinates::OSTN02 modules.

random_grid([sheet1, sheet2, ...])

Takes an optional list of Landranger map numbers (1..204), and returns a random easting and northing for some place covered by one of the maps. There's no guarantee that the point will not be in the sea, but it will be on one of the maps. If you omit the list of sheets, then one of the 204 will be picked at random. If the list includes sheet numbers that are not in the range 1..204 they will be (silently) ignored. The easting and northing are returns as meters from Newlyn, so that they are suitable for input to any of the c<format_grid> routines.


The series of maps currently defined include: A - OS Landranger maps at 1:50000 scale; B - OS Explorer maps at 1:25000; and C - the old OS One-Inch maps at 1:63360. Landranger sheet 47 appears as "A:47" and Explorer sheet 161 as "B:161" and so on. As of 2015, the Explorer series of incorporates the Outdoor Leisure maps, so (for example) the Outdoor Leisure 1 sheet, appears as "B:OL1".

Thanks to the marketing department at the OS and their ongoing re-branding exercise several Explorer sheets have been "promoted" to Outdoor Leisure status. So (for example) Explorer sheet 364 has recently become "Explorer sheet Outdoor Leisure 39". Maps like this are simply listed under both names, so 'B:364' and 'B:OL39' refer to the same sheet, and they will both appear in the list of sheets.

Many of the Explorer sheets are printed on both sides. In these cases each side is treated as a separate sheet and distinguished with suffixes. The pair of suffixes used for a map will either be N and S, or E and W. So for example there is no Explorer sheet 'B:271', but you will find sheets 'B:271N' and 'B:271S'. The suffixes are determined automatically from the layout of the sides, so in a very few cases it might not match what is printed on the sheet but it should still be obvious which side is which.

Several sheets also have insets, for islands, like Lundy or The Scillies, or for promontaries like Selsey Bill or Spurn Head. Like the sides, these insets are also treated as additional sheets (albeit rather smaller). They are named with the suffix " Inset", so Spurn Head is on an inset on Explorer sheet 292 and this is labelled "B:292 Inset". Where there is more than one inset on a sheet, they are sorted in descending order of size and labelled "Inset A", "Inset B" etc. On some sheets the insets overlap the area of the main sheet, but they are still treated as separate map sheets.

Some maps have marginal extensions to include local features - these are simply included in the definition of the main sheets. There are, therefore, many sheets that are not regular rectangles.


The algorithms and theory for these conversion routines are all from A Guide to Coordinate Systems in Great Britain published by the OSGB, April 1999 (Revised Dec 2010) and available at http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/.

You may also like to read some of the other introductory material there. Should you be hoping to adapt this code to your own custom Mercator projection, you will find the paper called Surveying with the National GPS Network, especially useful.

The routines are intended for use in Britain with the Ordnance Survey's National Grid, however they are written in an entirely generic way, so that you could adapt them to any other ellipsoid model that is suitable for your local area of the earth. There are other modules that already do this that may be more suitable (which are referenced in the "See Also" section), but the key parameters are all defined at the top of the module.

    $ellipsoid_shapes{OSGB36} = [ 6377563.396,  6356256.909  ];
    use constant ORIGIN_LONGITUDE   => RAD * -2;  # lon of grid origin
    use constant ORIGIN_LATITUDE    => RAD * 49;  # lat of grid origin
    use constant ORIGIN_EASTING     =>  400000;   # Easting for origin
    use constant ORIGIN_NORTHING    => -100000;   # Northing for origin
    use constant CONVERGENCE_FACTOR => 0.9996012717; # Convergence factor

The ellipsoid model is defined by two numbers that represent the major and minor radius measured in metres. The Mercator grid projection is then defined by the other five parameters. The general idea is that you pick a suitable point to start the grid that minimizes the inevitable distortion that is involved in a Mercator projection from spherical to Euclidean coordinates. Such a point should be on a meridian that bisects the area of interest and is nearer to the equator than the whole area. So for Britain the point of origin is 2W and 49N (in the OSGB geoid model) which is near the Channel Islands. This point should be set as the ORIGIN_LONGITUDE and ORIGIN_LATITUDE parameters (as above) measured in radians. Having this True Point of Origin in the middle and below (or above if you are antipodean) minimizes distortion but means that some of the grid values would be negative unless you then also adjust the grid to make sure you do not get any negative values in normal use. This is done by defining the grid coordinates of the True Point of Origin to be such that all the coordinates in the area of interest will be positive. These are the parameters ORIGIN_EASTING and ORIGIN_NORTHING. For Britain the coordinates are set as 400000 and -100000, so the that point (0,0) in the grid is just to the south west of the Scilly Isles. This (0,0) point is called the False Point of Origin. The fifth parameter affects the convergence of the Mercator projection as you get nearer the pole; this is another feature designed to minimize distortion, and if in doubt set it to 1 (which means it has no effect). For Britain, being so northerly it is set to slightly less than 1.

The British National Grid

One consequence of the True Point of Origin of the British Grid being set to +4900-00200/ is that all the vertical grid lines are parallel to the 2W meridian; you can see this on the appropriate OS maps (for example Landranger sheet 184), or on the plotmaps.pdf picture supplied with this package. The effect of moving the False Point of Origin to the far south west is that all grid references always positive.

Strictly grid references are given as whole numbers of metres from this point, with the easting always given before the northing. For everyday use however, the OSGB suggest that grid references need only to be given within the local 100km square as this makes the numbers smaller. For this purpose they divide Britain into a series of 100km squares identified in pair of letters: TQ, SU, ND, etc. The grid of the big squares actually used is something like this:

                   NA NB NC ND
                   NF NG NH NJ NK
                   NL NM NN NO NP
                      NR NS NT NU
                      NW NX NY NZ
                         SC SD SE TA
                         SH SJ SK TF TG
                      SM SN SO SP TL TM
                      SR SS ST SU TQ TR
                   SV SW SX SY SZ TV

SW covers most of Cornwall, TQ London, and HU the Shetlands. Note that it has the neat feature that N and S are directly above each other, so that most Sx squares are in the south and most Nx squares are in the north.

Within each of these large squares, we only need five digit coordinates --- from (0,0) to (99999,99999) --- to refer to a given square metre. For daily use however we don't generally need such precision, so the normal recommended usage is to use units of 100m (hectometres) so that we only need three digits for each easting and northing --- 000,000 to 999,999. If we combine the easting and northing we get the familiar traditional six figure grid reference. Each of these grid references is repeated in each of the large 100km squares but for local use with a particular map, this does not usually matter. Where it does matter, the OS suggest that the six figure reference is prefixed with the identifier of the large grid square to give a `full national grid reference', such as TQ330800. This system is described in the notes in the corner of every Landranger 1:50,000 scale map.

Modern GPS receivers can all display coordinates in the OS grid system. You just need to set the display units to be `British National Grid' or whatever similar name is used on your unit. Most units display the coordinates as two groups of five digits and a grid square identifier. The units are metres within the grid square (although beware that the GPS fix is unlikely to be accurate down to the last metre).

Geoid models

This section explains the fundamental problems of mapping a spherical earth onto a flat piece of paper (or computer screen). A basic understanding of this material will help you use these routines more effectively. It will also provide you with a good store of ammunition if you ever get into an argument with someone from the Flat Earth Society.

It is a direct consequence of Newton's law of universal gravitation (and in particular the bit that states that the gravitational attraction between two objects varies inversely as the square of the distance between them) that all planets are roughly spherical. (If they were any other shape gravity would tend to pull them into a sphere). On the other hand, most useful surfaces for displaying large scale maps (such as pieces of paper or screens) are flat. There is therefore a fundamental problem in making any maps of the earth that its curved surface being mapped must be distorted at least slightly in order to get it to fit onto the flat map.

This module sets out to solve the corresponding problem of converting latitude and longitude coordinates (designed for a spherical surface) to and from a rectangular grid (for a flat surface). This projection is in itself is a fairly lengthy bit of maths, but what makes it extra complicated is that the earth is not quite a sphere. Because our planet spins about a vertical axis, it tends to bulge out slightly in the middle, so it is more of an oblate spheroid than a sphere. This makes the maths even longer, but the real problem is that the earth is not a regular oblate spheroid either, but an irregular lump that closely resembles an oblate spheroid and which is constantly (if slowly) being rearranged by plate tectonics. So the best we can do is to pick an imaginary regular oblate spheroid that provides a good fit for the region of the earth that we are interested in mapping. The British Ordnance Survey did this back in 1830 and have used it ever since as the base on which the National Grid for Great Britain is constructed. You can also call an oblate spheroid an ellipsoid if you like. The general term for an ellipsoid model of the earth is a "geoid".

The first standard OSGB geoid is known as "Airy 1830" after the year of its first development. It was revised in 1936, and that version, generally known as OSGB36, is the basis of all current OSGB mapping. In 2002 the model was redefined (but not functionally changed) as a transformation from the international geoid model WGS84. This redefinition is called OSGM02. For the purposes of these modules (and most other purposes) OSGB36 and OSGM02 may be treated as synonyms.

The general idea is that you can establish your latitude and longitude by careful observation of the sun, the moon, the planets, or your GPS handset, and that you then do some clever maths to work out the corresponding grid reference using a suitable geoid. These modules let you do the clever maths, and the geoid they use is the OSGM02 one. This model provides a good match to the local shape of the Earth in the British Isles, but is not designed for use in the rest of the world; there are many other models in use in other countries.

In the mid-1980s a new standard geoid model was defined to use with the fledgling global positioning system (GPS). This model is known as WGS84, and is designed to be a compromise model that works equally well for all parts of the globe (or equally poorly depending on your point of view --- for one thing WGS84 defines the Greenwich observatory in London to be not quite on the zero meridian). Nevertheless WGS84 has grown in importance as GPS systems have become consumer items and useful global mapping tools (such as Google Earth) have become freely available through the Internet. Most latitude and longitude coordinates quoted on the Internet (for example in Wikipedia) are WGS84 coordinates.

One thing that should be clear from the theory is that there is no such thing as a single definitive set of coordinates for every unique spot on earth. There are only approximations based on one or other of the accepted geoid models, however for most practical purposes good approximations are all you need. In Europe the official definition of WGS84 is sometime referred to as ETRS89. For all practical purposes in Western Europe the OS advise that one can regard ETRS89 as identical to WGS84 (unless you need to worry about tectonic plate movements).

Practical implications

If you are working exclusively with British OS maps and you merely want to convert from the grid to the latitude and longitude coordinates printed (as faint blue crosses) on those maps, then all you need from these modules are the plain grid_to_ll() and ll_to_grid() routines. On the other hand if you want to produce latitude and longitude coordinates suitable for Google Earth or Wikipedia from a British grid reference, then you need an extra step. Convert your grid reference using grid_to_ll() and then shift it from the OSGB model to the WGS84 model using shift_ll_into_WGS84(). To go the other way round, shift your WGS84 lat/lon coordinates into OSGB using shift_ll_from_WGS84(), before you convert them using ll_to_grid().

If you have a requirement for really accurate work (say to within a millimetre or two) then you need to use the OS's transformation matrix called OSTN02. This monumental work published in 2002 re-defined the British grid in terms of offsets from WGS84 to allow really accurate grid references to be determined from really accurate GPS readings (the sort you get from professional fixed base stations, not from your car's sat nav or your hand-held device). The problem with it is that it defines the grid in terms of a deviation in three dimensions from a pseudo-grid based on WGS84 and it does this separately for every square km of the country, so the data set is huge and takes a little time to load even on a fast machine. Nevertheless a Perl version of OSTN02 is included as a separate module in this distribution just in case you really need it (but you don't need it for any "normal" work).

Because of the way OSTN02 is defined, the sequence of conversion and shifting works differently from the approximate routines described above. Starting with a really accurate lat/lon reading in WGS84 terms, you need to transform it into a pseudo-grid reference using ll_to_grid() using an optional argument to tell it to use the WGS84 geoid parameters instead of the default OSGB parameters. The Geo::Coordinates::OSTN02 package provides a routine called ETRS89_to_OSGB36() which will shift this pseudo-grid reference into an accurate OSGB grid reference. To go back the other way, you use OSGB36_to_ETRS89() to make a pseudo-grid reference, and then call grid_to_ll() with the WGS84 parameter to get WGS84 lat/long coordinates.

   ($lat, $lon, $height) = (51.5, -1, 10);
   ($x, $y) = ll_to_grid($lat, $lon, 'WGS84');
   ($e, $n, $elevation) = ETRS89_to_OSGB36($x, $y, $height);

   ($x, $y, $z) = OSGB36_to_ETRS89($e, $n, $elevation);
   ($lat, $lon) = grid_to_ll($x, $y, 'WGS84');

The coverage of OSTN02 is limited to about 2km beyond the shore line, of the British mainland. This means that some parts of the Landranger map series are outside the coverage, but only where they extend far out to sea.

Accuracy and precision

First some sizes. In the British Isles the distance along a meridian between two points that are one degree of latitude apart is about 110 km or just under 70 miles. This is the distance as the crow flies from, say, Swindon to Walsall. So a tenth of a degree is about 11 km or 7 miles, a hundredth is just over 1km, 0.001 is about 110m, 0.0001 about 11m and 0.00001 just over 1 m. If you think in minutes, and seconds, then one minute is about 1850 m (and it's no coincidence that this happens to be approximately the same as 1 nautical mile since it was originally defined to be 1 minute of arc of the circumference of the globe). One second is a bit over 30m, 0.1 seconds is about 3 m, and 0.0001 second is about 3mm.

Degrees of latitude get very slightly longer as you go further north but not by much. In contrast degrees of longitude, which represent the same length on the ground as latitude at the equator, get significantly smaller in northern latitudes. In southern England one degree of latitude represents about 70 km or 44 miles, in northern Scotland it's less than 60 km or about 35 miles. Scaling everything down means that the fifth decimal place of a degree of longitude represents about 60-70cm on the ground.

The transformations produced by this module between latitude and longitude given in the OSGB36 model and OS national grid references are exact to the nearest millimetre. Unfortunately this is not the case if latitude and longitude are given or desired in the WGS84 model. Using the quick methods "shift_ll_into_WGS84" and "shift_ll_from_WGS84", the transformations are correct to the nearest 5 m -- although in some areas of the grid, you will get slightly better results than this. Using the OSTN02 methods, the transformations between OSGB36 and WGS84 are correct to the nearest 25 to 30 cm.


  # to import everything try...
  use Geo::Coordinates::OSGB ':all';

  # Get full coordinates in metres from GR
  ($e,$n) = parse_trad_grid('TQ 234 098');

  # Latitude and longitude according to the OSGB geoid (as
  # printed on OS maps), if you want them to work in Google
  # Earth or some other tool that uses WGS84 then adjust results
  ($lat, $lon) = grid_to_ll($e, $n);
  ($lat, $lon, $alt) = shift_ll_into_WGS84($lat, $lon, $alt);
  # and to go the other way
  ($lat, $lon, $alt) = shift_ll_from_WGS84($lat, $lon, $alt);
  ($e, $n) = ll_to_grid($lat,$lon);
  # In both cases the elevation is in metres (default=0m)

  # Reading and writing grid references
  # Format full easting and northing into traditional formats
  $gr1 = format_grid_trad($e, $n);      # "TQ 234 098"
  $gr1 =~ s/\s//g;                      # "TQ234098"
  $gr2 = format_grid_GPS($e, $n);       # "TQ 23451 09893"
  $gr3 = format_grid_landranger($e, $n);# "TQ 234 098 on Sheet 176"
  # or call in list context to get the individual parts
  ($sq, $e, $n) = format_grid_trad($e, $n); # ('TQ', 234, 98)

  # parse routines to convert from these formats to full e,n
  ($e,$n) = parse_grid('TQ 234 098');
  ($e,$n) = parse_grid('TQ234098'); # spaces optional
  ($e,$n) = parse_grid('TQ',234,98); # or even as a list
  ($e,$n) = parse_grid('TQ 23451 09893'); # as above..

  # You can also get grid refs from individual maps.
  # Sheet between 1..204; gre & grn must be 3 or 5 digits long
  ($e,$n) = parse_grid(176,123,994);

  # With just the sheet number you get GR for SW corner
  ($e,$n) = parse_grid(184);

  # Reading and writing lat/lon coordinates
  ($lat, $lon) = parse_ISO_ll("+52-002/");
  $iso = format_ll_ISO($lat,$lon);    # "+520000-0020000/"
  $str = format_ll_trad($lat,$lon);   # "N52:00:00 W002:00:00"


The conversions are only approximate. So after

  ($a1,$b1) = grid_to_ll(ll_to_grid($a,$b));

neither $a==$a1 nor $b==$b1. However abs($a-$a1) and abs($b-$b1) should be less than 0.00001 which will give you accuracy to within a metre. In the middle of the grid 0.00001 degrees is approximately 1 metre. Note that the error increases the further away you are from the point of false origin. You'll notice it most if you are working with grid references from the Shetland Islands, where the round trip error may be as much as 10 metres. If you need more accurate conversions use the OSTN02 routines.

In the interests of performance, there's no range checking done on the arguments to the conversion routines, but the results are more or less meaningless outside the area covered by the Landranger series of maps. This runs from the Scilly Isles in the south (49.9 degrees North) to the Shetlands (a bit less than 61 degrees North), and from the Outer Hebrides (nearly 9 degrees West) to Great Yarmouth (nearly 2 degrees East). In grid terms, valid eastings are between 0 and 700000 meters and valid northings between 0 and 1250000 meters.

The coverage of the OSTN02 routines is considerably smaller than this, because the model is not defined by the OS for points beyond about 2km from the shore. This is not a problem if you are working with references from on land but might surprise you if you are working with the coordinates (for example) of the corners of some map sheets on the coast.

The design of the conversion routines deliberately forces the user to be aware of the difference between the OSGB36 and the WGS84 geoid models. This probably leads to some confusion. The provision of alternative methods to shift between the two geoids also contributes some confusion. Now that processor speeds are so much faster than when this module was first designed, it would probably make sense only to provide the more accurate method, since it is no longer significantly slower than the quick approximation.

The design of the calling interface for most of the routines is chaotic. Future versions will support named parameters and other improvements.

Not enough testing has been done. I am always grateful for the feedback I get from users, but especially for problem reports that help me to make this a better module.


Should this software not do what you expect, then please first read this documentation, secondly verify that you have installed it correctly and that it passes all the installation tests on your set up, thirdly study the source code to see what it's supposed to be doing, fourthly get in touch to ask me about it.


There is no configuration required either of these modules or your environment. It should work on any recent version of perl, on any platform.




None known.


Copyright (C) 2002-2015 Toby Thurston

OSTN02 transformation data is freely available but remains Crown Copyright (C) 2002

This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.

You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License along with this program; if not, write to the Free Software Foundation, Inc., 51 Franklin Street, Fifth Floor, Boston, MA 02110-1301 USA.


Toby Thurston -- 21 Sep 2015



The UK Ordnance Survey's theory paper referenced above.

See Geo::Coordinates::Convert for a general approach (not based on the above paper).

See Geo::Coordinates::Lambert for a French approach.