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Public-images-osm logo.svg ref
UK traffic sign 2901.svg
Used for reference numbers or codes. Common for roads, highway exits, routes, entrances to big buildings etc. Show/edit corresponding data item.
Group: references
Used on these elements
may be used on nodesmay be used on waysmay be used on areas (and multipolygon relations)may be used on relations
See also
Status: de facto

"ref" stands for "reference" and is used for reference numbers or codes. Common for roads, highway exits, routes, entrances to big buildings etc. It is also used for shops and amenities that are numbered officially as part of a retail brand or network respectively.

This key and variations are frequently used to avoid the use of relations.

Key variations

  • ref=*
  • int_ref=* - international reference numbers or codes
  • nat_ref=* - national reference numbers or codes
  • reg_ref=* - regional reference numbers or codes
  • loc_ref=* - local reference numbers or codes
  • old_ref=* - old or former reference numbers or codes (usually replaced with another)
  • unsigned_ref=* - reference number or code that is generally not signed on the route
  • highway_authority_ref=* - reference number or code that is generally only used for road administration
  • prow_ref=* - Public right of way reference (England and Wales only)
  • alt_ref=* - alternative reference number or codes

You can add the tag noref=yes to indicate that an absence of ref=* is intentional.


This is used to add reference information for an element.

LOADING TAG LIST... (If you do not see this tag list, you need to enable JavaScript)
This table is auto-generated. See Template:Taglist for a documentation on it.

This table is a wiki template with a default description in English. Editable here.

For cycle routes:

  • ncn_ref=* - national cycle network reference
  • rcn_ref=* - regional cycle network reference
  • lcn_ref=* - local cycle network reference

There is wide use of ref:* as a namespace prefix, and since 2011 the use of a country code ref:FR:*, etc. where keys are clearly country-specific (see France/Liste des références nationales). A selection of frequently used variations are :

Key Used on Country Description Tag usage[1] See also
ref:bag=* Netherlands ID of Dutch buildings BAGimport
ref:bic=* heritage=* Spain Identifiers for (Spain) Bien de Interés Cultural (BIC) Bienes culturales protegidos by the Spanish Government.
ref:BLfD=* heritage=* Germany Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (Germany, Bavaria)
ref:GB:cadw=* heritage:operator=Cadw United Kingdom The ID in Cadw's database of scheduled monuments and listed buildings in Wales, United Kingdom
ref:cadw=* heritage:operator=cadw United Kingdom Deprecated please use ref:GB:cadw : The ID in Cadw's database of scheduled monuments and listed buildings in Wales, United Kingdom
ref:GB:nhle=* heritage:operator=Historic England United Kingdom The ID in the National Heritage List for England as maintained by Historic England for England, United Kingdom HE_ref=*
ref:GB:hs=* heritage:operator=Historic Environment Scotland United Kingdom The ID in the Historic Environment Scotland database of scheduled monuments and listed buildings in Scotland, United Kingdom
ref:GB:niea=* heritage:operator=Northern Ireland Environment Agency United Kingdom The ID in the Northern Ireland Environment Agency database of scheduled monuments and listed buildings in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
ref:GB:decc=* man_made=petroleum_well United Kingdom The ID in the Department of Energy and Climate Change database of oil wells in the United Kingdom. DECC Import
ref:GB:tflcid=* amenity=bicycle_parking
London, United Kingdom The ID in Transport for London's Cycling Infrastructure Database (TfLCID). TfL Cycling Infrastructure Database
ref:csioz=* amenity=pharmacy Poland An identification number assigned to each pharmacy in Poland that can dispense prescription drugs. (Poland)
ref:ctb=* highway=bus_stop Hong Kong Signposted on Citybus bus stops (Hong Kong)
ref:De_Lijn=* bus_stop/platform node, route, route_master Belgium Signposted on bus/tram stops in and around Flanders, Belgium WikiProject_Belgium/De_Lijndata
ref:dhis2=* boundary=health relation and health infrastructures DHIS2 unique ID, used in +60 countries Congo-Kinshasa/Zones_de_santé/Workflow
ref:doc=* tourism=wilderness_hut New Zealand Shelters/Huts from the Department of Conservation (New Zealand) Department of Conservation
ref:dove=* amenity=place_of_worship Mostly UK Dove’s Guide for Church Bell Ringers
ref:EU:bwid=* leisure=swimming_area
natural=beach, ...
Identifier for a beach in Europe monitored for swimming/bathing water quality by the European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet). Eionet bathingWaterIdentifier (P9616)
ref:EU:EVSE=* amenity=charging_station Europe European unique codification of electric vehicles charging stations and devices
ref:fgkz=* Relation:waterway Germany FGKZ reference ID (Germany)
ref:GB:uprn=* building=house, building=commercial, etc. United Kingdom Unique Property Reference Number (Great Britain)
ref:GB:usrn=* roads United Kingdom Unique Street Reference Number (Great Britain)
ref:gnbc=* Relation:waterway, Relation:boundary, place=*, others Canada GNBC reference ID (Canada) About the Canadian Geographical Names Database
ref:harbour=* landuse=industrial Number of company in harbour on road signage, used e.g. in the Nederlands
ref:IFOPT=* highway=bus_stop, public_transport=platform node International identifier for bus stops and platforms
ref:industrial=* landuse=industrial Number of company in industrial area on road signage, used e.g. in the Nederlands
ref:INSEE=* admin_level=* France INSEE code of the French communes
ref:isil=* amenity=library International Standard Identifier for Libraries
ref:IUCN=* boundary=protected_area International Union for the Conservation of Nature protected area category
ref:kmb=* highway=bus_stop Hong Kong Signposted on KMB & LW bus stops (Hong Kong)
ref:kons=* heritage=*
Bosnia and Herzegovina Identifiers for the Commission to Preserve National Monuments of Bosnia and Herzegovina (KONS) (state level); searchable register of heritage records and documentation;

old.kons - old website is turned into online archive for indexes, records and documentation

ref:linz:address_id=* addr:street=* New Zealand New Zealand street addresses LINZ
ref:linz:building_id=* building=yes New Zealand Imported buildings in New Zealand LINZ
ref:linz:pastoral_lease_id=* landuse=meadow New Zealand  Agricultural stations in New Zealand LINZ
ref:linz:place_id=* * New Zealand Named features in New Zealand/Antarctica/Polynesia LINZ
ref:linz:road_id=* highway=* New Zealand Roads in New Zealand (ref tag not maintained) LINZ
ref:linz:topo50_id=* * New Zealand Many different imported features in New Zealand/Antarctica/Polynesia LINZ
ref:linz:hydrographic_id=* seamark:type=* New Zealand Hydrographic/maritime features in New Zealand/Antarctica/Polynesia LINZ
ref:LV:addr=* addr=* Latvia ID (classifier code) of an address in the State Address Register of the State Land Service of LatviaF
ref:mhs=* heritage=* France ID in the French database Mérimée of historic monuments
ref:MMM=* highway=* or emergency=defibrillator or attraction=animal France Object ID used by Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole, a french local authority Montpellier#Utilisation_du_tag_ref:MMM
ref:natura2000=* boundary=protected_area European Union Identifier for protected areas within the Natura 2000 network protect_class=97
ref:NBd=* junction=yes or traffic_sign=* Netherlands Reference number of the Dutch Nationale Bewegwijzeringsdienst (NBd)
ref:nid=* heritage=* Poland ID in Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa historic monuments
ref:nrhp=* heritage=*
United States Identifiers for (United States) National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) records NRHP advanced search
ref:rce=* heritage=* Netherlands ID in Dutch Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed
ref:regine=* Relation:waterway Norway REGINE reference ID (Norway)
heritage=* Serbia Immovable cultural property of Serbia Key:heritage#Serbia

boundary=administrative admin_level=* Serbia Official designations for administrative regions in Serbia
ref:RS:ulica=* highway=* Serbia Official designations for streets in Serbia
ref:RS:kucni_broj=* addr:housenumber=* Serbia Official designations for house numbers in Serbia
building=*, addr=* Czech RUIAN building or address reference ID (Czech republic)
ref:sandre=* river France Reference of the French Sandre agency WikiProject France/Cours d'eau
ref:svhl=* Germany Station-keys of Lübecker Stadtverkehr (Germany) Lübeck/Importe
ref:whc=* heritage=* Unesco World Heritage ID
ref:TECB=* bus_stop
platform node, route, route_master
Belgium Signposted on bus stops in and around Brabant-Wallon, Wallonia, Belgium TEC data import
ref:TECC=* bus_stop
platform node, route, route_master
Belgium Signposted on bus stops in and around Charleroi, Wallonia, Belgium TEC data import
ref:TECH=* bus_stop
platform node, route, route_master
Belgium Signposted on bus stops in and around Hainaut, Wallonia, Belgium TEC data import
ref:TECL=* bus_stop
platform node, route, route_master
Belgium Signposted on bus stops in and around Liège-Verviers, Wallonia, Belgium TEC data import
ref:TECN=* bus_stop
platform node, route, route_master
Belgium Signposted on bus stops in and around Namur, Wallonia, Belgium TEC data import
ref:TECX=* bus_stop
platform node, route, route_master
Belgium Signposted on bus stops in and around Luxembourg (province), Wallonia, Belgium TEC data import
ref:UrbIS=* building=*
Belgium Reference Key of Urbis Database for addresses in Brussels Brussels#CIRB UrbIS
ref:usrn=* United Kingdom Unique Street Reference Number - a primary key use by the National Address Gazeteer in the UK National Address Gazeteer
ref:VHAG=* waterway=* Belgium Reference code number of waterways in Flanders, Belgium Vlaamse Hydrografische Atlas
ref:hmdb=* historic=memorial
International reference ID for a historical marker registered in the Historical Markers Database (HMdb)
ref:US-MA:mhc=* United States The MHC ID for a historic property or area from the Massachusetts Historical Commission Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) by the Massachusetts Historical Commission
ref:US-TX:thc=* historic=memorial
United States A reference ID for a memorial plaque registered in the Texas Historical Commission Database. This network is limited to the state of Texas, United States. THC database (aka Atlas)
ref:US-TN:thc=* historic=memorial
United States A reference ID for a memorial plaque registered in the Tennessee Historical Commission Database. This network is limited to the state of Tennessee, United States. The Tennessee Historical Commission has erected over 2,000 markers
ref:UY:ruee=* amenity=school or amenity=kindergarten Uruguay A unique identifier for educational establishments in Uruguay (RUEE, in spanish, Registro Único de Establecimientos Educativos)
ref:pmmcr=* * Brazil Identifiers used by Municipio de Marechal Cândido Rondon, a local government from Parana - Brazil.* amenity=place_of_worship
Russia Reference for Russian Christian churches in catalog. website
ref:at:bda=* heritage=2
Austria Identifier for austrian national monuments as designated by the Bundesdenkmalamt heritage#Austria
ref:WDPA=* boundary=protected_area
Reference number of protected areas / national parks [W]identifier in World Database on Protected Areas
ref:wigos=* man_made=monitoring_station

‡ These keys are specifically encouraged for use by JOSM Waterway relation presets.[2] Depending on the scope of the reference system, they may have uses in other key/tag schemas as well.

Core values


User defined values

Any valid syntax value

Examples on relations

place=* nodes and boundary=administrative relations for states and provinces are often tagged with a postal abbreviation in ref. For example:

  • Administrative boundary relation for the U.S. state of California: ref=CA (relation 165475)

On route=road relations, the ref is a bare "route number",[3] relying on network=* to convey information about the road network:

  • Interstate 35W in the United States, conventionally abbreviated I-35W: network=US:I ref=35W on the relation, ref=I 35W on the member ways
  • Japan National Route 282, conventionally abbreviated 国道282号: network=JP:national ref=282 on the relation, ref=282 on the member ways

Similarly, on cycle and walking routes, the ref is a bare number and cycle_network=* indicates the route network:

Bus routes use ref to label the bus route. For example:

  • Bus route 23: ref=23 (type=route, route=bus, name=Shanklin>Newchurch>Newport - currently relation 312207)

Examples on ways

  • ref=A 1 Default reference (German and French references with a space; e.g. A 1)
  • int_ref=E 15 Internationally referenced as
  • nat_ref=A 1 Nationally referenced as (German and French references with a space; e.g., A 1)
  • reg_ref=A 1 Regionally referenced as (German and French references with a space; e.g., A 1)
  • ncn_ref=54 The number reference for a National Cycle Network. See Cycle routes
  • ref=A 3;A 7 Default for more than one reference (German and French references with a space; e.g., A 1)
  • alt_ref=* In South Africa certain roads share a primary and secondary reference numbers. The primary reference number is attributed in ref=* and the alt_ref=* is used for the continuation of the secondary reference number.

There are no global standards as to whether refs should include spaces, hyphens or other characters. At least when nationally consistent, tag what's on the ground. Some countries use spaces on the signs, others don't. In some countries the usage on the signs varies and guidelines are under discussion. Special cases:

  • In the United States, some of the most popular ref formats do not correspond to what's on the ground, due to historical technical reasons. For example, Interstate highways are tagged e.g. ref=I 75 instead of ref=I-75, and some states use postal abbreviations instead of more ambiguous, human-readable prefixes such as "SR". However, this Sophox query demonstrates how a data consumer can automatically generate human-readable refs using the network=* tag on route relations.
  • In e.g. the Netherlands there is a visual space on signs for readability, yet overwhelming usage in writing in both official and unofficial documents/websites/newspapers etc. is without spaces, hence the tagging is also without spaces.

It may seem redundant to tag route refs on both ways and relations, but do not remove a ref=* tag from a way just because the way is a member of corresponding route relations:

  • Mainstream renderers and routers are still unable to infer refs from parent relations, so the way refs are needed for backwards compatibility.
  • In some localities, one cannot predict the order that concurrent routes are listed on a sign based on the route relations alone. A regional route may be listed before a national route if the national route only briefly joins the road before diverging. In these cases, ref=* on the way is the only way to indicate the signposted order along that way, since a way does not indicate an intrinsic order to the routes of which it is a member.
  • It is possible that not all ways with the ref are also part of the route for the ref. For example, it is possible that side roads and link roads are not a logical part of the road route, yet they may still belong to the same road reference (sometimes with a distinct carriageway_ref=*).
  • The ref-value on the route may sometimes differ from the ref-value on the way. The ref-value on the way might need to be more verbose because it lacks the context of other tags on the route relation, such as network=*.

In runways of airports (aeroway=runway) this tag is used for the runway designator (for example "ref=02/20" or "ref=09L/27R").

Unsigned reference numbers (e.g. New York State Reference Route Numbers) that are neither readily visible on the ground nor well-known by the public, should be placed in unsigned_ref=* rather than ref=*. If the numbering system is specifically intended for internal use by the highway authority only, highway_authority_ref=* may be used.

Examples on nodes

A ref on a node generally means a highway exit when combined with highway=motorway_junction:

  • ref=23 US Highway exits are often just a number
  • ref=23B Sometimes exits have been split into A and B exits.

These refs can also be tagged on the adjoining highway=motorway_link way (or highway=trunk_link, highway=secondary_link, etc.) using junction:ref=*. In general, renderers understand ref=* on nodes, while routers understand junction:ref=* on ways.

ref is sometimes used on bus stops:

ref is sometimes used to label an entrance into a large building or parking area. (If the label is used in addresses, consider using addr:unit=* instead.) For example a shopping mall may have entrances A - L:

Special uses

  • ref=* - Used to mark official company store number assigned to a place. Example (ref=7872) CVS (You'll see a reference tag added to the building)
  • ref:svhl=* - station-keys of Lübecker Stadtverkehr (Germany) - details look at Lübeck/Importe
  • ref:luebeck=* - internal reference for objects in the area of Lübeck
  • ref:bufa=* - 4-digit key of the local German tax and revenue offices (Bundesfinanzamtnummer)
  • ref:vatin=CC12345678 - VAT identification number of companies, use CountryCode (e.g. IT for Italy) and the number
  • official_ref=* - Used in cases where the official administrative reference for a road (or other feature) is not identical with the road signs (or other feature ref), e.g. because they are old, or because the administration doesn't have the money to install/update the signage.
  • ref:penndot=* - Used for internal state route designations of the Location Referencing System in Pennsylvania.
  • The approval of the boundary=forest_compartment clarified the meaning of the ref key when applied to forest compartments: in such cases, ref's value must be the one displayed on the ground and the unique ref of the compartment within the encompassing delimited forest, not a ref which is valid in, or applies to, a broader area. See boundary=forest_compartment for more details.

Authority control

Taking a page from Wikipedia, "in information science, authority control is a process that organizes information, for example in library catalogs, by using a single, distinct spelling of a name (heading) or a numeric identifier for each topic".[4]. In OpenStreetMap, authority control is currently implemented by specifying the ID for map elements from a reference catalog as values for tags, using keys such as:


  • For highways shared by more than one route see Relations/Routes or Faq#What shall I do for roads that have multiple values for a tag?. Relations seem to be the preferred method for tagging this.
  • If more than one reference is given, you are recommended to separate them with a semicolon and without a space character, because this is the widely established syntax in Germany and maybe other countries. But note, this syntax is being heavily discussed in Germany. A better approach might be to have a namespace and add the entity that has issued the ref; e.g. ref:foo=x ref:bar=y.
  • Do not confuse this issue with the space that is present in some countries between the letter and the number in a reference itself.
  • When a road has no number, leave this key unused; this makes sure that routing programs do not try to describe the road by a number.

Possible tagging mistakes

If you know places with this tag, verify if it could be tagged with another tag.
Automated edits are strongly discouraged unless you really know what you are doing!
If you know places with this tag, verify if it could be tagged with another tag.
Automated edits are strongly discouraged unless you really know what you are doing!

See also


  1. Does not include uses in semi-colon value separated lists
  2. JOSM default presets
  3. A route number can be alphanumeric. However, a route relation's ref=* should only include the characters that are an inseparable part of the route number. As a rule of thumb, consider whether a prefix appears together with the rest of the number on a route shield, or whether the prefix occurs in writing even when the route's name is fully spelled out.
  4. wikipedia:en:Authority control