How navigation app Waze works – behind the scenes

“How does Waze work?” is arguably one of the most common questions we get asked. It also happens to be one of the more difficult questions to answer because there is so much to explain. On this page we’ll try to explain how navigation app Waze works and the various people involved in the process. Hopefully this page can answer most of your questions.

The App

For most of you, the app will be the most important part of the experience. It is through the app that you get to see the map, receive your navigation instructions, get notifications, and so on. This app is maintained by Waze Mobile Inc., the company that made and still manages Waze. They were bought in 2013 by Google Inc. The company is still mostly an entity on its own, though.

The app also allows you to send in reports of dangerous situations, map mistakes, speed traps, road closures and various other dangers. By using the app while driving (with or without guidance), the user provides Waze information on the current road conditions. This information gets added to the database for calculating routes for others now and in the future. Interestingly, the app does not download the map for a whole area in advance. It will download the parts of the map it needs when a route is calculated or otherwise on the fly while the user is driving.

The Map

Despite popular belief, the Waze map is completely separate from the map of Google Maps. Waze has a map of its own, specifically tailored to the Waze routing algorithm. This map contains all the streets and places the algorithm needs to calculate a route. The purpose of the map is only meant to show which streets are legal to use, as the algorithm will use the real time and historical data retrieved from the users to calculate the best routes. It is possible to look at this map via the livemap and the Waze Map Editor.

The data for this map mostly comes from the local knowledge of map editors worldwide. These are volunteer users who enjoy maintaining the maps in their local areas. Almost every day the map receives an update based on the changes by the map editors. This allows for a very up to date map. The map of Waze should also always strictly follow the local road laws. The map editors will not change a road by request from local authorities unless this restriction is physically present at that location.

The Routing Algorithm

The routing algorithm is the best kept secret of Waze. We know that it uses historical and real time data to quickly react to and even predict traffic conditions in advance. The routing algorithm prefers higher road types, but tends to be less shy of the more local roads than alternative systems. As the Waze map is generally very accurate, it is possible to rely on these alternative routes. This is quite a sensitive subject in regions with a sub-optimal road structure or with too many road users. In such regions Waze tends to find better routes with streets that aren’t always expected to receive through traffic.

The Community

The community is made up of two distinct groups: the users of the app and the map editing community. The latter tends to be a subgroup of the former, but the difference in involvement is big enough to warrant a separate name. The users provide the speed data or actively add reports for issues. Map editors on the other hand maintain the Waze map as well. This involves adjusting streets and places that have been added, changed or removed. It also involves handling the various reports added by other users and configuring road closures in advance. To better organize themselves, these volunteers form communities in their respective countries (such as the BeLux community you are looking at now).

The Waze Map Editors also make sure that Waze remains functional in their country. They are in touch with the people from Waze Mobile Inc. to enable and configure new features for their respective areas.


While it is not feasible to explain how navigation app Waze works fully in detail on a single page, we do hope several questions have been answered with this page. Also be sure to check out the support pages of Waze about this subject. Should you have any other burning questions, feel free to get in touch with us via our contact form.