When using the Waze application, Waze servers use routing algorithms to determine the best path for a given route at that particular time. The specific details of the routing algorithms used by the Waze server are not publicly disclosed; the following is based on observation, speculation, and some information revealed by Waze staff. Tthe operation of the routing server is considered to be proprietary and a competitive advantage to Waze. The information on this page is subject to change, and any information that has been revealed may be incomplete or out of date.
- 1 Client based routing
- 2 Routing requests
- 3 Missing roads and incorrect junction connections
- 4 Real-time current road speeds
- 5 Changes in route due to different origin
- 6 Changes in routes due to different route lengths
- 7 Problems with average road speeds
- 8 Traffic lights and stop signs
- 9 Outdated and abnormal road speeds
- 10 Average road speed "shrinking window"
- 11 Routing algorithm refinements
- 12 What to do if you think the generated route is wrong
- 13 Change of routing
- 14 You are the driver
Client based routing
Calculating an optimal route is a difficult task. While the client device app has a routing algorithm included, this is not used unless there is no connection to the Waze server. Client-based routing only uses cached map tiles. It does not use real-time traffic data or reports, because this information is not accessible, and it does not provide an estimated ETA.
When a user requests a route calculation with a network connection, the request is sent to the Waze server. That route is then transmitted back to the client device and displayed.
The requests for routing vary according to the settings chosen for the user's account on the client device. Under Navigation one can choose:
- Whether to allow or avoid toll roads
- Which, if any, toll and HOV passes to apply (some segments are permitted only to those who hold the proper pass)
- Whether to avoid ferries
- Whether to avoid
- Whether to allow, never allow, or avoid long unpaved roads
- Whether to avoid avoid difficult intersections (turns marked "difficult" through nodes or junction boxes).
- Vehicle type
Missing roads and incorrect junction connections
Waze tries to find the best route based on the above navigation settings. Obviously it can only route based on roads that it knows about, so a given route will not be optimal if a better route does not have all the roads with correct connections and allowed turns in the Waze Map Editor. Also if segments are less than 19.69 ft (6 m) they can cause routing issues.
Real-time current road speeds
The routing server uses real-time road speeds (from recent Waze app users if available) and combines the historical speed of the segment broken down into 10-15 minute chunks. The time to pass through a segment is tracked separately for each route out of a segment. For example if a segment ends with only a left and right turn, then the routing engine isolates the time through the segment to turn left and the time through the segment to turn right. This detailed speed information is proprietary and is not displayed in the Waze Map Editor.
It is known that Waze prefers to use real-time reports of current road speeds over historical average road speeds. Waze also uses traffic congestion reports to reroute around slow traffic. The speeds of recent Wazers traveling on a road will be factored into the route given to subsequent Wazers traveling on the same road.
As the number and density of Wazers grows, this real-time data takes on a greater importance. This emphasis is partly a reflection of Waze's original goal to create optimal commutes. As Waze has grown to be used as a more general-purpose GPS navigation device over roads less traveled, the historical average road speeds becomes more important.
Since Waze uses the future expected time of arrival onto a road segment in order to calculate the expected speed on that segment, it cannot use real-time data too far in the future. So longer trips (on the order of 30 minutes or more) will include future time slots where current traffic data is not available when initially calculated. As the trip progresses, any real-time traffic data that is available causes the client to recalculate the route and the ETA.
Changes in route due to different origin
Consider calculating a route from A to Z. The suggested route might be A to B to C to D to Z. Then calculate the route from B to Z. You might get a suggested route of B to C to E to Z. At first glance, this suggests one route is not optimal because the origin changed. This might have resulted from a "timing window" effect. The different arrival time at C might change the best route to Z. Or there might be a fine tuning effect in the route, perhaps to avoid too many turns. So by dropping the segment A to B, the segments C to E to Z no longer exceed some threshold.
This effect can be observed while driving. If you recalculate a route to a destination while driving along an already calculated route to that same destination, the route can change. Another reason for a route to change could involve which road types are used. This is explained in the next section.
Changes in routes due to different route lengths
It is known that the Waze routing engine can't calculate every possible route for long-distance routes, so it takes shortcuts by removing lower road types from consideration in the middle of longer routes. This effect is commonly called route pruning and can potentially result in the route changing dramatically when lengthened slightly. For example, according to Waze support (as of July 2011[update]), the section of a route more than 10 km from each endpoint is heavily weighted toward road types above (i.e. Primary Street or the various Highway types). Longer pruning thresholds exist for and . It is believed that , like and , is never pruned. The pruning mechanism uniquely accounts for routing road type, so a Primary Street with routing road type +1 would be pruned at the same threshold as a Minor Highway.
Generation of routes longer than 1000 miles in Waze used to be impossible, but in 2018 a new mechanism for extra-long (XL) routes was put into place. This pieces together multiple long routes to generate one extra-long route. To save time and avoid routing timeouts, instructions and geometry details are omitted in the middle of the route during initial calculation, but they are produced and listed later as the user drives along the route. Dependent upon multiple factors such as server load and road types, transcontinental routes can be calculated in Waze with this mechanism.
Problems with average road speeds
If the average road speed is not correct, then the route will not be optimal. However, it is never recommended to delete segments in order to reset the average road speed for that segment. Waze uses the data from Wazers traveling through the segments to update the average speed. If you suspect Waze is not using certain segments along a route, there are a number of other reasons that can cause such a situation. Don't assume deleting the segment is the place to start.
The following are reasons why the routing engine might not use the average road speed.
Time of day variations
Consider a road that most Wazers drive at 5pm when the average speed is 12 mph. You choose your route at 10am when the road is clear and the average speed is 60mph. It is the best road to take, but Waze chooses a different route because it has no information about the speed at 10am and assumes the speed is 12mph all day.
You can, of course, drive the road yourself, and Waze eventually learns the speed for that time. We do not know how long Waze holds the older data in computing the average speed. However, if Waze does discard old time information, you might not accumulate new time faster than it is discarded. It is also possible that your times are being ignored as being abnormal.
More Waze users would help fix this.
On a segment of a road, your average speed can be very different depending on what you do at the end of the segment. Traffic going straight through a traffic light might go very fast while traffic turning left might wait a very long time. A freeway exit lane might go fast while traffic continuing hits congestion.
- Seg4 to Jnct2 to Seg5
- Seg4 to Jnct2 to Seg6
Traffic building up on Seg4 that turns right to Seg6 does not affect the route timing for the traffic also using Seg4, but instead turning left to Seg5. For this reason it is important to keep long segment lengths before junctions as traffic congestion at the junction might affect exits differently.
To understand this problem better, consider if we add a short Seg8 between Seg7 and Jnct4. Let's say the traffic exiting Seg10 backs up all the way to Seg7 (easy enough, since Seg8 is short). Because Seg7 only has a single exiting segment (Seg8), the routing server is only able to collect a single average speed — it can no longer distinguish traffic by where it is going after Seg8. Now the through traffic going to Seg9 appears to Waze to slow down through Seg7, even though it doesn't in reality. At a minimum this causes an incorrect ETA for routing, and it might actually cause traffic to be rerouted unnecessarily, and less optimally, through another route. Hence, if there is a chance that traffic can go in different directions at a junction and that junction can experience different amounts of congestion, you should keep the segment before that junction long.
Note this data is not presented to users through the Waze Map Editor, but is only visible to the routing server.
Traffic lights and stop signs
Waze does not record the location of traffic lights. While some GPS navigation offers guidance like "turn right at the next traffic light" the information is frequently incomplete, incorrect or outdated. The consensus view is that Waze should not record the location of traffic lights.
Waze does take traffic lights and stop signs into account by noting the effect they have on traffic speed. Consider a traffic light with long waiting times. The road segment leading to that traffic light will have a low average speed. If the average speed (based on the average waiting time) becomes low enough, a longer route that avoids the light becomes the preferred route. This has been observed in practice and is an example of emergent behaviour. Waze isn't programmed to avoid traffic lights but it does avoid slow roads; if the traffic lights make the road slow then Waze avoids them.
Some drivers regularly take longer routes — even winding through side streets — to avoid any stops or traffic lights. Waze has been known to suggest this, and also known to revert to waiting at lights when better average speed information is collected from the side streets. But note that this can be less than optimal due to the turn delays discussed above.
Outdated and abnormal road speeds
Road conditions change, construction work comes and goes, and average road speeds can change dramatically. One day you might be stuck behind a truck, and another day you might be crawling along the roads at 2 a.m. transporting your pet goldfish. Or your GPS might have a glitch and show you travelling at 1,000 mph.
In short, average speeds can change over time, and recorded times can be abnormal or just plain wrong—and can stay wrong for a very long time.
We can assume Waze is aware of this. There is some evidence that abnormal road speeds and old road speeds are discarded, or at least not used in calculating the average speeds of roads.
Average road speed "shrinking window"
If there are enough recorded speeds on a road, then Waze uses a shrinking window of speeds to better estimate the average speed at the time you are travelling on it. Waze uses the speed of each road segment (in both directions) in intervals as small as 30 minutes. So a two-way road might have up to 96 average road speeds. We can assume that when there are insufficient records for an individual time slot, a wider time range is used (up to a full day). As the road is driven more, the time slot shrinks down to 30 minutes.
We can speculate that there is additional information used that is based upon the day of the week. There is some observational evidence that a road that is busy on weekdays and not used for routing is chosen as the optimal route on weekends.
At some point, Waze also needs to consider the months of the year as seasonal variations can affect the speed of the roads.
Waze uses the average road segment speed for the time slot that applies at the time you are expected to arrive at that road segment.
Because of this "time window", Waze suggests different routes at different times of day. This is dependent on how many times are recorded on the roads along the route. If they're all recorded at about the same time of day, then the time window does not help. If 1,000 times are recorded at about 5 p.m. and 2 times are recorded at 10 a.m., then your 10 a.m. average speed still is based mostly on times from around 5 p.m.
Routing algorithm refinements
It's easy to see how routing options can be implemented. For example, to minimize turns we can add a time penalty for fastest routing or a distance penalty for shortest routing, when calculating the fastest or shortest route.
For newly created roads, currently Waze applies a five-second time penalty for each junction through which a route passes. Once vehicles drive over that road and generate Waze traffic data, the penalty for these junctions is dropped.
What to do if you think the generated route is wrong
Firstly, use the option to generate alternative routes. This might give you some clues as to why Waze is offering that route.
Secondly, if you think there is a better route, check in WME that the roads are all connected along the route.
Thirdly, post a message detailing the problem route - origin, destination and a WME permalink to the Navigation forum. Other eyes will check it, and you might indeed find a flaw in the Waze routing algorithm. Fixing it might make it better for everyone.
Change of routing
When Waze receives notification of traffic conditions it uses the actual speed of roads on your route, rather than the average speed. This is based only on the automatic traffic condition reports - light, moderate, heavy traffic or complete standstill. Manual reports of traffic jams and accidents are for your information only and do not change routing.
It might be that even with the traffic reports, there is no better route and Waze cannot offer you one.
You are the driver
Waze can never see that the traffic light is green going straight, or know that today is a public holiday. It can offer you guidance as to what is the best route under average conditions. But you are the driver and you are in the best position to make the decision for today under today's conditions.
If everyone followed Waze directions and never drove on a new route, Waze might never learn that route is better. When Waze is recording your travels, every trip helps make Waze better for everyone. That includes when you think you know better. Sometimes you will be right. And sometimes you will be wrong. But it is better to find out you are wrong so you can choose the better route. And when you are right, all Waze users benefit by the sharing of your knowledge.