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Pelias: Finding places

Geocoding is the process of matching an address or other text to its corresponding geographic coordinates.

All Pelias requests share the same format:

   https://search.mapzen.com/v1/search?text=London
   \___/   \_______________/\__/\_____/\_________/
     |            |          /     |        |
  scheme       domain   version  path     query

Search the world

Searching globally

In the simplest search, you can provide only one parameter, the text you want to match in any part of the location details. To do this, build a query where the text parameter is set to the item you want to find.

For example, if you want to find a YMCA facility, here's what you'd need to append to the base URL of the service.

/v1/search?text=YMCA

Note the parameter values are set as follows:

parameter value
text YMCA

Clicking the link above will open a file containing the best matching results for the text YMCA. You will notice the data is in a computer-friendly format called GeoJSON, which may be hard for humans to read in some browsers.

You can install a plug-in for your browser to display JSON in a more formatted manner. You can search the web store for your browser to find and install applicable products.

In the example above, you will find the name of each matched locations in a property named 'label'. The top 10 labels returned at the time of writing were:

  • YMCA, Bargoed Community, United Kingdom
  • YMCA, Nunspeet, Gelderland
  • YMCA, Belleville, IL
  • YMCA, Forest City, IA
  • YMCA, Fargo, ND
  • YMCA, Taipei, Taipei City
  • YMCA, Orpington, Greater London
  • YMCA, Frisco, TX
  • YMCA, Jefferson, OH
  • YMCA, Belleville, IL

Spelling matters, but not capitalization when performing a query with Pelias. You can type ymca, YMCA, or even yMcA. See for yourself by comparing the results of the earlier search to the following:

/v1/search?text=yMcA

Note that the results are spread out throughout the world because you have not given your current location or provided any other geographic context in which to search.

Search for a component of a location

With the text parameter, your search is composed of all the items in one string. With structured geocoding, you can search for individual components of a location.

Structured geocoding accepts one or more of the following parameters:

  • address
  • neighbourhood
  • borough
  • locality
  • county
  • region
  • postalcode
  • country

Structured geocoding also supports the other parameters from search, allowing you to filter and prioritize your results.

For more information on how to search this way, see Structured geocoding.

Set the number of results returned

By default, Pelias results up to 10 places, unless otherwise specified. If you want a different number of results, set the size parameter to the desired number. This example shows returning only the first result.

parameter value
text YMCA
size 1

/v1/search?text=YMCA&size=1

If you want 25 results, you can build the query where size is 25.

/v1/search?text=YMCA&size=25

Narrow your search

If you are looking for places in a particular region, or country, or only want to look in the immediate vicinity of a user with a known location, you can narrow your search to an area. There are different ways of including a region in your query. Pelias supports three types: country, rectangle, and circle.

Search within a particular country

Searching in a country

Sometimes your work might require that all the search results be from a particular country or a list of countries. To do this, you can set the boundary.country parameter value to a comma separated list of alpha-2 or alpha-3 ISO-3166 country code.

Now, you want to search for YMCA again, but this time only in Great Britain. To do this, you will need to know that the alpha-3 code for Great Britain is GBR and set the parameters like this:

/v1/search?text=YMCA&boundary.country=GBR

parameter value
text YMCA
boundary.country GBR

Note that all the results are within Great Britain:

  • YMCA, Bargoed Community, United Kingdom
  • YMCA, Orpington, Greater London
  • YMCA, Erdington, West Midlands
  • YMCA, Malvern CP, United Kingdom
  • YMCA, Ancoats, Greater Manchester
  • YMCA, Carmarthen Community, United Kingdom
  • YMCA, Halebank, Cheshire
  • YMCA, Brightlingsea CP, United Kingdom
  • YMCA, Lenton Abbey, Nottinghamshire
  • YMCA, Old Clee, Lincolnshire

If you try the same search request with different country codes, the results change to show YMCA locations within this region.

/v1/search?text=YMCA&boundary.country=USA

Results in the United States:

  • YMCA, Belleville, IL
  • YMCA, Forest City, IA
  • YMCA, Fargo, ND
  • YMCA, Frisco, TX
  • YMCA, Jefferson, OH
  • YMCA, Belleville, IL
  • YMCA, Chapel Hill, NC
  • YMCA, West Lampeter, PA
  • YMCA, Bremerton, WA
  • YMCA, Westerly, RI

Search within a rectangular region

Searching in a bounding box

To specify the boundary using a rectangle, you need latitude, longitude coordinates for two diagonals of the bounding box (the minimum and the maximum latitude, longitude).

For example, to find a YMCA within the state of Texas, you can set the boundary.rect.* parameter to values representing the bounding box around Texas: min_lon=-106.65 min_lat=25.84 max_lon=-93.51 max_lat=36.5

Tip: You can look up a bounding box for a known region with this web tool.

/v1/search?text=YMCA&boundary.rect.min_lat=25.84&boundary.rect.min_lon=-106.65&boundary.rect.max_lat=36.5&boundary.rect.max_lon=-93.51

parameter value
text YMCA
boundary.rect.min_lat 25.84
boundary.rect.min_lon -106.65
boundary.rect.max_lat 36.5
boundary.rect.max_lon -93.51
  • YMCA, Austin, TX
  • YMCA, Frisco, TX
  • Y.M.C.A, Fort Worth, TX
  • YMCA, Rockwall, TX
  • YMCA, Missouri City, TX
  • YMCA, Northshore, TX
  • YMCA, Austin, TX
  • YMCA, Tulsa, OK
  • YMCA, Los Alamos, NM
  • YMCA, Tulsa, OK

Search within a circular region

Searching within a circle

Sometimes you don't have a rectangle to work with, but rather you have a point on earth—for example, your location coordinates—and a maximum distance within which acceptable results can be located.

In this example, you want to find all YMCA locations within a 35-kilometer radius of a location in Ontario, Canada. This time, you can use the boundary.circle.* parameter group, where boundary.circle.lat and boundary.circle.lon is your location in Ontario and boundary.circle.radius is the acceptable distance from that location. Note that the boundary.circle.radius parameter is always specified in kilometers.

/v1/search?text=YMCA&boundary.circle.lon=-79.186484&boundary.circle.lat=43.818156&boundary.circle.radius=35

parameter value
text YMCA
boundary.circle.lat 43.818156
boundary.circle.lon -79.186484
boundary.circle.radius 35

You can see the results have fewer than the standard 10 items because there are not that many YMCA locations in the specified radius:

  • YMCA, Toronto, Ontario
  • YMCA, Markham, Ontario
  • YMCA, Toronto, Ontario
  • Metro Central YMCA, Toronto, Ontario
  • Pinnacle Jr YMCA, Toronto, Ontario
  • Cooper Koo Family Cherry Street YMCA Centre, Toronto, Ontario

Search within a parent administrative area

Pelias has a powerful understanding of relationships between places. In particular, it has a concept called the administrative hierarchy: each record in Pelias is listed as belonging to a parent neighbourhood, city, region, country, and other regions. This has many uses, including filtering. The Pelias global id (gid) of any record can be used with the boundary.gid filter to return only records with a given parent.

For example, finding YMCAs in Oklahoma with only a bounding box would be challenging: the bounding box would include much of nearby Texas, possibly leading to incorrect results.

With boundary.gid, this query can return accurate results.

/v1/search?text=YMCA&boundary.gid=whosonfirst:region:85688585

  • YMCA, Stillwater, OK, USA
  • YMCA, Edmond, OK, USA
  • YMCA, Guymon, OK, USA
  • YMCA, Grove, OK, USA
  • YMCA, Midwest City, OK, USA
  • YMCA, Shawnee, OK, USA
  • YMCA, Owasso, OK, USA
  • YMCA, Tulsa, OK, USA
  • YMCA, The Village, OK, USA
  • YMCA, Broken Arrow, OK, USA

In the query above, whosonfirst:region:85688585, is the Pelias gid for Oklahoma, USA. Currently, all parent records come from the Who's on First project. gids for records can be found using either the Who's on First Spelunker, a tool for searching Who's on First data, or from the responses of other Pelias queries. In this case a search for Oklahoma will return the proper gid.

Specify multiple boundaries

Searching within multiple regions

If you're going to try using multiple boundary types in a single search request, be aware that the results will come from the intersection of all the boundaries. So, if you provide regions that don't overlap, you'll be looking at an empty set of results.

Prioritize results by proximity

Many use cases call for the ability to promote nearby results to the top of the list, while still allowing important matches from farther away to be visible. Pelias allows you to prioritize results within geographic boundaries, including around a point, within a country, or within a region.

Prioritize around a point

Searching around a point

By specifying a focus.point, results will be sorted in part by their proximity to the given coordinate. All else being equal, results closes to the point will show up higher. However, unlike a boundary.circle query, important results far from the given coordinate may still be returned. This allows, for example, a query for places called Paris with a focus.point value in Texas to return both Paris, TX and Paris, France.

To find YMCAs again, but this time near a specific coordinate location (representing the Sydney Opera House) in Sydney, Australia, use focus.point.

/v1/search?text=YMCA&focus.point.lat=-33.856680&focus.point.lon=151.215281

parameter value
text YMCA
focus.point.lat -33.856680
focus.point.lon 151.215281

Looking at the results, you can see that the few locations closer to this location show up at the top of the list, sorted by distance. You also still get back a significant amount of remote locations, for a well balanced mix. Because you provided a focus point, Pelias can compute distance from that point for each resulting feature.

  • YMCA, Redfern, New South Wales [distance: 3.836]
  • YMCA, St Ives (NSW), New South Wales [distance: 14.844]
  • YMCA, Epping (NSW), New South Wales [distance: 16.583]
  • YMCA, Revesby, New South Wales [distance: 21.335]
  • YMCA, Kochâang, South Gyeongsang [distance: 8071.436]
  • YMCA, Center, IN [distance: 14882.675]
  • YMCA, Lake Villa, IL [distance: 14847.667]
  • YMCA, Onondaga, NY [distance: 15818.08]
  • YMCA, 's-Gravenhage, Zuid-Holland [distance: 16688.292]
  • YMCA, Loughborough, United Kingdom [distance: 16978.367]

Combine boundary search and prioritization

Now that you have seen how to use boundary and focus to narrow and sort your results, you can examine a few scenarios where they work well together.

Prioritize within a country

Going back to the YMCA search you conducted with a focus around a point in Sydney, the results came back from distant parts of the world, as expected. But say you wanted to only see results from the country in which your focus point lies. You can combine that same focus point in Sydney with the country boundary of Australia like this.

/v1/search?text=YMCA&focus.point.lat=-33.856680&focus.point.lon=151.215281

parameter value
text YMCA
focus.point.lat -33.856680
focus.point.lon 151.215281
boundary.country AUS

The results below look different from the ones you saw before with only a focus point specified. These results are all from within Australia. You'll note the closest results show up at the top of the list, which is helped by the focus parameter.

  • YMCA, Redfern, New South Wales [distance: 3.836]
  • YMCA, St Ives (NSW), New South Wales [distance: 14.844]
  • YMCA, Epping (NSW), New South Wales [distance: 16.583]
  • YMCA, Revesby, New South Wales [distance: 21.335]
  • YMCA, Larrakeyah, Northern Territory [distance: 3144.296]
  • YMCA, Kepnock, Queensland [distance: 1001.657]
  • YMCA, Kings Meadows, Tasmania [distance: 917.144]
  • YMCA, Katherine East, Northern Territory [distance: 2873.376]
  • YMCA, Sadadeen, Northern Territory [distance: 2026.731]
  • YMCA, Ararat, Victoria [distance: 841.022]

Prioritize within a circular region

If you are looking for the nearest YMCA locations, and are willing to travel no farther than 50 kilometers from your current location, you likely would want the results to be sorted by distance from current location to make your selection process easier. You can get this behavior by using focus.point in combination with boundary.circle.*. You can use the focus.point.* values as the boundary.circle.lat and boundary.circle.lon, and add the required boundary.circle.radius value in kilometers.

/v1/search?text=YMCA&focus.point.lat=-33.856680&focus.point.lon=151.215281&boundary.circle.lat=-33.856680&boundary.circle.lon=151.215281&boundary.circle.radius=50

parameter value
text YMCA
focus.point.lat -33.856680
focus.point.lon 151.215281
boundary.circle.lat -33.856680
boundary.circle.lon 151.215281
boundary.circle.radius 50

Looking at these results, they are all less than 50 kilometers away from the focus point:

  • YMCA, Redfern, New South Wales [distance: 3.836]
  • YMCA, St Ives (NSW), New South Wales [distance: 14.844]
  • YMCA, Epping (NSW), New South Wales [distance: 16.583]
  • YMCA, Revesby, New South Wales [distance: 21.335]
  • Caringbah YMCA, Caringbah, New South Wales [distance: 22.543]
  • YMCA building, Loftus, New South Wales [distance: 25.756]

Filter your search

Pelias brings together data from multiple open sources and combines a variety of place types into a single database, allowing you options for selecting the dataset you want to search.

With Pelias, you can filter by:

  • sources: the originating source of the data
  • layers: the kind of place you want to find

Filter by data source

The search examples so far have returned a mix of results from all the data sources available to Pelias. Here are the sources being searched:

source name short name
OpenStreetMap openstreetmap osm
OpenAddresses openaddresses oa
Who's on First whosonfirst wof
GeoNames geonames gn

If you use the sources parameter, you can choose which of these data sources to include in your search. So if you're only interested in finding a YMCA in data from OpenAddresses, for example, you can build a query specifying that data source.

/v1/search?text=YMCA&sources=oa

parameter value
text YMCA
sources oa

Because OpenAddresses is, as the name suggests, only address data, here's what you can expect to find:

  • 20 Ymca Drive, Niagara, ON, Canada
  • 341 Ymca Rd, New Hope, AL, USA
  • 318 Ymca Rd, New Hope, AL, USA
  • 138 Ymca Rd, New Hope, AL, USA
  • 304 Ymca Rd, New Hope, AL, USA
  • 1919 Ymca Lane, Minnetonka, MN, USA
  • 101 Ymca Dr, Kannapolis, NC, USA
  • 2121 Ymca Camp Road, Stokes County, NC, USA
  • 1110 Ymca Camp Road, Stokes County, NC, USA
  • 1581 Ymca Camp Road, Stokes County, NC, USA

If you wanted to combine several data sources together, set sources to a comma separated list of desired source names. Note that the order of the comma separated values does not impact sorting order of the results; they are still sorted based on the linguistic match quality to text and distance from focus, if you specified one.

/v1/search?text=YMCA&sources=osm,gn

parameter value
text YMCA
sources osm,gn

Each of these data sources has properties, licenses, and strengths. You can learn more about the data sources for Pelias.

Filter by data type

In Pelias, place types are referred to as layers, ranging from fine to coarse. The Pelias layers are derived from the hierarchy created by the gazetteer Who's on First and can be used to help coarse geocoding. Here's a list of the types of places you could find in the results, sorted by granularity:

layer description
venue points of interest, businesses, things with walls
address places with a street address
street streets,roads,highways
neighbourhood social communities, neighbourhoods
borough a local administrative boundary, currently only used for New York City
localadmin local administrative boundaries
locality towns, hamlets, cities
county official governmental area; usually bigger than a locality, almost always smaller than a region
macrocounty a related group of counties. Mostly in Europe.
region states and provinces
macroregion a related group of regions. Mostly in Europe
country places that issue passports, nations, nation-states
coarse alias for simultaneously using all administrative layers (everything except venue and address)
postalcode postal code used by mail services

/v1/search?text=YMCA&layers=venue,address

parameter value
text YMCA
layers venue,address

Available search parameters

Parameter Type Required Default Example
text string yes none Union Square
focus.point.lat floating point number no none 48.581755
focus.point.lon floating point number no none 7.745843
boundary.rect.min_lon floating point number no none 139.2794
boundary.rect.max_lon floating point number no none 140.1471
boundary.rect.min_lat floating point number no none 35.53308
boundary.rect.max_lat floating point number no none 35.81346
boundary.circle.lat floating point number no none 43.818156
boundary.circle.lon floating point number no none -79.186484
boundary.circle.radius floating point number no 50 35
boundary.gid Pelias gid no none whosonfirst:locality:101748355
sources string no all sources: osm,oa,gn,wof openstreetmap,wof
layers string no all layers: address,venue,neighbourhood,locality,borough,localadmin,county,macrocounty,region,macroregion,country,coarse,postalcode address,venue
boundary.country string no none 'GBR,FRA'
size integer no 10 20
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