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ActiveRecord PostGIS Adapter

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The activerecord-postgis-adapter provides access to features of the PostGIS geospatial database from ActiveRecord. It extends the standard postgresql adapter to provide support for the spatial data types and features added by the PostGIS extension. It uses the RGeo library to represent spatial data in Ruby.


The adapter provides three basic capabilities:

First, it provides spatial migrations. It extends the ActiveRecord migration syntax to support creating spatially-typed columns and spatial indexes. You can control the various PostGIS-provided attributes such as SRID, dimension, and geographic vs geometric math.

Second, it recognizes spatial types and casts them properly to RGeo geometry objects. The adapter can configure these objects automatically based on the SRID and dimension in the database table, or you can tell it to convert the data to a different form. You can also set attribute data using WKT format.

Third, it lets you include simple spatial data in queries. WKT format data and RGeo objects can be embedded in where clauses.


The adapter requires PostgreSQL 9.0+ and PostGIS 2.4+.

Installing PostGIS

Here are common methods for installing PostGIS, but more detailed methods can be found on the installation guide.


brew install postgis


sudo apt-get install postgis postgresql-16-postgis-3


PostGIS is likely available as an optional package via your Postgresql installer. If not, refer to the installation guide.


gem 'activerecord-postgis-adapter'

Version 9.x supports ActiveRecord 7.1

ActiveRecord 7.1
Ruby 3.0.0+
PostGIS 2.0+

Version 8.x supports ActiveRecord 7.0


ActiveRecord 7.0
Ruby 2.7.0+
PostGIS 2.0+

Version 7.x supports ActiveRecord 6.1


ActiveRecord 6.1
Ruby 2.5.0+, JRuby
PostGIS 2.0+

Version 6.x supports ActiveRecord 6.0


ActiveRecord 6.0
Ruby 2.5.0+, JRuby
PostGIS 2.0+

Version 5.x supports ActiveRecord 5.1 and 5.2


ActiveRecord 5.1 or 5.2
Ruby 2.2.2+, JRuby
PostGIS 2.0+

Version 4.x supports ActiveRecord 5.0


ActiveRecord 5.0
Ruby 2.2.2+, JRuby
PostGIS 2.0+

Version 3.x supports ActiveRecord 4.2


ActiveRecord 4.2
Ruby 1.9.3+, JRuby
PostGIS 2.0+

Version 2.x supports ActiveRecord 4.0.x and 4.1.x

If you are using version 2.x, you should read the version 2.x README


ActiveRecord 4.0.0 - 4.1.x
Ruby 1.9.3+, JRuby
PostGIS 2.0+

Version 0.6.x supports ActiveRecord 3.x

If you are using version 0.6.x, you should read the version 0.6.x / 2.x README


ActiveRecord 3.x only
Ruby 1.8.7+, JRuby, Rubinius
PostGIS 1.5+


gem 'activerecord-postgis-adapter', '~> 0.6.6'

Please read PostGIS 1 Notes if you would like to use the adapter with an older version of PostGIS.

Upgrading to version 8.x

The PostgisDatabaseTasks module has been removed which means that the rake tasks to install postgis are no longer available. If using a Rails app, please see Upgrading an Existing Database

Upgrading from 6.x

When upgrading from version 6.x to a newer major version, you may need to modify your SpatialFactoryStore configuration. Please see this section of the README in rgeo-activerecord for more details (


You must modify your config/database.yml file to use the postgis adapter. At minimum, you will need to change the adapter field from postgresql to postgis. Recommended configuration:

  username: your_username
  adapter: postgis
  host: localhost
  schema_search_path: public

If you have installed your PostGIS extension in a schema other than public, which is the default, add that schema to your schema_search_path:

  schema_search_path: public, postgis

Here are some other options that are supported:

  adapter: postgis
  encoding: unicode
  postgis_extension: postgis # default is postgis
  postgis_schema: public # default is public
  schema_search_path: public,postgis
  pool: 5
  database: my_app_development # your database name
  username: my_app_user # the username your app will use to connect
  password: my_app_password # the user's password
  su_username: my_global_user # a superuser for the database
  su_password: my_global_pasword # the superuser's password
rgeo dependency

This adapter uses the rgeo gem, which has additional dependencies. Please see the README documentation for rgeo for more information:


If you have not created your rails app yet start there.

rails new my_app --database=postgresql

Add the gem to your Gemfile.

gem 'activerecord-postgis-adapter'

And tell ActiveRecord to use the adapter by setting the adapter field in config/database.yml

default: &default
  adapter: postgis

Create the database if you haven't already.

rake db:create

Create a migration to add the PostGIS extension to your database.

rails generate migration AddPostgisExtensionToDatabase

The migration should look something like this:

class AddPostgisExtensionToDatabase < ActiveRecord::Migration[7.2]
  def change
    enable_extension 'postgis'

Then run the migration.

rails db:migrate

Creating Spatial Tables

To store spatial data, you must create a column with a spatial type. PostGIS provides a variety of spatial types, including point, linestring, polygon, and different kinds of collections. These types are defined in a standard produced by the Open Geospatial Consortium. You can specify options indicating the coordinate system and number of coordinates for the values you are storing.

The activerecord-postgis-adapter extends ActiveRecord's migration syntax to support these spatial types. The following example creates five spatial columns in a table:

create_table :my_spatial_table do |t|
  t.column :shape1, :geometry
  t.geometry :shape2
  t.line_string :path, srid: 3785
  t.st_point :lonlat, geographic: true
  t.st_point :lonlatheight, geographic: true, has_z: true

The first column, "shape1", is created with type "geometry". This is a general "base class" for spatial types; the column declares that it can contain values of any spatial type.

The second column, "shape2", uses a shorthand syntax for the same type as the shape1 column. You can create a column either by invoking column or invoking the name of the type directly.

The third column, "path", has a specific geometric type, line_string. It also specifies an SRID (spatial reference ID) that indicates which coordinate system it expects the data to be in. The column now has a "constraint" on it; it will accept only LineString data, and only data whose SRID is 3785.

The fourth column, "lonlat", has the st_point type, and accepts only Point data. Furthermore, it declares the column as "geographic", which means it accepts longitude/latitude data, and performs calculations such as distances using a spheroidal domain.

The fifth column, "lonlatheight", is a geographic (longitude/latitude) point that also includes a third "z" coordinate that can be used to store height information.

The following are the data types understood by PostGIS and exposed by activerecord-postgis-adapter:

  • :geometry -- Any geometric type
  • :st_point -- Point data
  • :line_string -- LineString data
  • :st_polygon -- Polygon data
  • :geometry_collection -- Any collection type
  • :multi_point -- A collection of Points
  • :multi_line_string -- A collection of LineStrings
  • :multi_polygon -- A collection of Polygons

Following are the options understood by the adapter:

  • :geographic -- If set to true, create a PostGIS geography column for longitude/latitude data over a spheroidal domain; otherwise create a geometry column in a flat coordinate system. Default is false. Also implies :srid set to 4326.
  • :srid -- Set a SRID constraint for the column. Default is 4326 for a geography column, or -1 for a geometry column. Note that PostGIS currently (as of version 2.0) requires geography columns to have SRID 4326, so this constraint is of limited use for geography columns.
  • :has_z -- Specify that objects in this column include a Z coordinate. Default is false.
  • :has_m -- Specify that objects in this column include an M coordinate. Default is false.

To create a PostGIS spatial index, add using: :gist to your index:

add_index :my_table, :lonlat, using: :gist

# or

change_table :my_table do |t|
  t.index :lonlat, using: :gist


Models may also define attributes using the above data types and options.

class SpatialModel < ActiveRecord::Base
  attribute :centroid, :st_point, srid: 4326, geographic: true

centroid will not have an associated column in the spatial_models table, but any geometry object assigned to the centroid attribute will be cast to a geographic point.

Configuring ActiveRecord

ActiveRecord's usefulness stems from the way it automatically configures classes based on the database structure and schema. If a column in the database has an integer type, ActiveRecord automatically casts the data to a Ruby Integer. In the same way, the activerecord-postgis-adapter automatically casts spatial data to a corresponding RGeo data type.

RGeo offers more flexibility in its type system than can be interpreted solely from analyzing the database column. For example, you can configure RGeo objects to exhibit certain behaviors related to their serialization, validation, coordinate system, or computation. These settings are embodied in the RGeo factory associated with the object.

You can configure the adapter to use a particular factory (i.e. a particular combination of settings) for data associated with each type in the database.

Here's an example using a Geos default factory:

RGeo::ActiveRecord::SpatialFactoryStore.instance.tap do |config|
  # By default, use the GEOS implementation for spatial columns.
  config.default = RGeo::Geos.factory_generator

  # But use a geographic implementation for point columns.
  config.register(RGeo::Geographic.spherical_factory(srid: 4326), geo_type: "point")

The default spatial factory for geographic columns is RGeo::Geographic.spherical_factory. The default spatial factory for cartesian columns is RGeo::Cartesian.preferred_factory. You do not need to configure the SpatialFactoryStore if these defaults are ok.

For more explanation of SpatialFactoryStore, see the rgeo-activerecord README

Deploying to Heroku

See the wiki entry and linked issue for some notes on Heroku deployments.

Note: RGeo is looking for a Heroku user to help formalize/expand the wiki. If you're interested, please open a PR with a new md file, which can be copied to the wiki.

Working With Spatial Data

Of course, you're using this adapter because you want to work with geospatial data in your ActiveRecord models. Once you've installed the adapter, set up your database, and run your migrations, you can interact directly with spatial data in your models as RGeo objects.

RGeo is a Ruby implementation of the industry standard OGC Simple Features specification. It's a set of data types that can represent a variety of geospatial objects such as points, lines, polygons, and collections. It also provides the standard set of spatial analysis operations such as computing intersections or bounding boxes, calculating length or area, and so forth. We recommend browsing the RGeo documentation for a clearer understanding of its capabilities. For now, just note that the data values you will be working with are all RGeo geometry objects.

Reading and Writing Spatial Columns

When you access a spatial attribute on your ActiveRecord model, it is given to you as an RGeo geometry object (or nil, for attributes that allow null values). You can then call the RGeo api on the object. For example, consider the MySpatialTable class we worked with above:

record = MySpatialTable.find(1)
p = record.lonlat                  # Returns an RGeo::Feature::Point
puts p.x                           # displays the x coordinate
puts p.geometry_type.type_name     # displays "Point"

The RGeo factory for the value is determined by how you configured the ActiveRecord class, as described above. In this case, we explicitly set a spherical factory for the :lonlat column:

factory = p.factory                # returns a spherical factory

You can set a spatial attribute by providing an RGeo geometry object, or by providing the WKT string representation of the geometry. If a string is provided, the activerecord-postgis-adapter will attempt to parse it as WKT and set the value accordingly.

record.lonlat = 'POINT(-122 47)'  # sets the value to the given point

If the WKT parsing fails, the value currently will be silently set to nil. In the future, however, this will raise an exception.

record.lonlat = 'POINT(x)'         # sets the value to nil

If you set the value to an RGeo object, the factory needs to match the factory for the attribute. If the factories do not match, activerecord-postgis-adapter will attempt to cast the value to the correct factory.

p2 = factory.point(-122, 47)       # p2 is a point in a spherical factory
record.lonlat = p2                 # sets the value to the given point
record.shape1 = p2                 # shape1 uses a flat geos factory, so it
                                   # will cast p2 into that coordinate system
                                   # before setting the value

If, however, you attempt to set the value to the wrong type-- for example, setting a linestring attribute to a point value, you will get an exception from Postgres when you attempt to save the record.

record.path = p2      # This will appear to work, but...           # This will raise an exception from the database

Spatial Queries

You can create simple queries based on representational equality in the same way you would on a scalar column:

record2 = MySpatialTable.where(:lonlat => factory.point(-122, 47)).first

You can also use WKT:

record3 = MySpatialTable.where(:lonlat => 'POINT(-122 47)').first

Note that these queries use representational equality, meaning they return records where the lonlat value matches the given value exactly. A 0.00001 degree difference would not match, nor would a different representation of the same geometry (like a multipoint with a single element). Equality queries aren't generally all that useful in real world applications. Typically, if you want to perform a spatial query, you'll look for, say, all the points within a given area. For those queries, you'll need to use the standard spatial SQL functions provided by PostGIS.

To perform more advanced spatial queries, you can use the extended Arel interface included in the activerecord-postgis-adapter. The functions accept WKT strings or RGeo features.

point = RGeo::Geos.factory(srid: 0).point(1,1)

buildings = Building.arel_table
containing_buiildings = Building.where(buildings[:geom].st_contains(point))

See rgeo-activerecord for more information about advanced spatial queries.

Joining Spatial Columns

If a spatial column is joined with another model, srid and geographic will not be automatically inferred and they will default to 0 and false, by default. In order to properly infer these options after a join, an attribute must be created on the target table.

class SpatialModel < ActiveRecord::Base
 belongs_to :foo

 # has column geo_point (:st_point, srid: 4326, geographic: true)

class Foo < ActiveRecord::Base
 has_one :spatial_model

 # re-define geo_point here so join works
 attribute :geo_point, :st_point, srid: 4326, geographic: true

# perform a query where geo_point is joined to foo
foo = Foo.joins(:spatial_models).select(", spatial_models.geo_point").first
p foo.geo_point.class
# => RGeo::Geographic::SphericalPointImpl
p foo.geo_point.srid
# => 4326

Background: PostGIS

A spatial database is one that includes a set of data types, functions, tables, and other objects related to geospatial data. When these objects are present in your database, you can use them to store and query spatial objects such as points, lines, and polygons.

PostGIS is an extension for PostgreSQL that provides definitions for the objects you need to add to a database to enable geospatial capabilities.

When you create your Rails database as described above in the section on installation and configuration, activerecord-postgis-adapter automatically invokes PostGIS to add the appropriate definitions to your database. You can determine whether your database includes the correct definitions by attempting to invoke the POSTGIS_VERSION function:

SELECT POSTGIS_VERSION(); # succeeds if PostGIS objects are present.

Standard spatial databases also include a table called spatial_ref_sys. This table includes a set of "spatial reference systems", or coordinate systems--- for example, WGS84 latitude and longitude, or Mercator Projection. Spatial databases also usually include a table called geometry_columns, which includes information on each database column that includes geometric data. In recent versions of PostGIS, geometry_columns is actually not a table but a view into the system catalogs.

Development and Support

RubyDoc Documentation is available at

Contributions are welcome. See for instructions.

Report issues at

Support is also available on the rgeo-users google group at


Daniel Azuma authored the PostGIS Adapter and its supporting libraries (including RGeo).

Tee Parham is a former maintainer.

Keith Doggett is a current maintainer.

Ulysse Buonomo is a current maintainer.

Development is supported by:

This adapter implementation owes some debt to the spatial_adapter plugin ( Although we made some different design decisions for this adapter, studying the spatial_adapter source gave us a head start on the implementation.


Copyright Daniel Azuma, Tee Parham