Overview of Geocoders

Geocoding is the process of transforming place names or addresses into coordinates. In this lesson we will learn how to geocode addresses using Geopandas and geopy.

Geopy and other geocoding libaries (such as geocoder) make it easy to locate the coordinates of addresses, cities, countries, and landmarks across the globe using web services (“geocoders”). In practice, geocoders are often Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) where you can send requests, and receive responses in the form of place names, addresses and coordinates.

Geopy offers access to several geocoding services, including:

Check the geopy documentation for more details about how to use each service via Python.

As you see, there are plenty of geocoders where to choose from! The quality of the geocoders might differ depending on the underlying data. For example, some addresses might exists on OpenStreetMap, but not on Google Maps and thus they can be geocoded using the Nominatim geocoder, but not using the Google Geocoding API - and vice versa.

Geocoding services might require an API key in order to use them. (i.e. you need to register for the service before you can access results from their API). Furthermore, rate limiting also restrict the use of these services. The geocoding process might end up in an error if you are making too many requests in a short time period (eg. trying to geocode large number of addresses). See hints for dealing with rate limiting when geocoding pandas DataFrames from the geopy documentation. If you pay for the geocoding service, you can naturally make more requests to the API.

In this lesson we will use the Nominatim geocoder for locating a relatively small number of addresses. Usage of the Nominatim geocoding service is rate-limited to 1 request per second (3600 / hour). You can read more about Nominatim usage policy in here

Luckily, Nominatim, which is a geocoder based on OpenStreetMap data does not require a API key to use their service if it is used to geocode only a small number of addresses.


Always check the terms of service of the geocoding service that you are using!


As noted in the geopy documentation for the Nominatim geocoder we need to specify a custom user_agent parameter when making requests not to violate the Nominatim Usage Policy.