Addresses for France finally open

At the beginning of this year the addresses for France have become finally available as open data under the French IO license compatible with CC-BY.
The data has been downloadable for a couple of years at no cost, but unfortunately under a restricted share-alike license. It is very good news that the understanding that share-alike is quite the contrary of open has won ground and made the French government change the license strategy.

Néanmoins, je considère que la constitution d’une base adresse nationale gratuite et unifiée est un enjeu important pour l’économie française ainsi que pour la chaîne de décision publique (gestion de crise, gestion des équipements, etc.) et doit constituer une priorité pour la transformation de l’Etat. [réponse du Premier Ministre, 4 Mars 2019]

The new address data is available in the geonames api for the address services:
geoCodeAddress it retrieves the lat/lng for a given street:

The reverse geocoding service address returns the next address for a given lat/lng:

The streetNameLookup allows for user friendly input forms.
You can make a request to the server to get all streets beginning with the letters typed by the user:

With this new addition the number of countries supported by the address services has increased to 28.

Historic Names with new From/To field

To improve coverage and handling for historic names the GeoNames alternatenames table has two new fields ‘from‘ and ‘to‘. The two fields allow adding a string describing the period when the name was used. The main use case is for historic names but current names may also have the ‘from‘ field filled to indicate since when the current name is in use.

So far the fields only contain years. The data type string, however, allows to express other information as well. Like ’14uu’ to express the fourteenth century or ‘197u’ to describe the seventies. We don’t want to invent our own standard to describe uncertainty and will use the ISO 8601 standard once it will be published. The ISO 8601 will supersede the library of congress Extended Date/Time Format (EDTF ) draft.

Some examples:

Jakarta has the following alternatenames with the fields filled:

  • Sunda Kelapa 397-1527
  • Jayakarta 1527-1619
  • Batavia 1619-1949
  • Djakarta 1949-1972
  • Jakarta 1972-

The German city Chemnitz was called Karl-Marx-Stadt from 1953 till 1990. Mumbai was called Bombay in English till 1995.

To export the two new fields a new file alternatenamesV2 is now available in the download directory. The file is the same as the now obsolete file alternatenames, with two additional columns. The two files will exists for some time in parallel to allow users to change their import scripts.


New Map Layout

screenshot new map
New GeoNames Map Interface

After many years without major changes to the GeoNames Map Interface it was time for an update. The new Map Interface makes full use of the screen for the map view. Other information is displayed on top of the map. The GeoNames gazetteer layer can now be displayed together with the wikipedia mashup. Boundingboxes and polygon boundaries are displayed where available and when associated with a GeoName feature. The bounding box is derived from the polygon information or from bounding boxes of children features. For populated places without polygon information the bounding box is derived from population number and feature code.

Thanks to Christophe for the implementation.

Improved SRTM Digital Elevation Data

GeoNames is switching from the original SRTM data provided by NASA to the processed srtm v4.1 data provided by cgiar. The extract files now contain srtm data where available and gtopo30 elsewhere.

SRTM is digital elevation model from 56° S to 60° N in a three arcsecond (90 m) resolution. The original data provided by NASA contains small holes of no data over water bodies, mountainous regions and desertic regions. Andy Jarvis and Edward Guevara of the CIAT Agroecosystems Resilience project (CGIAR), Hannes Isaak Reuter (JRC-IES-LMNH) and Andy Nelson (JRC-IES-GEM) have further processed the original DEMs to fill in these no-data voids. This involved the production of vector contours and points, and the re-interpolation of these derived contours back into a raster DEM.  The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for sustainable development to reduce poverty and hunger, improve human health and nutrition, and enhance ecosystem resilience.

GeoNames has been kindly granted permission to use the processed srtm data. In exchange CGIAR has been given complimentary access to the premium web services. Thanks to Andy Jarvis and all the others involved.

srtm3 elevation for N46 E8 in the Swiss Alps – void areas in red
srtm3 v4.1 N46 E8 in the Swiss Alps – no data voids filled by cgiar

Republic of South Sudan

Flag South Sudan
South Sudan became an independent state on 9 July 2011.
The new country has received geonameid 7909807. ISO has not yet assigned a country code and we temporarily use the country code XS. It will be changed to the official code as soon as ISO assigns a code to the new country. The ISO code is expected to be SS.  The Republic of South Sudan is not the only country in the GeoNames database with a temporary country code. The other temporary country code XK stands for Kosovo.
The features of South Sudan have been updated with the temporary country
Sudan had 25 ADM1 before the independence of the south. 15 ADM1 remain
with Sudan, 10 states are now the ADM1 of South Sudan which formerly composed the provinces of Equatoria (Central Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, and Western Equatoria); Bahr el Ghazal (Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Lakes, and Warrap); and Upper Nile (Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile).

Historical place names

Improving the way GeoNames handles historical names is a popular feature request. GeoNames is now beginning to address this question.

There are two new flags in the alternate name edit tool:
isHistoric for names of the past that are no longer used.
isColloquial for slang and colloquial names

At the recent Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers is was discussed how GeoNames could be extended to improve support for the timeline. Some attributes under consideration:
– fromPeriod (date, year, decade, century or period of usage)
– toPeriod
– source (book or map where the name is used), publication date of the source
– notes

The discussion for these fields is still ongoing and any feedback is welcome.
The two new flags isColloquial and isHistoric are not yet included in the daily extract as we will probably add some more attributes and don’t want to change the extract files too often. Each change in the extact files breaks the import scripts of users. We will extract the records with the two new flags in separate files as a temporary workaround till everything is stable.

Iphone vs Android Web Service Usage

Did you ever wonder where GeoNames webservices are called from? We have analyzed 470M reverse geocoding calls from January 2011 and created some heat maps.

reverse geocoding requests in January 2011

Smartphones make about half of the calls. While Android with 150M reverse geocoding calls is leading ahead of the iPhone with 100M calls, the iPhone covers a larger area.



Comparing Android vs iPhone we have found that Andoid is leading in Northern Europe, the United States and India. The iPhone is extremly popular on the Arabian peninsula and many megacities.

Android (green) vs iPhone (red)

Thanks to our sponsors:

Application Identification for free GeoNames Web Services

To cope with the increasing number of smartphones GeoNames has to introduce an application tracking for the free web services. The current system of limiting credit usage per IP address is replaced by a system that tracks usage per application.
GeoNames is now serving over 25 million requests daily, half of which originate from smartphones.

free web service user agents, January 2011

The new domain will now host the free web services. It requires that the mandatory parameter username=<geonames username> be appended to all requests. You can register a username here.
The domain domain will remain operational for a grace period to allow applications to update to the new domain.
We know it is a hassle to have to change the call, but the load and performance problems on the free servers have become unacceptable and need to be addressed.

In order to improve the performance on the free servers we had to reduce the radius upper limit for the findNearbyPostalCodes and the findNearbyWikipedia services. The default radius was also reduced.

Despite the new system we are still looking for Sponsors to help cope with the costs of running the free services. The more sponsors the more requests can be handled.

Thanks to our sponsors:


Stephen Von Worley from has published some beautiful visualizations of the GeoNames database. Each of the 7.5-million geographic features is represented by a single dot, colored additively: blue for water, green for land, and red for manmade structures.

US places

Also interesting to note, besides their pure beauty, are some artifacts (for instance a band in Ireland with lower feature density) clearly visible on the visualizations. Some of them (like the US-Canadian border) are caused by different data providers (usgs vs geobase) and therefore different feature density or feature type assignment. Others are caused by the data entry process itself. A lot of GeoNames data is coming from paper maps and you can see in some areas the form of the original maps used as data source.