coding, howto, internet

Geocoding APIs for PHP, iPhone, and Android

There are several approaches to determine a location (in terms of longitude and latitude) from an address and vice versa (latter is referred to as “reverse geocoding”). A quick research with Google unveiled following interesting APIs and web-services (fully sufficient for my needs, yet, incomplete and far from exhausting). I will focus here on

  1. Google Maps-API (Recommended for PHP and JavaScript …)
  2. Geonames.org-API (Recommended for Java, C#/.NET, VB/.NET …)
  3. Android (Android only)
  4. iPhone (iPhone only)

Google Maps-API

Particularly useful if you need to carry out implementation in PHP or JavaScript. Google’s API provides a class which is solely dedicated to the task of geocoding: GClientGeocoder. You could make use of it embedding it within your application making it a client site geocoder. With this API, “Reverse Geocoding” is possible too.

They may be cases, where you do not want or just cannot make use of client site geocoding (e.g. absence of Javascript, performance, etc.). Here you may the HTML Geocoding web service of Google. You may choose between XML, KML, CSV, and JSON response – of which latter is particularly useful for the communication between Google and mobile devices. All you need to do is to create a string like

$Address = 'Germany, Frankfurt, Friedberger Landstrasse 20';
$myString = 'http://maps.google.com/maps/geo?q=' . $Address . '&output=xml&key=' . $GoogleApiKey;'

where $Address is, of course, the (relatively) free format address and $GoogleApiKey is a key you need to obtain from Google in order to get access to its services.

Here is a strategy for a PHP implementation. It is based on send the Client URL (cURL) Library shipped with PHP. In particular, you could implement the following sequence in order to send the request and retrieve the response:

  1. Initialize a cURL session with the curl_init() function: $csession = curl_init()
  2. $csession is a state machine. You need to set some of its parameters with the curl_setopt(…) command: Set CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSER to TRUE, CURLOPT_HEADER to 0, CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION to 1 and CURLOPT_URL to the above mentioned $myString. Example: curl_setopt($csession, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, TRUE)
  3. Finally, use curl_exec() to carry out the request: $response = curl_exec($csession); curl_close($csession)

Now, what you get here is some data stored in $response. You may access them using PHP’s SimpleXMLElement class: $xml = new SimpleXMLElement($response) and then accessing the XML elements by e.g. $xml->Response->Status->code or explode(',',$xml->Response->Placemark->Point->coordinates).

A good implementation of this strategy in form of a PHP class can be found here.

Geonames.org

Geonames provides a web interface and an API in form of a standard web service interface to access its geocoding service. This very fact – the use of a web service interface – makes it particularly interesting for all languages. However, I would like to advise to make this the choice if using .NET languages and Java, since these languages have developed an excellent workflow of referring to web services by using IDEs like Visual Studio and Eclipse, respectively. BTW, JSON format is also provided 😉

And since web services are so common, I won’t give any details here dealing with the implementation. Just refer to the web service documentation of Geonames.org and the list of web services provided by Geonames.org.

Nevertheless, I simply must mention some very interesting thing about this provider: It does not only return simple (reverse) geocoding data, but it also offers web service methods like findNearbyWikipedia (which returns a list of wikipedia entries) and findNearByWeather (which returns a weather station with the most recent weather observation). This surplus is really worth considering this service for your implementation.

Android

Since Android is a project by Google, it is somehow related to the last section. However, the approach describes in the last section is a very general one while this one is recommended for Android mobile implementation.

The base class android.location is provided by the Android SDK. The specialized android.location.Geocoder is just what is needed for all sort of geocoding. It is possible to carry out both, geocoding and reverse geocoding. This is particularly powerful in combination with android.location.LocationManager, which can be used to determine the current location using the cell phones GPS device, and android.location.Location to store the time-dependent location.

Instead of going into the coding details here, I would like to give some good references you may find useful:

You should be able to create your own implementation from this input.

iPhone

Apple, too, has implemented a very good framework to cope with the GPS capabilities of its iPhone. It comes with its Core Services and is called “Core Location”. Apple’s developer pages are so exhausting that no further details are needed here. The above mentioned link to the “Core Location” framework leads to a page with many source examples, however, you need to be member of the apple developer community in order to access them.

There is a very good geocoding example @ cloudmade.com that shows how to make use of Apple’s API. You should take this as your starting point.

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3 thoughts on “Geocoding APIs for PHP, iPhone, and Android

  1. Pingback: Posts about google android as of August 23, 2009 | Neto Cury

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