Skip to Main Content

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) & Remote Sensing: Geocoding

This guide covers resources and tools helpful for people interested in GIS & remote sensing.

About Geocoding

Geocoding is the process of determining geographic coordinates for place names, street addresses, and codes (e.g., zip codes). Geocoding is typically preceded by the data cleaning step of preprocessing and standardizing the format of the data you will be geocoding. Related tasks include:

  • Batch geocoding: geocoding multiple addresses, place names or codes at one time.

  • Reverse geocoding: determining the nearest street address for a given point location specified as a latitude and longitude.

Overview of Geocoding Options

Esri geocoding options:

Currently the best, most accurate, freely available tools for the UCB community. They include:

  • ArcGIS Online (AGOL) - Access the Esri World Geocoding Service via a web browser. Suitable for smaller datasets. Documentation available here:
  • ArcGIS desktop - Includes tools for geocoding, batch geocoding, reverse geocoding and address standardization. Documentation available (make sure the version matches the version you are using). the Access data either through:
    • Esri World Geocoding Service (links to the online service)
    • Esri Business Analyst software & Business Analyst US 2015 or later data (works offline, best for extremely large datasets and restricted data) - Contact the D-Lab to use their installation.
  • Esri World Geocoding Service API - Programmatic access to batch geocoding and reverse geocoding services with Python or R. To get started go to to the ESRI website and follow these instructions to generate a geocoding access token.  You will need to use this access token in your geocoding script. Tokens last for 14 days and then expire.

The Esri World Geocoding Service provides high quality geocoding for place names, addresses and zip codes within the USA. It also works with locations outside of the USA, but in sometimes more limited ways. Global coverage is documented here:

For more details on getting started with the Esri tools check out this tutorial guide written by the D-Lab and the Library - Geocoding Options with Esri software and data: A Guide for the UCB Community

Google Geocoding API:

Great accuracy and currency, with global coverage. Requires programming to access (R, Python, javascript, etc.) and limited to 2,500 free geocodes per day.

Census Online Geocoding Tool:

Easy to use graphic interface for geocoding addresses. Just upload a file of up to 1,000 addresses. Has the option of outputting census lookup codes (FIPS codes for census tracts).  There is an API for this service as well if you want to programmatically geocode more than 1,000 addresses at a time.

Geocoding in QGIS:

The MMQGIS plugin is a Python plugin for QGIS that contains geocoding tools, which can draw on the Google Geocoding API data, the OpenStreetMap Nominatim service, or a local street address layer, such as the US Census Bureau's TIGER/Line data.

Geocoding FAQs

What's the best way to format my data for geocoding?

This depends on which service you are using -- different tools have different requirements. Some will want you to put all of the address information into a single field, while others require the components of the address to be separated into different fields. Check the documentation for whichever tool you are using.


<< More FAQs coming soon! Have a question you don't see answered here? Please let us know! >>

ESRI Streetmap North America data

The following StreetMap North America datasets are available on the GIS workstations in the Earth Sciences & Map Library, as part of the Esri Data & Maps products. Ask at the reference desk for help accessing the data.

UCB Esri Site License - Terms of Use

Faculty, Staff & Students

Members of the UCB campus community with an active CalNET ID can use the ESRI site license for geocoding if the output of this process is for research, teaching, or other academic activity.  

Computers in campus libraries (including dedicated GIS workstations in the Earth Sciences & Map Library), Geospatial Innovation Facility, and D-Lab all have computers with ESRI software installed. The D-Lab also has computers with the geocoding data referenced in this document locally installed. If you would like this software installed in your department’s computer lab, contact your computer lab manager.

Departments & Research Units

If you wish to install ESRI software on your computers you must join the campus ESRI site license consortium. Your department may already be a member.  See the UCB ESRI consortium information web page for more information. You can then contact your computer manager or Dean Patty Mead ( for additional information.


Do not use an online geocoding service, a public access computer or a networked computer with restricted use data (RUD). Restricted use data may include data about sensitive topics, or deal with vulnerable populations, proprietary information, or personal identifiers. If your data deal with human subjects, you should make sure the ways you are protecting the data conform with IRB requirements and campus minimum security standards.   Contact the D-Lab for information on working with RUD.