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Glen Bray
Glen Bray

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at

Build your own Australian Address Search API

Code can be found here

There are multiple services available that offer API's for Austrlian address autocomplete that also have generous free daily limits. But, there may be times when those limits aren't enough and the costs of using the service may not be viable. An example of a time when this was useful for me can viewed here.

Lets look at whats involved in creating our own Australian address search API using the GNAF dataset.

We'll be doing the following:

  1. Run the gnaf-loader to import address data into a separate postgres DB.
  2. Setup a new rails api project.
  3. Use the new multi-database feature to connect to the GNAF DB in our app.
  4. Sync to Elasticsearch.
  5. Create 2 endpoints for address autocomplete and reverse geolocation lookup.

Import Australian Addresses with the gnaf-loader

Clone the gnaf-loader project.

$ git clone

The gnaf-loader has a [few options] to import the data. Choose whichever option you prefer to load the data into Postgres. This article will cover loading the data with docker.

  1. From your terminal change directory to the repo you've just cloned gnaf-loader
  2. Create a data directory in the root of the repo mkdir data.
  3. Download the PSMA GNAF and ESRI shape file as mentioned from the readme of gnaf-loader.
  4. Extract both and move directories into the data directory.
  5. Before we build the address database let's update the dockerfile and open some ports. The change made can be viewed here.
  6. Run docker-compose up to build and run the containers.

Once the containers start running, this will start the import process. This will take a while to run. While we wait, let's set up the API. Our API will use Elasticsearch so we'll set that up first. With mac and homebrew this can be done with:

$ brew install Elasticsearch
$ brew services start Elasticsearch

Create a new rails project

$ rails new australian_address_api --api --database=postgresql`

Configure your database.yml

    <<: *default
    database: australian_address_api_development
    <<: *default
    database: gnaf

This setup the DB.

$ rails db:setup

We'll use the searchkick gem to search and index records in Elasticsearch. So lets add that to the gemfile and bundle install.

Prepare to sync to Elasticsearch

There are a few things we need to do before we start syncing records to Elasticsearch. Firstly, we'll create an Address model and have it connect to our GNAF DB. We'll use the new rails 6 multiple database feature to have this model connect to our GNAF DB. This will enable us to separate the GNAF database from our API DB. Here's the code to get that in place.

class Address < ApplicationRecord
  connects_to database: {reading: :gnaf, writing: :gnaf}

  self.primary_key = "gid"
  self.table_name = "gnaf_202005.addresses"

Now that we can connect to the GNAF DB, lets setup searchkick.

class Address < ApplicationRecord
  # ...

    ['avenue',' av'],
    ['highway',' hwy']

  searchkick default_fields: [:full_address],
      word_start: [:full_address],
      synonyms: STREET_SYNONYMS,
      locations: [:location]

  scope :search_import, -> { where("confidence > 0") }

  def should_index?
    confidence > 0

  def full_address
    [address.titlecase, locality_name.titlecase, state, postcode].join(' ')

  def search_data
      full_address: full_address.downcase,
      suburb: locality_name.downcase,
      state: state.downcase,
      postcode: postcode,
      location: {
        lat: latitude.to_s,
        lon: longitude.to_s

The search_data method is used to send the data for a record to Elasticsearch for what we'd like to make searchable. We'll only be using the full_address and location fields in this article.

The search_import and should_index? methods are used to only sync records matching the specified condition. More information on what the confidence score means here.

We'll want to handle abbreviations for certain words within the address e.g street -> st. I've created a synonyms constant for those mappings which are passed to searchkick.

Sync to elasticsearch

Now with that in place, let's start syncing records to Elasticsearch. You can do this with Address.reindex from the rails console. This will sync around 11 - 14 million records and will take a while to do. You can do this async to speed it up, but that is out of the scope of this article. See the searchkick readme for more info.

When syncing finishes, we can test search in the rails console:

pry(main)>"38a wentworth rd vaucluse").first

Address Search (168.3ms)  addresses_development/_search {"query":{"bool":{"should":[{"dis_max":{"queries":[{"match":{"full_address.analyzed":{"query":"38a Wentworth Road Vaucluse NSW 2030","boost":10,"operator":"and","analyzer":"searchkick_search"}}},{"match":{"full_address.analyzed":{"query":"38a Wentworth Road Vaucluse NSW 2030","boost":10,"operator":"and","analyzer":"searchkick_search2"}}},{"match":{"full_address.analyzed":{"query":"38a Wentworth Road Vaucluse NSW 2030","boost":1,"operator":"and","analyzer":"searchkick_search","fuzziness":1,"prefix_length":0,"max_expansions":3,"fuzzy_transpositions":true}}},{"match":{"full_address.analyzed":{"query":"38a Wentworth Road Vaucluse NSW 2030","boost":1,"operator":"and","analyzer":"searchkick_search2","fuzziness":1,"prefix_length":0,"max_expansions":3,"fuzzy_transpositions":true}}}]}}]}},"timeout":"11s","_source":false,"size":10000}
Address Load (1.8ms)  SELECT "gnaf_202005"."addresses".* FROM "gnaf_202005"."addresses" WHERE "gnaf_202005"."addresses"."gid" = $1  [["gid", 12706313]]

=> #<Address:0x00007f827a068250
 gid: 12706313,
 gnaf_pid: "GANSW710434263",
 street_locality_pid: "NSW2925230",
 locality_pid: "NSW4107",
 alias_principal: "P",
 primary_secondary: nil,
 building_name: nil,
 lot_number: nil,
 flat_number: nil,
 level_number: nil,
 number_first: "38A",
 number_last: nil,
 street_name: "WENTWORTH",
 street_type: "ROAD",
 street_suffix: nil,
 address: "38A WENTWORTH ROAD",
 locality_name: "VAUCLUSE",
 postcode: "2030",
 state: "NSW",
 locality_postcode: "2030",
 confidence: 2,
 legal_parcel_id: "381//DP1061794",
 mb_2011_code: 10892260000,
 mb_2016_code: 10892260000,
 latitude: -0.3385606636e2,
 longitude: 0.15126996495e3,
 geocode_type: "PROPERTY CENTROID",
 reliability: 2,
 geom: "0101000020BB1000001FEA888DA3E86240F0B31D9593ED40C0">

Address autocomplete

While we wait for the sync to finish let's implement autocomplete address endpoint.

# app/controllers/address_autocomplete_controller.rb
Rails.application.routes.draw do
  get "/address/autocomplete", controller: :address_autocomplete, action: :index
# app/controllers/address_autocomplete_controller.rb
class AddressAutocompleteController < ActionController::API
  def index
    @addresses =[:q], match: :word_start)

With the jbuilder gem, we can create a few templates that will generate our JSON. When setting up a rails project this gem is included in the gemfile but commented out. Uncomment it and run bundle install.

# app/views/addresses/_address.jbuilder
json.address address["address"]
json.lot_number address["lot_number"]
json.flat_number address["flat_number"]
json.level_number address["level_number"]
json.number_first address["number_first"]
json.number_last address["number_last"]
json.street_name address["street_name"]
json.street_type address["street_type"]
json.street_suffix address["street_suffix"]
json.suburb address["locality_name"]
json.postcode address["postcode"]
json.state address["state"]
json.longitude address["longitude"]
json.latitude address["latitude"]

The above is a shared partial that will be used by both autocomplete and reverse geolocation.

# app/views/address_autocomplete/index.jbuilder
json.partial! 'addresses/address', collection: @addresses, as: :address

Reverse geolocation

Another feature that we'll implement is the ability to search for addresses near a given
longitude and latitude.

Let's update the address model to support reverse geocode searches.

  # ...

  def self.reverse_geocode(longitude, latitude, within)
    within = 1 if within.blank? || within <= 0
      where: {
        location: {
          near: {
            lon: longitude.to_f,
            lat: latitude.to_f
          within: "#{within}m",

Finally, to finish this off - the route, controller and view.

# app/controllers/address_autocomplete_controller.rb
Rails.application.routes.draw do
  get "/coordinates/reversegeocode", controller: :reverse_geocode, action: :index
class ReverseGeocodeController < ActionController::API
  def index
    @addresses = Address.reverse_geocode(params[:lng], params[:lat], params[:within])

Our API will accept the params longitude, latitude and within. The within params accepts an integer. It allows us to filter addresses within a distance in meters from the longitude and latitude.

# app/views/reverse_geocode/index.jbuilder
json.partial! 'addresses/address', collection: @addresses, as: :address

That completes our minimal Australian address API. As mentioned above, there are API's available that have a daily free limit and are fairly cheap. Depending on your situation it might be better to just use those to save time.

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