Posted by & filed under General FOSSGIS, Postgres & PostGIS, QGIS.

The GeoNames dataset provides a list of global placenames, their location and some additional information such as population and so on. It is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, which allows you to use the data for your own purposes. You can download the data by country, or the entire global dataset. In this article, I will walk you though how I downloaded the entire dataset, loaded it into PostgreSQL and added a geometry column so that I could view it in QGIS. Note that you can substitute these instructions for a specific country’s data easily.

First up, lets get the data from the geonames download page!

wget -c

Note the download is around 196mb so if you live in an internet backwater like I do, expect it to take a little while. If the download gets disconnected, just rerun the same command again – the ‘-c’ option tells wget to continue where it left off last time.

Once the data is downloaded, unzip it:


You should now have a text file called allCountries.txt weighing in at just under 900mb. Next we can load it into PostgreSQL using a variation of this article. I highly recommend the use of schemas to partition your database into logical units. In the code listings that follow, it is assumed you have a schema called ‘world’. If you need to create it, simply do:

create schema world;

From the psql prompt. Since I am only interested in the geoname table at the moment I simply do this in my database.

create table world.geoname (
         geonameid       int,
         name            varchar(200),
         asciiname        varchar(200),
         alternatenames  varchar(8000),
         latitude        float,
         longitude       float,
         fclass  char(1),
         fcode   varchar(10),
         country varchar(2),
         cc2 varchar(60),
         admin1  varchar(20),
         admin2  varchar(80),
         admin3  varchar(20),
         admin4  varchar(20),
         population      bigint,
         elevation       int,
         gtopo30         int,
         timezone varchar(40),
         moddate         date

You will notice that I extended the alternatenames field size from the original tutorial’s 4000 characters to 8000 characters in order to accommodate some longer entries that were causing my imports to fail with 4000 chars.

Next we can import the data (also from the psql prompt):

copy world.geoname (geonameid,name,asciiname,alternatenames,
timezone,moddate) from '/home/web/allCountries.txt' null as '';

Once again this is similar to the import line used by the original article I used, except I have used a full path to my allCountries.txt file. The import may take a little while depending on the speed of your computer.

When it is completed, you should have a bunch of data (~7.5 million records) in your table:

gis=# select count(*) from world.geoname ;
(1 row)

It is going to be useful to have a unique id for every record – QGIS for one would like to have it, so lets add one (in addition to the geonameid field):

alter table world.geoname add column id serial not null;
CREATE UNIQUE INDEX idx_geoname_id ON world.geoname (id);

Because I know I will be using some other fields as basis for subset queries etc., I added some indexes on those too:

CREATE INDEX idx_geoname_population ON world.geoname (population);
CREATE INDEX idx_geoname_fcode ON world.geoname(fcode);

Ok thats all great, but there is no geometry column yet so we can’t view this in QGIS easily. So lets GIS enable the table! First we add a new geometry column:

alter table world.geoname add column the_geom geometry;

Now we populate the geometry column:

update world.geoname set the_geom = st_makepoint(longitude,latitude);

Next we add a constraint to ensure that the column always contains a point record or is null

alter table world.geoname add constraint enforce_geotype_the_geom
CHECK (geometrytype(the_geom) = 'POINT'::text OR the_geom IS NULL);

Finally lets index the table on the geometry field:

CREATE INDEX idx_geoname_the_geom ON world.geoname USING gist(the_geom);

Ok next we can connect to the database using QGIS and view our data! Note that you may want to filter the data or set up scale dependent visibility so that QGIS doesn’t try to render all 7.5 million points when you zoom out.

I added a query filter like this to the layer properties -> general tab -> subset:

"population" >= 10000 AND fcode != 'PPLA' and fcode != 'PCLI' AND fcode != 'ADM1'

You should experiment and read the geonames documentation in order to define a filter that is useful for your purposes.

Geonames layer loaded in QGIS

Geonames layer loaded in QGIS

The Geonames dataset is a wonderful asset to the GIS community, particularly to those of us who value Free Software and Free Data.


Update 6 Aprl 2011:

I encountered one issue with the above procedure: the SRID for the imported points is -1 when loaded instead of 4326. This cause problems e.g. in mapserver you get an error like this:


ERROR:  Operation on two geometries with different SRIDs

To fix the issue I ran the following update query to assign all points a proper SRID:

update world.geoname set the_geom = ST_SETSRID(the_geom,4326);

Note that it takes quite a while to run.  When it completes, you can verify that the points are all in the correct CRS by running this little query:

gis=# select distinct ST_SRID(the_geom) from world.geoname;

Which should produce something like this:

(1 row)

For good measure, I also added the geoname table to my geometry columns table:

insert into geometry_columns (f_table_catalog,f_table_schema,f_table_name,f_geometry_column,
coord_dimension,srid,type) values ('','world','geoname','the_geom',2,4326,'POINT');

Lastly I also gave select permissions to my readonly user (which I use when publishing in a web environment):

grant usage on schema world to readonly;
grant select on world to readonly;

I have also fixed the formatting of some of the SQL snippets above for those who struggled to read it within the width of this page.