Building an Autocomplete Parcel Lookup


The “classic” municipal GIS web application is a form that allows people to look up their house and then tells them things about that house: where it is on the map; what zoning area it’s in; what school district; what the tax assessment is.

All too often, the front end to these apps is the classic multi-field form (this one from Dallas County USA):


Not only does the user have to carefully fill in many fields, if there is anything wrong in the data they enter (mis-spellings, mis-abbreviation) they won’t get an answer back.

Fortunately, this user interface problem has a well-known, battle-tested solution: the autocomplete form field.

This tutorial will show how to build an autocomplete form field using OpenGeo Suite, and tie the field to a dynamic map view of the selected address.


While this example is about autocompleting addresses, the technique can be used for almost any kind of data to create single-entry search forms.

Why have separate “record number”, “keyword search”, “author search” fields on a form, when you can have a single field that transparently and quickly provides relevant alternatives no matter what the user chooses to input? Full-text search autocomplete fields are a form-based hammer suitable for almost any data entry nail.

The basic structure of the application will be:

  • Spatial tables of addresses and taxlots in PostGIS, that will be accessed with
  • Full-text search capabilities from PostgreSQL, web service enabled with
  • A SQL view in GeoServer, tied to
  • An autocomplete form and map view in OpenLayers 3 and JQuery.

This demonstration application exercises all the tiers of OpenGeo Suite!

Getting the Data

For this application, we’ll use data from Jackson County, Oregon, which is a mid-sized county with 100 thousand address points and 90 thousand tax parcels.

The data are in two shape files:

  • Taxlots, which includes a polygon for every lot.
  • SiteAddresses, which includes a point for every physical address.

Because multiple physical structures can exist on the same lot, or multiple addresses in the same complex (strata developments, for example) there are more address points than there are parcel polygons.


For our address auto-complete application we will want to use the address data from the SiteAddresses file, which has the physical structures that people associate with “an address”. We can use the taxlot polygons for a backdrop layer.

Loading the Data


The next steps will involve some database work.

The Taxlots.shp and SiteAddresses.shp shape files are not in geographic coordinates, they are in a special projection that makes sense for Jackson County. Here’s the projection file Taxlots.prj:


So the projection is “NAD 1983, State Plane Oregon South”. But to load the data into PostGIS, we need a “spatial reference identifier” number, a single number. We can turn the Taxlots.prj definition into a number at the site.


So, the number we want to use is 2270.

Now, loading the Taxlots and SiteAddresses is pretty easy, either using the command line or the shape loader GUI. Just remember that our target table names are taxlots and siteaddresses. Here’s the command-line:

shp2pgsql -s 2270 -D -I Taxlots.shp taxlots | psql county
shp2pgsql -s 2270 -D -I SiteAddresses.shp siteaddresses | psql county

Here’s what the taxlots table looks like:

   Column   |            Type             |   Modifiers
 gid        | integer                     | not null
 mapnumber  | character varying(20)       |
 mapnum     | character varying(20)       |
 gis_area   | double precision            |
 maplot     | character varying(16)       |
 account    | numeric(10,0)               |
 lottype    | character varying(4)        |
 feeowner   | character varying(29)       |
 contract   | character varying(29)       |
 incareof   | character varying(29)       |
 address1   | character varying(29)       |
 address2   | character varying(29)       |
 city       | character varying(19)       |
 state      | character varying(4)        |
 zipcode    | numeric(10,0)               |
 commsqft   | integer                     |
 acreage    | double precision            |
 impvalue   | numeric(10,0)               |
 landvalue  | numeric(10,0)               |
 lotdepth   | integer                     |
 lotwidth   | integer                     |
 propclass  | integer                     |
 addressnum | character varying(8)        |
 streetname | character varying(22)       |
 buildcode  | integer                     |
 yearblt    | integer                     |
 taxcode    | integer                     |
 assessimp  | numeric(10,0)               |
 assessland | numeric(10,0)               |
 maintenanc | integer                     |
 tm_maplot  | character varying(18)       |
 scheduleco | integer                     |
 neighborho | integer                     |
 ownersort  | character varying(5)        |
 addsort    | character varying(5)        |
 trssort    | character varying(5)        |
 siteadd    | character varying(36)       |
 taxlot     | numeric(10,0)               |
 shape_star | numeric                     |
 shape_stle | numeric                     |
 geom       | geometry(MultiPolygon,2270) |

Here’s what the siteaddresses table looks like:

   Column   |         Type          |   Modifiers
 gid        | integer               | not null
 siteaddres | character varying(70) |
 number_    | character varying(8)  |
 sub_number | character varying(3)  |
 prefix     | character varying(5)  |
 streetname | character varying(50) |
 type       | character varying(6)  |
 suffix     | character varying(5)  |
 space      | character varying(6)  |
 zipcode    | character varying(10) |
 mapnum     | character varying(12) |
 taxlot     | character varying(7)  |
 city       | character varying(20) |
 floor      | integer               |
 cad_city   | character varying(2)  |
 wcity      | character varying(75) |
 geom       | geometry(Point,2270)  |

Exploring the Data

Before building our web application, let’s explore the structure of the data using QGIS.

  • Start up QGIS and choose Layer->Add PostGIS Layers

  • Add a new connection

  • Choose the siteaddresses and taxlots tables’

  • Click Add

  • Click Close

  • You may need to drag the siteaddresses layer to the top of the layer list to get the points to draw on top of the polygons

If you zoom around and explore the data a little, you’ll note that while taxlots frequently contain only one site address, they don’t always do so. Some tax lots contain no addresses, others contain several.

  • Click the “Open Attribute Table” button on the tool bar to explore the data in each layer

  • Look closely at the taxlots table, and note the address1 and city fields. These are actually the addresses of the lot owner, not the address of the lot. The lot address is in the siteadd field, and is a partial address (no city, often missing the street number):

              address1           |       city
     11318 SOUTHWIND LN          | SCOTTSDALE
     2242 BRENTWOOD DR           | MEDFORD
     PO BOX 359                  | PHOENIX
     610 CEDAR WOOD DR           | EAGLE POINT
     CITY HALL                   | MEDFORD
     7252 DARK HOLLOW RD         | MEDFORD
     573 LADO WAY                | SANTA BARBARA
     2430 ROCKWOOD CT            | MEDFORD
  • In contrast, the data in the siteaddresses table are quite complete. The siteaddres, city, and zipcode columns give a complete physical address of the sort an end user might be expected to enter:

                 siteaddres             |     city      | zipcode
     1350 WILSON RD                     | Ashland       | 97520
     11537 DEAD INDIAN MEMORIAL RD      | Ashland       | 97520
     690 REITEN DR                      | Ashland       | 97520
     705 BENJAMIN CT                    | Ashland       | 97520
     210 SUNNYVIEW ST                   | Ashland       | 97520
     5977 DARK HOLLOW RD                | Medford       | 97501
     38 SUMMIT AVE                      | Medford       | 97501
     5353 DARK HOLLOW RD                | Medford       | 97501
     983 COVE RD                        | Ashland       | 97520
     300 SKYCREST DR                    | Ashland       | 97520

So, in order to provide a user-friendly parcel look-up service, we’re going to have to use the actual address data in the siteaddresses table for the look-ups, and use the taxlots data initially as a backdrop layer to provide the visual context of the parcel boundary.

Putting the Tax Lots on the Map

Now we will hook up the GeoServer rendering engine to our database table.

First, we need a datastore that connects GeoServer to our county PostgreSQL database.

  • Log in to GeoServer

  • Add a new workspace specifying county as the workspace name and http::// as the URI.

  • Add a new PostGIS store, named county_postgis specifying the county database as the database to connect to, and using the county workspace.

  • Add a new style, named taxlots in the county workspace, and fill it in with the content from taxlots.sld. This “styled layer descriptor” (SLD) file gives each tax lot a color based on the yearblt column, which will provide a pretty visual map of the building history of the area.

  • Finally, add a new layer, named taxlots, using the county workspace, the county_postgis store, and the taxlots style.

    • Under Layer click “Add a new resource”
    • Select the county:county_postgis store
    • Click “Publish” for the taxlots table
    • Under the “Data” tab in the “Bounding Boxes” section click “Complete from data” and then “Compute from native bounds”
    • Under the “Publishing” tab, select “taxlots” as the default style
    • Click the “Save” button at the bottom of the page
  • We now have a published layer! Go to the “Layer Preview” page and click “Go” after the “taxlots” entry. It may take some time to render (all 92,206 lots have to be drawn), but you will see a map of the tax lots.


Fast Address Searching

We are going to build an “autocomplete” web component that takes in partial inputs and returns a list of candidate selections: that means we are going to be performing a lot of queries, and we have to return results really fast so that users get a good experience.

  • Open the PgAdmin application and connect to the county database.

  • Check how many addresses we will be working with:

    SELECT Count(*) FROM siteaddresses;

So, over 100,000 address records to search, how can we quickly search them to find candidate addresses based on partial input from the user? By using PostgreSQL’s full-text search capabilities!

PostgreSQL’s full-text search includes a number of useful features:

  • Matching partial words. Since we’ll be running the searches automatically when the user is in the middle of typing, handling partial word matches is important.
  • Ranking results based on match quality. We’ll only want to show the top N results in our autocomplete form.
  • Synonym dictionaries. Addresses include words and abbreviations that mean the same thing, handling them as synonyms could be useful.

Adding a Text Search Column

Since we’ll be searching address strings, the first step is to combine the relevant columns into a single text-searchable column. If you were searching a classic document database, this column might combine the title, abstract and body columns into on searchable column. In our case we’ll combine the siteaddres, city and zipcode columns into a single column

SELECT siteaddres || ' ' || city || ' ' || zipcode AS str
  FROM siteaddresses
  LIMIT 100;

The column type for a for a text searchable column is tsvector so first we add the searchable column, then fill it with relevant data.

-- Add a column for the text search data
ALTER TABLE siteaddresses ADD COLUMN ts tsvector;

-- Populate text search column by joining together relevant fields
-- into a single string
UPDATE siteaddresses
  SET ts  = to_tsvector('simple', siteaddres || ' ' || city || ' ' || zipcode)
  WHERE siteaddres IS NOT NULL;

Now that we have a column suitable for text searching, we can try out some queries and see how fast they go.

Querying a Text Search Column

PostgreSQL allows text search queries to be logically structured so that they search out documents that include all words, any words, or a combination of those conditions using and (&) and or (|) clauses. We’ll be searching exlusively for results that have all the query terms, so we’ll be using and clauses exclusively.

Let’s find all the records with “120 CINDY CT” in them:

SELECT siteaddres, city
FROM siteaddresses
WHERE ts @@ to_tsquery('simple','120 & CINDY & CT');

Look at the timing to see how fast the record is found in the 100,000 record table (pretty fast).


What is this ‘simple’ parameter?

In both the ts_tsvector() and the to_tsquery() functions we used to populate and query the full-text column, we applied an extra argument “simple”. This argument tells the system what dictionary to use when processing the text. There are default dictionaries for “english”, “french”, “german” and many other languages in PostgreSQL. Language-based dictionaries apply specific language dependent rules for things like:

  • Omitting “stop words” (“the”, “it”, “an”, “a”) from queries and indexes because they don’t help searching.
  • Applying “stemming” so that similar words (“oaks” and “oak”, “swim” and “swimming”) can be matched automatically.
  • Using synonym dictionaries so that identical constructions (“1st” and “first”) and similar words (“run” and “sprint”) can be resolved by a single query.

For street addresses, we don’t want the “english” language dictionary set to be applied to our queries or terms. That would do things like remove single letters (“N” for north, “S” from south) from the index, alter street names through stemming, and so on. We want a more literal interpretation of our strings, so we go with the “simple” dictionary, which removes extraneous white space and punctuation, but otherwise leaves things alone.

Partial Matching and Ranking

For our autocomplete field, we will be receiving partially typed inputs and looking for the “best match” set of options. That means we need to do partial matches on words.

For example, suppose instead of “120 CINDY CT”, a user had only typed up to “120 CI”. What options can we provide? If we just search for “120 CI”, we get no results.

SELECT siteaddres, city
FROM siteaddresses
WHERE ts @@ to_tsquery('simple','120 & CI');

However, we can specify that the word “CI” is actually only the first part of the word, by appending ”:*” to the text search query string to specify prefix matching for that word.

SELECT siteaddres, city
FROM siteaddresses
WHERE ts @@ to_tsquery('simple','120 & CI:*');

Now we’re getting back 11 options, all of which include “120 Ci” in one way or another. It would be nice if we got them back in “best to worst” order, so let’s reorganize our query and include a ranking function. We move the to_tsquery() function to a subquery so that the query evaluation only has to run once, and we can use it both in the index operation and in the ranking function, ts_rank_cd().

  ts_rank_cd(ts, query) AS rank
FROM siteaddresses,
     to_tsquery('simple','120 & CI:*') AS query
WHERE ts @@ query

Full-text Query Input and Output


The results of the full text query are going to be displayed to an end user, so we’d like them to look as nice as possible. Right now the results look like this:

     siteaddres     |     city      | rank
 120 CINDY CT       | Shady Cove    |   0.1
 120 FAITH CIR      | Talent        |  0.05
 120 OFFORD CIR     | Jacksonville  |  0.05

We can only display one field in the autocomplete output, so we need to bring the siteaddres and city together. It would also be nice if the case were not mixed. We could uppercase both fields, but it would be even nicer to use initial capitalization instead.

  initcap(siteaddres || ', ' || city) AS address,
  ts_rank_cd(ts, query) AS rank
FROM siteaddresses,
     to_tsquery('simple','120 & CI:*') AS query
WHERE ts @@ query

That looks nicer:

              address              | rank
 120 Cindy Ct, Shady Cove          |   0.1
 120 Faith Cir, Talent             |  0.05
 120 Offord Cir, Jacksonville      |  0.05


When we hook up the query to an autocomplete field, the string the autocomplete sends back to the database will not be formatted for use as a full-text search query. Somewhere in our software, we need to do that reformatting. Rather than doing it at the client tier in JavaScript, we’ll do it at the database tier in SQL.

For any input string, we’re going to want to remove extraneous spaces, put an “&” character between every word, and put a ”:*” string after the last word, to indicate a partial match.

The ”:*” partial match is important because the autocomplete will frequently be sending back a query string when the user is only partway through typing a word, and we want to find all the matches that make sense for that partially entered final word.

-- An SQL function to wrap up the pre-processing step that takes
-- an unformated query string and converts it to a tsquery for
-- use in the full-text search
CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION to_tsquery_partial(text)
  RETURNS tsquery AS $$
    SELECT to_tsquery('simple',
           trim($1),E'\\s+'),' & ') ||
           CASE WHEN $1 ~ ' $' THEN '' ELSE ':*' END)
  $$ LANGUAGE 'sql';

-- Input:  100 old high
-- Output: 100 & old & high:*
SELECT to_tsquery_partial('100 old high');

Once we have a proper full-text search query string, we can plug it into a search query.

  initcap(a.siteaddres || ', ' || city) AS address,
  a.gid AS gid,
  ts_rank_cd(a.ts, query) AS rank
FROM siteaddresses AS a,
     to_tsquery_partial('100 old high') AS query
WHERE ts @@ query

Our plain query string is turned into a full-text query, and run against the table for a very fast partial match return (check the query timing), exactly what we want!

Configuring the Address Search Web Service

Now that we have a good database query, we need to expose it as a web service (a URL) that the autocomplete field can use pull candidate matches into the web browser.

  • Log in to GeoServer

  • Add a new layer, named taxlots, using the county workspace, and the county_postgis store.

    • Under Layer click “Add a new resource”

    • Select the county:county_postgis store

    • Click the “Configure new SQL view...” link

    • Set the name of the view to address_autocomplete

    • Set the SQL statement for the view to be

        initcap(a.siteaddres || ', ' || city) AS address,
        a.gid AS gid,
        a.geom AS geom,
        ts_rank_cd(a.ts, query) AS rank
      FROM siteaddresses AS a,
           to_tsquery_partial('%query%') AS query
      WHERE ts @@ query
      ORDER BY rank DESC
      LIMIT 10
    • Click the “Guess parameters from SQL...” link, and ensure the paramter is named “query”, the default value is “1” and keep the default regular expression filter.

    • Click the “Guess geometry type and id” check box, and ensure the geometry type is “Point”, the SRID is “2270” and that the “gid” column is selected as the unique identifier.

    • Click the “Save” button.

    • In the “Data” tab, click the “Compute from data” and “Compute from native bounds” links to update the bounding box information.

    • In the “Tile Caching” tab, un-check the “Create a cached layer for this layer” option.

    • Click the “Save” button.

That’s it! Now we have an address search service, accessible over the web.

By using the WFS end point, we can query using a string and get back a GeoJSON feature collection of potentially matching records. Here’s the output from the call above (pretty-printed for easier reading.

   "crs" : {
      "type" : "EPSG",
      "properties" : {
         "code" : "3857"
   "totalFeatures" : 1,
   "features" : [
         "geometry_name" : "geom",
         "geometry" : {
            "coordinates" : [
            "type" : "Point"
         "id" : "address_autocomplete.31410",
         "type" : "Feature",
         "properties" : {
            "address" : "100 Old Highway 62, Trail",
            "rank" : 0.1
   "type" : "FeatureCollection"

Building the Web Application

Now we have two parts of our address autocomplete application set up:

  • the database tier is loaded and indexed for full-text search; and
  • the web services tier is configured and exposes our full-text search as a web service.

Now we need a web application to exercise those tiers.


If you want to skip the step-by-step process below and read along through a complete application, you can download the finished application as a zip file.

Basic SDK and Application Setup

We will be using the Suite SDK as the starting point to build our application.

  • Install the Suite SDK

  • Confirm that you can run the SDK utility:


    You should see a usage screen like this:

    Usage: suite-sdk <command> <args>
    List of commands:
        create      Create a new application.
        debug       Run an existing application in debug mode.
        package     Create a WAR file.
    See 'suite-sdk <command> --help' for more detail on a specific command.
  • Create a new SDK application named parcelmap using the following command:

    suite-sdk create parcelmap ol3view

    This creates a blank web application using an Openlayers 3 viewer template as the starting point.

    Inside the application template you’ll find the following contents:


    The important parts for building our application are the index.html file, which is the default start page for the app, and the src/app directory, which contains the Javascript for our app. The other contents are useful support libraries, that are used by the template, and that we can use in our app as well.

  • Now fire up the SDK in debugging mode to view the template app:

    suite-sdk debug parcelmap

    The debug mode allows you to work against the code in your application as if it were already deployed to a application server, by providing a small proxy server that connects back to a remote GeoServer.


    By default the SDK debug mode connects to your local GeoServer on port 8080, but it can be configured (with the -g flag) to access other servers, which is useful if you’re building an application against a remote production or staging server.

    You can connect to the proxy server on port 9080 of your machine:

  • Now we have the start of an application! The first thing we want to do is replace the states layer with our tax lots layer, and set the initial extent to the area of interest (Jackson County). Open the src/app/app.js file, and make changes to the configuration section as follows:

    // ========= config section ================================================
    var url = '/geoserver/ows?';
    var featurePrefix = 'county';
    var featureType = 'taxlots';
    var featureNS = '';
    var srsName = 'EPSG:3857';
    var geometryName = 'geom';
    var geometryType = 'MultiPolygon';
    var fields = ['ADDRESS1', 'CITY'];
    var layerTitle = 'Tax Lots';
    var infoFormat = 'application/vnd.ogc.gml/3.1.1'; // can also be 'text/html'
    var center = [-13678000, 5210000];
    var zoom = 15;
    // =========================================================================

    This replaces the states layer with our taxlots layer and sets the initial zoom and center to be in Jackson County. After you make the changes, reload the app page.

  • Now we need to add the autocomplete form element to the application. We’ll be using the JQuery UI autocomplete widget, so before we add the HTML form element, we need to get the JQuery UI code into our application.

    1. Download the JQuery UI library.

    2. Unzip the archive into the src/jquery directory of the application. You should end up with a directory named src/jquery/jquery-ui-1.11.2.

    3. Edit the index.html file in the parcelmap app and add/alter following lines to reference the JQuery UI library and to change the application title.

      <script src="src/jquery/jquery.js"></script>
      <script src="src/bootstrap/js/bootstrap.js"></script>
      <!-- TUTORIAL CHANGE #2 -->
      <link rel="stylesheet" href="src/jquery/jquery-ui-1.11.2/jquery-ui.css">
      <script src="src/jquery/jquery-ui-1.11.2/jquery-ui.js"></script>
      <title>Address Autocomplete Tutorial</title>
      <!-- !TUTORIAL CHANGE #2 -->
  • Change the visible title of the application by locating the current title.

    <a class="navbar-brand" href="#">Application Template</a>

    Change it to our new title.

    <!-- TUTORIAL CHANGE #3 -->
    <a class="navbar-brand" href="#">Address Finder</a>
    <!-- TUTORIAL CHANGE #3 -->
  • Now we’re ready to add in the form element that will hold our autocomplete text. Edit the index.html file and add an input element after the “navigation” <div> and before the “map” <div>.

    <div class="navbar navbar-inverse navbar-fixed-top" role="navigation">
    <!-- TUTORIAL CHANGE #4 -->
    <div><input id="address" type="text" class="form-control" placeholder="Start typing an address" /></div>
    <!-- !TUTORIAL CHANGE #4 -->
    <div id="map">

    The application now looks just like we want, but it doesn’t actually do anything with input, yet.


Adding Behaviour to the Input Form

To add input behaviour to the application, go back to editing the src/app/app.js file. We are going to bind the HTML form element to the JQuery autocomplete widget, and then customize the autocomplete to call the GeoServer full-text search web service we set up in the earlier sections.

  • First, bind the form to the JQuery autocomplete. Add the following code at the very end of the src/app/app.js file.

    $( "#address" ).autocomplete({
      // How many charaters before we fire the 'source' function?
      minLength: 1,
      // Given a request string, do something to figure out what
      // a good set of options would be, and call the reponse function
      // with those options as an argument.
      source: function( requestStr, responseFunc ) {},
      // Given a selection event, do something with the
      // ui element that was clicked on.
      select: function( event, ui ) {}

    At this point the autocomplete code is hooked up, but doesn’t do anything. The autocomplete works via the “source” call-back function. This function takes in a string (from the form) and calls a response function when it has data ready for the form to give to the user.

  • First we’ll add a utility function (to the bottom of src/app/apps.js) for handling GeoServer view paramters. This function just takes an associative array and turns it into a standard “viewparams” format that GeoServer wants to receive for parameterized requests.

    // Given a key/value object, reformat into a 
    // string like that desired by GeoServer SQL views
    // for the viewparams entry.
    function viewparamsToStr(obj) {
      var str = '';
      $.each(obj, function(k,v) {
        str.length && (str += ';');
        str += k + ':' + v;
      return str;
  • Now we’re ready to add the main function, the one that calls the web service. Add the following addressSource function to the bottom of src/app/apps.js

    // Accept a string from the address form and call the WFS
    // service to get a list of candidate matches. Takes in strings
    // like "100 main" and call the responseFunc with an array of 
    // possible match objects.
    function addressSource( requestString, responseFunc ) {
      // Strip crazy (non-alpha) characters from the input string.
      var querystr = requestString.term.replace(/[^0-9a-zA-Z ]/g, "");
      // If there's nothing left after stripping, just return null.
      if ( querystr.length == 0 ) {
      // Form the input parameters into a standard viewparams
      // object string.
      var viewParamsStr = viewparamsToStr({
        query: querystr
      // Set up the parameters for our WFS call to the address_autocomplete
      // web service.
      var wfsParams = {
        service: 'WFS',
        version: '2.0.0',
        request: 'GetFeature',
        typeName: 'county:address_autocomplete',
        outputFormat: 'application/json',
        srsname: 'EPSG:3857',
        viewparams: viewParamsStr
      // Call the WFS web service, and call the response on completion
        url: url,
        data: wfsParams,
        type: "GET",
        dataType: "json",
        // What to do once the HTTL call is complete?
        success: function(data, status, xhr) {
          // Parse the GeoJSON payload into a OL3 feature collection
          var geojson = new ol.source.GeoJSON({
              object: data
          // Turn the feature collection into an array expected
          // by the autocomplete widget. Autocomplete expects an 
          // array of objects with at least a "label" and "value"
          // entry, and any other entries you feel like adding. 
          // We add the feature itself, so we have the option of
          // doing cool things with it in the "select" action of
          // the autocomplete widget.
          var arr = [];
          geojson.forEachFeature(function(feat) {
              label: feat.get("address"),
              value: feat.get("address"),
              feature: feat
          // Call-back to the autocomplete widget now that
          // we have data to display.

    That’s a lot of code, but what it is doing is pretty simple.

    • Some string clean-up on the input string from the user.
    • Forming that string into a viewparams entry for GeoServer.
    • Setting up the WFS parameters for the call to our address completing web service.
    • Actually calling the web service.
    • When a return value is received, converting GeoJSON return into an array for the autocomplete widget to consume.

    Once you have the function, you just have to hook it up to the autocomplete widget by using it in the source attribute. Change the value of source to addressSource.

     $( "#address" ).autocomplete({
       // How many charaters before we fire the 'source' function?
       minLength: 1,
       // Given a request string, do something to figure out what
       // a good set of options would be, and call the reponse function
       // with those options as an argument.
       source: addressSource,
       // Given a selection event, do something with the
       // ui element that was clicked on.
       select: function( event, ui ) {}

    Now we can see autocomplete in action! Reload your page and start typing into the form!

  • Autocomplete is very cool, but to really make this demo look great we need an action on selection. The action which makes the most sense is a basic “zoom to the thing selected” action, which is what we’ll add.

    1. Copy the flag.png file into the same directory as index.html

    2. We will re-use the existing highlight vector layer from the template as our highlight layer. Since we’re styling points instead of polygons, we’ll need to change the style of the layer to a point marker (using our flag image). Add the following at the end of src/app/app.js.

      // A point marker style using a flag image as the icon.
      var flagStyle = new{
        image: new{
          anchor: [0.2, 0.9],
          opacity: 0.75,
          scale: 0.25,
          src: 'flag.png'
    3. Now add the following addressSelect function to the end of src/app/app.js.

      // On a selection event, get the selected feature, center
      // the map on that feature, and zoom close enough to see it.
      // Clear the highlight layer of the previous selection, and 
      // add the current selection.
      function addressSelect( event, ui ) {
        // Zoom to the address point, at a "close enough" zoom
        var view = map.getView();
        var feat = ui.item.feature;
        var geom = feat.getGeometry();
        // Over-ride the old polygon-based highlight style with a 
        // point marker style using a flag image as the icon.
        // Add a flag marker to the map at the location of the selection
        var markerSource = highlight.getSource();
    4. Finally, alter the autocomplete widget to call the addressSelect on a selection event.

      $( "#address" ).autocomplete({
        // How many charaters before we fire the 'source' function?
        minLength: 1,
        // Given a request string, do something to figure out what
        // a good set of options would be, and call the reponse function
        // with those options as an argument.
        source: addressSource,
        // Given a selection event, do something with the
        // ui element that was clicked on.
        select: addressSelect
  • That’s it! High performance autocomplete on a data set of 100,000 address points, with a web interface and user-friendly single-field form interface.


Deploying the Application

So far, we have been building and testing our app locally, which is fine for the development phase. But now that we’re done, how would we deploy it to a production server?

First, we need to package the code up into a J2EE war file. Using the Suite SDK command, run the package command (this example works for OSX and Linux, use C:\\Temp as a target path in Windows):

suite-sdk package parcelmap /tmp

The output looks like this:

Packaging application ...
Buildfile: /usr/local/opengeo/sdk/build.xml
Building war: /tmp/parcelmap.war

Total time: 2 seconds

Now we have a J2EE war, and we just need to copy it up to the GeoServer application server.

  • For Linux installations of Suite, copy the war file to /var/lib/tomcat/webapps. The application should become available at http://[servername]/parcelmap
  • For generic J2EE installations, where Suite is running as a war file itself in a J2EE container, just drop the war file into the J2EE deployment directory, or use an admin tool to upload it.

More Topics

For more practice, try out these enhancements to the basic app!

Layer Opacity

The taxlots layer is added without any transparency applied to it, so it overwhelms the base map. We can fix that by tracking down the ol.layer.Tile layer that uses the wmsSource and changing the opacity of that tile layer:

    new ol.layer.Tile({
      title: layerTitle,
      source: wmsSource,
      opacity: 0.6

Mapping the Suggestions

Seeing the suggestions in a list is nice, but we have a map hanging around, why not show them on the map at the same time?

  • In the addressSource function, find the code that loops through the GeoJSON document returned from the WFS.
  • Before the loop, clear the contents of the highlight vector source.
  • Inside the loop, add each feature to the source.
  • After the loop, zoom the map to the extent of the source.

Respecting Proximity

Right now the search service returns the first 10 results in order of text search ranking quality. But we have a map, shouldn’t we also bias towards matches that are near the center of the map view?

  • You will have to pass the current center of the map to the WFS view the viewparams.
  • You will have to alter the SQL in the GeoServer SQL view layer to include a distance test.
  • Note that the text search ts_rank function returns values between 0 and 1. Depending on how you scale your “distance to center” metric you can make it more or less important relative to the text metric.

De-emphasizing the Map

Criticisms of “map my parcel” apps tend to (rightly) note that they are overly map-centric. People generally know where their parcels are, what they want to know is other information about their parcel. A page layout with a small inset map, but predominated by information like tax valuation, and so on, would be more useful. Learning more about the Bootstrap layout library will help with this.


We’ve built an application that does loose auto-magical completion using a corpus of physical street addresses, using only a handful of extra code on top of our template framework, and demonstrating many important capabilities of OpenGeo Suite.

  • Full-text search provides a very powerful means of sorting through records without having to do field-by-field data entry forms.
  • SQL views allow arbitrary database processes to be exposed as web services. Using JSON as the output format type and JavaScript clients make this a lightweight and high-performance web services gateway.
  • JavaScript and JQuery provide easy infrastructure for rich interactions like autocomplete on the web.

Check out the online demonstration application and play!



Practical walkthroughs of app development examples using OpenGeo Suite.


Course materials given at our various training classes in NYC and conferences around the world.

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