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How to get a someone's location using the Geolocation API

September 25, 2021

Knowing a user’s location can be a very important feature of a web app. You can use the location information to personalise the user experience, give users directions, suggest friends or events in a person’s locality, or to power a particular feature.

Whenever you want to build web pages that are location-aware, JavaScript’s Geolocation API is great tool. If the user permits (the user give the browser permission to access their location), you can pinpoint their city, or even more precisely, the street they live in.

Don’t confuse the Geolocation API with Google Maps. They are different in many ways. Google Maps API is a library that provides access to Google Maps features like displaying location in a map, or giving directions. Whereas, the Geolocation API’s primary purpose is to give information about a person’s position on Earth.

How the Geolocation API works

To get a person’s location, the Geolocation API relies on latitudes and longitudes making a coordinate system. Latitudes and longitudes are imaginary lines (you’ll see them drawn on globes) that cover the earth and help with positioning. Latitudes indicate northern/southern points on the Earth, and longitude eastern/western. Every place on Earth has a longitude/latitude value corresponding to its position on planet Earth. For example, New York City is somewhere around latitude 40 and longitude -70.

Not only smartphones are location-aware. Nowadays, almost every eleectronic device can be made location-aware, even a desktop computer. You may be wondering how a browser running on a desktop computer can determine its location when it doesn’t have a GPS. Browsers have other ways of finding location without the use of location technologies like GPS.

  • GPS (Global Positioning System): Mainly used by modern mobile devices, it can provide high-accuracy location information. It uses satellites and can also provide information on altitude and wind speed.
  • IP Address: Every device on the internet has an IP Address. This IP can be mapped to an external database to derive a person’s physical location. This method can work anywhere, but is is not very accurate.
  • Cell phone triangulation: This approach uses your distance from cell phone towers to calculate your location. It is pretty accurate, and has the advantage of working indoors, unlike GPS.
  • WiFi: Wi-Fi positioning is based on using access points to triangulate location. It is accurate, fast and can work indoors.

When building basic geolocation web apps, you don’t have to concern yourself with all these various geolocation tactics. Different browsers handle it in their own way.

Let’s begin using the Geolocation API. We’ll try to find out where you are (or at least, where your browser thinks you are).

Save the following starter HTML code in a file.

<!doctype html>
<meta charset="utf-8">
<title>My Location</title>
<script src="location.js"></script>
<link rel="stylesheet" href="myLoc.css">
<div id="location">

Go ahead a create location.js file, inside of which we will write the actual Geolocation code:

/* Call the function after the page is done loading. */
window.onload = myLocation;
function myLocation() {
/* Check if the browser supports the Geolocation API. If it does, then
the geolocation property exists, and the condition evaluates to true. The
navigator.geolocation property is an object that contains the whole geolocation API */
if (navigator.geolocation){
/* Call the getCurrentPosition method and pass it a function, showLocation, which
we shall soon implement. An API is basically an object with properties and methods.
The Geolocation API has the getCurrentPosition method, which handles the job of getting
the browser's location.*/
else {
// If there's no geolocation support, show an alert
alert("Sorry, your browser does not support geolocation.");
/* This function is passed a position, containing latitude and longitude values */
function showLocation(position){
/* Get the latitude and longitude from the position.coords object */
const latitude = position.coords.latitude;
const.longitude = position.coords.longitude;
// Show the location on the page
document.getElementById("location").innerHTML =
"You are at Latitude: " + latitude + ", Longitude: " + longitude;

When you run this code (or any other code using the Geolocation API) for the first time, the browser requests to access your permission. This security check is for privacy reasons, preventing a malicious app from accessing your location without the user’s permission.

That’s it. We’re done with getting the user’s location.

A bit more about the getCurrentPostion() method

Although not shown in the previous code, the getCurrentPostion method can take three parameters. The last two parameters are optional:

getCurrentPosition(successHandler, errorHandler, options);
  • The successHandler function is called if the browser successfully gets your location.
  • errorHandler isIt accepts parameters enableHighAccuracy, timeout (the maximum time the browser can take to determine its location), maximumAge (the oldest age a location value can reach, after which, the browser needs always recalculate the location whenever getCurrentPostion is called. called if the browser can’t determine your location.
  • The options parameter is used for controlling how the geolocation computes its value.

In the previous example, we called the geolocation object’s getCurrentPosition method with an a success handler (showLocation) function. When our success handler, showLocation, is called, it is passed a position object containing a coordinates object holding the longitude and latitude, as well as other information about the browser’s location. The position object has a coords property, which can be used to reference the latitudes and longitudes.

It works like this:

  1. First, the browser call getCurrentPostion, which triggers the geolocation API to ask the user for permission to access location.
  2. If the user accepts, geolocation attempts to get the browser’s location (via means such as GPS, triangulation, etc discussed earlier), and if successful, it calls the success handler (showLocation, in the example), and passes it an object with the coordinates.