User location

Monitor the user's location

The Geolocation API lets you watch where the user is and keep tabs on them as they move around, always with the user's consent.

The API is device-agnostic; it doesn’t care how the browser determines location, so long as clients can request and receive location data in a standard way. The underlying mechanism might be via GPS, wifi. Since any of these lookups is going to take some time, the API is asynchronous; you pass it a callback method whenever you request a location.


  • Check for Compatibility before you use the API
  • Minimize the use of watching the user's location to save battery
  • Always handle errors

When to use Geolocation to watch the user’s location

  • You want to obtain a more precise lock on the user location
  • Your application needs to update the user interface based on new location information
  • You applications needs to update business logic when the user enters a certain defined zone

Watching the users location

The Geolocation API allows you to obtain the user’s location (with user consent) with a single call to getCurrentPosition().

If you want to continually monitor the location of the user, the geolocation API has a method called watchPosition(). It operates in a similar way to getCurrentPosition() yet it will fire multiple times as the positioning software:

  1. Gets a more accurate lock on the user
  2. The user’s position changes.
var watchId = navigator.geolocation.watchPosition(function(position) {
  document.getElementById('currentLat').innerHTML = position.coords.latitude;
  document.getElementById('currentLon').innerHTML = position.coords.longitude;

Always clear up and conserve battery

Watching for changes to a geolocation is not a free operation. Whilst operating systems might be introducing platform features to let applications hook in to the geo subsystem, you as a web developer have no idea what support the user’s device has for monitoring the user’s location and whilst you are watching a position you are engaging the device in a lot of extra processing

Once you have no need to track the user’s position call clearWatch to turn of the geolocation systems.

Always Handle Errors

Unfortunately, not all location lookups are successful. Perhaps a GPS could not be located or the user has suddenly disabled location lookups. A second, optional, argument to getCurrentPosition() will be called in the event of an error, so you can notify the user inside the callback:

window.onload = function() {
  var startPos;
  var geoSuccess = function(position) {
    startPos = position;
    document.getElementById('startLat').innerHTML = startPos.coords.latitude;
    document.getElementById('startLon').innerHTML = startPos.coords.longitude;
  var geoError = function(position) {
    console.log('Error occurred. Error code: ' + error.code);
    // error.code can be:
    //   0: unknown error
    //   1: permission denied
    //   2: position unavailable (error response from location provider)
    //   3: timed out
  navigator.geolocation.watchPosition(geoSuccess, geoError);

Updated on 2014-01-06


Paul Kinlan

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