Calculate distance in Google spreadsheet | Winfred van Kuijk

Calculate distance in Google spreadsheet

By • Published: December 3, 2010 • Last updated: November 26, 2014 • Filed in: Software

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This post started as a description of how to use Google’s API for distance calculations (with importXML), and there was a template as a proof of concept.

It has evolved into a distance calculator spreadsheet with custom functions using either Google’s or Mapquest’s API, with the ability to add results to a trip log.

Fill out From and To locations and the spreadsheet will calculate the distance and driving time based on the recommended route. You can copy the result to a trip log. Google account required.

Read the background to learn more about the options and the limitations.
For issues or requests, write a comment or contact me directly.


Is this spreadsheet saving you time/money?
Feel free to make a donation, to me or your favorite charity.

Instructions

Download the spreadsheet from the Google template directory.

November 2014: the spreadsheet has been submitted to Template gallery.
Do you mind rating the template?

Ready to go

The template can be used as-is:

  • Calculate driving/walking/bicycle distance & duration.
  • Add the results to a trip log. Great for preparing a road trip or your mileage report.
  • Quickly lookup an address for an attraction, or find out the latitude/longitude coordinates.
  • Specify a list of destinations and let the spreadsheet calculate the shortest route.
  • Get a list of turn-by-turn driving instructions.
  • When visiting multiple states/countries: see what distance/duration is spent in each.
  • Use either Google or Mapquest as the provider.

To use the template as-is: just open the template and enter the locations / settings.

Customize!

The second way the template can be used: change it to your liking.
All functionality is provided using custom functions. Simple example:

In fact, you could use these functions in your own spreadsheet as well.
In that case: go to Tools > Script Editor… and copy the scripts (miscellaneous, google and mapquest) to your own spreadsheet.
Or the other way around: delete the sheets you don’t need and then copy the sheets from your other spreadsheet to this one.

Permissions

When you use the template for the first time, it will ask for permissions.
This so the script can read + write your spreadsheet.
I have no access to your data. The only data that is transmitted is the data to Google/Mapquest to get the directions etc.

Limitations

Google

Mapquest

  • Google UrlFetch: is used to contact the Mapquest API. UrlFetch has a quota of 20,000 requests per day.
  • too many requests in a short time: when you get a message “Service invoked too many times in a short time: urlfetch” use Tools > Script Editor… to open the script, click on the Mapquest tab, remove the // at the start of line 742 (//Utilities.sleep(500);).
  • custom functions: no usage limits.
  • Mapquest has trouble calculating driving directions for a place in a pedestrian zone (e.g. “disneyland”), and in general the geocoding from Google is more helpful.
  • When you lookup an address, it is best to use one of the supported single-line location formats.

releases

  • 2.1: experimental support for Mapquest, which has no daily limits. Requires free Mapquest developer account and application key.
    Unhide rows 29-57 and enter the Mapquest appkey. It supports the same functions as before, just add …_mq at the end. E.g. =routeDistance_mq(“paris”,”berlin”)
  • 2.2.1: has a new Mapquest function =routeCrossing_mq(). This was requested by a couple of users, display a table with the distance and duration per state/country. See functions tab for details.
  • 2.3: implementation of two user requests:
    1) asTheCrowFlies now uses locations =asTheCrowFlies(from, to, miles), for lat+lon parameters use =asTheCrowFliesLatLon(fromLat, fromLong, toLat, toLong, miles).
    2) you can specify what types to avoid. For Google: tolls, highways. For Mapquest: tolls, highways, seasonal, unpaved, ferries, borders. E.g. -=routeDistance(“berlin”,”paris”,,,”tolls,highways”) or =routeDistance_mq(“berlin, germany”,”paris, france”,,,”tolls,highways,ferries”). Note, the “avoid” parameter is after the “mode” parameter, for some functions this can mean the remaining parameters have shifted.
    note: v2.3 is the last version using the old version of Google Sheets. It will stay available but is no longer maintained. Use v3 or higher instead.
     
  • 3.0: major update:
    • Uses the new Google Sheets. It takes advantage of better formatting, conditional formatting and last but not least: autocomplete for custom functions and built-in help for function parameters.
    • Multi-location support. Either select a range of cells in the spreadsheet (e.g. A2:A6), or enter a destination separated by underscore, pipe or slash (e.g. “berlin/hamburg / hannover”).
    • Support for optimizing routes. Say you visit Paris, Berlin, Zurich and Amsterdam. The spreadsheet will suggest Paris, Zurich, Berlin, Amsterdam as it is 600 kilometers shorter.
    • Extra settings in the dashboard, no need to add them as parameters in the custom functions.
    • Better image support. It shows the waypoints, and the detailed route. The latest Google image API is used.
    • Better and transparent support for both Google and Mapquest. No need anymore for your own Mapquest key, it is built in. No need to switch custom functions (e.g. add _mq to the function name if you want to use Mapquest), just define what provider you want to use in the settings. Location lookup for Mapquest has improved, it now recognizes addresses, lat/lon locations, but also attractions. Easily switch between Google and Mapquest. Both have their pros and cons.

    Note: the custom functions have been changed quite a bit. As a result the parameters have changed since v2.3. See the built-in help for the latest syntax.
If you use Google as the directions provider:
there is a daily limit of 2500 direction requests and 2500 location requests.
If you use Mapquest as the directions provider: no limits. See release info.

The following functions are available in the template. They can be used as custom functions for a variety of distance calculation functions. For example: to calculate the distance, duration (driving/walking/bicycling), lookup an address (or only the zip code).

See the functions tab in the template for details.

function results
locationAddress full address (or only zip code) for searched location
zipAddress zip code for location
locationLatLon string with latitude + longitude combination of searched location
locationMapUrl URL of image showing a single location
routeMapUrl URL of image showing the departure and arrival locations
routeDistance distance between locations in miles or km
routeDuration duration between locations in minutes
routeSummary summary of route(s): which route, distance, duration
routeDirections table with direction steps
asTheCrowFlies as the crow flies (straight line) distance between locations
asTheCrowFliesLatLon as the crow flies (straight line) distance between coordinates
routeCrossing_mq Mapquest only. table with distance and duration per state/country

examples

example result
=routeDistance(“paris”,”berlin”) 1048.172 [km]
=routeDistance(“paris”,”berlin”, “tolls|highways”) 1384.4 [km] – avoiding toll & highways
=routeDistance(“paris”,”berlin / zurich / amsterdam”,,true) visit Paris, Zurich, Berlin and then Amsterdam (=optimized route)
=routeDuration(“paris”,”berlin”)/60 573 [minutes]
=routeDuration(“paris”,”berlin”,,,,”bicycling”)/3600 51 [hours]
=locationAddress(“white house, washington”) The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20500, USA
=locationAddress(“white house, washington”,”fr”) Maison Blanche, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, District de Columbia 20500, États-Unis
=zipAddress(“white house, washington”) 20500
=locationAddress(“38.8976831, -77.0364972″) The White House, President’s Park, Washington, DC 20502, USA
=locationLatLon(“white house, washington”) 38.8976831, -77.0364972
=asTheCrowFlies(“white house, DC”,”times square, NYC”) 332.679816922244 [km]
=asTheCrowFliesLatLon(38.898,-77.036,40.759,-73.985) 332.679816922244 [km]
=routeCrossing_mq(“atlanta, GA”, “memphis, TN”) Georgia 57 miles, Alabama 190, Mississippi 118, Tennessee 16
This page gives details about using importXML, which was the original method of getting directions information. It has since been replaced by custom functions which directly access the API. Therefore, importXML is not really needed anymore. Will keep the instructions online in case you want to learn about importXML.

How to use importXML to get distance data from Google Maps in your spreadsheet?

In short:

  • create a URL that uses the Google Maps Directions API which returns XML output;
  • use the Google spreadsheets function importxml() to parse the XML file, and use an XPath command to extract the info you need.

Note:There is a limit of 50x importXML in a spreadsheet.
It does not always work reliably, you then get #N/A.

Google Maps API for directions

Example URL:

Nice: no API key is needed. See results (unformatted XML output).

Explanation

  • the Google Maps API for directions is well documented
  • in your spreadsheet point the origin=… and destination=… to spreadsheet cells that contain the origin and destination, the importxml() commands will be run every time you change the URL. Nice.
  • sensor=false: don’t use browser location sensor (required).

Some of the optional parameters:

  • units=metric: show km (alternative: imperial)
  • region=nl: country that should be used as default for origin or destination
  • language=nl: language to use for the results
  • alternatives=false: do not show alternative routes, only show the recommended one

The resulting XML file contains 1 route (or if you ask for alternatives: 1 or more), and for each route 1 leg (I am not using via waypoints), and each leg consists of steps (turn left at …, etc.).

Example parse commands

Assumed: the URL is created in cell B20. Please note: you can have a maximum of 50 importxml commands in a spreadsheet.

The base command to use to get e.g. the distance (depending on your units used: in feet or meters):

The first argument is the URL, the second argument is the XPath command.

Show the start and finish (e.g. when using “brentwood” as origin, it will show: “Brentwood, TN, USA”)

The XPath predicate [1] and [last()] are used in case the route has multiple legs (in our examples they don’t)
Alternatively you could use the spreadsheet index() function:

Show the label of the preferred route (e.g. “A28 and A73″):

Calculate the distance of the preferred route:

The result of this field is always in meters, so we divide the result by 1000 to get kilometers, and we round it up.

And calculate the duration (the result is in seconds, so divide the result by 60 to get the minutes):

You can also ask for alternatives, assuming &alternatives=true is added to the URL (stored in B21), the same function that showed 1 route summary, now shows a list.
The spreadsheet automatically sees it is an array of results that need to be displayed.

Let’s calculate the average distance of the routes:

Average works fine with an array.
The spreadsheet will get confused if you try to perform a calculation on an array, but that is easy to fix using arrayformula().

The XML contains latitude + longitude information, each step of the route has a lat+long pair.
The lat/long of the start location can be found in the the first step of the route list.


The lat/long of the destination can be found in the last step of the route list, there’s an XPath predicate for that: [last()].

168 Responses to “Calculate distance in Google spreadsheet”

  1. Lucian says:

    I duplicated your form three times. One for point A to B. Than from home to point A and from point B to home.

    I deleted all the pages except the one with maps on it. I created an online form to populate the addresses.

    While playing with the form I got an error saying “daily limitservice invoked too many times line 483″.

    Since I only use the first optimized route and I don’t need the GPS coordinates are there any lines of code I should delete to minimize the hitting google to many times?

    I think every time I move between the sheets it refreshes (hitting google for directions).

    I only used sheet for less than addresses. I modified them and saved a couple of versions and than came back to view them. I think Google doesn’t like me doing that to much.

    Any suggestions?

    Thank you for the incredible work.

    • winfred says:

      In general (based on v3 of the spreadsheet): if you leave the yellow from/to fields empty then there is no calculation performed.
      And, I am not 100% sure but I believe recalculation is only done if from/to fields are modified.
      Most of the functions only use a single call to get the directions.
      Also, feel free to use Mapquest instead of Google. No quota there.

      For your specific case, you can create a custom sheet for your needs, e.g.:
      A1: home
      A2: A
      A3: B
      A4: =routeDistance(A2,A3) [from A to B]
      A5: =routeDistance(A1,A2) [from home to A]
      A6: =routeDistance(A3,A1) [from B to home]

      • Lucian says:

        Is it possible that we are all using your google key?
        This may explain why the search limit error? I used it less than 10 times a day while testing it.

        I added my own mapquest key. How do I see the mapquest.
        Can you point out where can I switch from google to mapquest ?

        Thank you.
        Lucian

  2. Patrick says:

    I’ve been using this sheet for some time now, today I hope to get the mapquest side working to get past the daily limit. Thanks for putting this together Winfred.

    Lucian when you use the API calls for Google sheets it is directly related to your gmail account so you can’t be using his key.

    ~PSH

    • winfred says:

      Are you running into Mapquest issues? It should be sufficient to set the provider field in the settings on the main tab. And then change the from/to to force recalculation.

  3. Patrick says:

    I’m getting some mixed results. It seems to be very picky with addresses, apt & apartment throws an error. I’m doing some extensive research, would you like me to share my results document with you?

    ~P

  4. Patrick says:

    Winfred I jumped the gun on my testing, either the public key 20K limit gets used up quick or my connection was shoddy to Mapquest yesterday. Today using my key the calls are quick and accurate. The only issues I have seen have to do with address formatting and some GPS coordinates. Here is a short list.

    Address formatting
    -issues with “Apartment” or any form of the word, APT, Suite etc..
    -Issues with some GPS coordinates, some GPS coords I pulled with the Google call will kick back an error when routeDistance is used between 2 GPS location coords using mq. If I adjust the GPS coords slightly by a 1/10th of a mile or so mq is fine with it.

    More testing and data to come

    ~P

  5. Eric says:

    I am getting the following error:

    Error: Exception: Service invoked too many times in a short time: urlfetch. Try Utilities.sleep(1000) between calls. (line 744).

    I see the Mapquest file using the script editor, but I don’t know the first thing about how to implement what it is telling me. Could you please provide some additional information.

    I switched from Google to Mapquest, due to the daily limit, which I have no idea how I was reaching in the first place on Google. I don’t like MQ and it certainly seems to be a little more picky and has trouble finding addresses.

    Also, it seems like they both indescriminately want to recalculate and when they do, mileage and time calculations that were there are no longer there. Do you know what is causing this?

    Your script should certainly provide me with exactly what I am looking for…with just a little tweak. Thanks for putting this together!

    • winfred says:

      Hi Eric, thanks! Agreed, Mapquest is more picky. For the limits: if you run into an urlfetch error then it appears you have many addresses that you deal with. Is that indeed the case? If so then it also explains why you run into the daily Google limit. For the urlfetch error: indeed open the script editor and locate the Mapquest file. For v3.0 of the spreadsheet, go to line 742 (//Utilities.sleep(500);) and remove the // and then File > Save.

  6. winfred says:

    Good news: Google Drive templates now supports new Google Sheets. v3 of the spreadsheet has been published as a template, which makes it easier to download.
    Can you do me a favor? If you like the spreadsheet, click the Download button on this page and rate the template. Thanks!

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