Address validation is the process of checking a mailing address against an authoritative database to see if the address is valid. (This process is also know as address verification). If the address in question matches an address in the official database, the address "validates", meaning it's a real address. Addresses that do not match any addresses in the database are marked as "invalid", meaning the address either doesn't exist or isn't registered with the official postal service.
In the United States, the authoritative database for address lookups is the USPS. Most countries around the world have their own respective databases against which addresses can be validated. Though address formats vary from nation to nation, the basic process is generally the same: Check to see if the address is on file. If it is, the address is valid. If it is not, the address is invalid.
Address validation can be a little more complicated than what we described in the first paragraph of this article. Before an address can be validated, there's a lot that has to be done to prepare it for the validation process. And, there are some reasons why a real address might not validate. To understand the details of the validation process, it's best to start at the beginning.
Before an address can be validated, it often has to go through some cleanup first, which usually involves parsing and standardization.
Address Parsing is the process of breaking down an address into its consitituent parts such as city, state, and ZIP code. Different versions of parsing have different levels of accuracy—and different levels of functionality.
Address Standardization is the process of formatting a mailing address so that it matches the standard address format specified by the governing postal authority. Once an address has been properly parsed, it can be standardized. In the United States, CASS-certified providers standardize an address by formatting it to USPS standards, filling in missing data, and checking for spelling errors—so that the address will look like the ones that are in the USPS address database. The standardizing process can include correcting misspelled words, filling in gaps in the data (such as missing ZIP Codes, street suffixes, and so on) and abbreviating notiations to match the official database formats. For example, in the US, "Street" becomes "St.", "Avenue" becomes "Ave.", and so on. States or provinces also receive proper abbreviations.
Once the address is properly formatted, it's validated by looking for its twin in the official address database. If there's a match, the address is valid. If not, it's invalid.
Just because an address didn't validate, however, doesn't mean the address is not real. There are multiple reasons an address might come up as invalid. Here are a few:
Address validation providers often complement their validation services with additional data and features. These can range from providing the census information and climate statistics of the area the addresses come from, to providing the geocode coordinates of the address. Here at SmartyStreets, for example, we focus primarily on address validation and geocodes, both US and international. Then we supplement that focus with features designed to make our system easier to use.
For example, we offer batch processing in two formats for anyone eager to process large quantities all at once. Our service is also fast enough to make you question your own sanity. We support API integration, and a host of web plug-ins. We also offer ZIP+4 accuracy, ZIP Code classification, time zone information, and much more data about the address.
You may have stumbled into this article simply curious about the topic. But odds are, you came searching with a purpose. If you need address validation, go ahead and try it right now for free. If you need more help, we'd be happy to help, that is, we're just so helpful that we can't help it. Go ahead and call us (it's nice to do business with a human being every now and again, isn't it?), or chat with us if you're suffering from laryngitis. Or if you're feeling proactive, you can take care of things yourself with a free account at the signup page if you need to get started at ludicrous speed.