Abstract: Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP)/Operational Linescan System (OLS) night-time imagery provides a valuable data source for mapping urban areas. However, the spatial extents of large cities are often over-estimated because of the effect of over-glow from night-time light if a fixed thresholding technique is used. In the work reported here, an inside buffer method was developed to solve this issue. The method is based on the fact that the area over-estimated is proportional to the extent of the lit area if a fixed threshold is used to extract urban areas in a region/county. Using this method, the extents of urban areas in North China were extracted and validated by interpretations from Landsat Thematic Mapper images. The results showed that the lit areas had a significant linear relationship with the urban areas for 120 representative cities in North China in 2000, with an R2 value of over 0.95. This demonstrates that the inside buffer method can be used to extract urban areas. The validation results showed that the inside buffer model developed in 2000 can be directly used to extract the extent of urban areas using more recent night-time light imagery. This is of great value for the timely updating of urban area databases in large regions or countries.