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There are many editors for OpenStreetMap. I see many people talking about JOSM and Potlatch. Which one should I use?

asked 06 Jun '11, 16:38

Richard%20Weait's gravatar image

Richard Weait
accept rate: 17%


The significant differences between the two editors are:

  • JOSM is largely "modal": Potlatch is largely "modeless". In JOSM, you select a different tool for each operation, whereas in Potlatch you'll use different mouse actions.
  • JOSM works offline; Potlatch works online. This means that JOSM can access files on your local hard disc, enabling features such as photo mapping and audio mapping. But on the other hand, Potlatch can be fired up on almost any computer without the need for installation.
  • JOSM shows complexity; Potlatch hides it. In JOSM you'll see numerous panels, dialogues, and lists to show you exactly what's happening to the underlying OSM data. By and large Potlatch doesn't do this, and instead aims to represent the data through rendering and GUI elements. Some people like seeing what's going on under the hood, others find it confusing.

Besides this, the two editors each have their own distinct feature sets. There are always things that you can do in one editor but not the other. For example, even though JOSM has a vast array of menus and plugins to do many, many things, it's only very recently that it's gained the flexible rendering and the handy "parallelise" function that Potlatch 2 users have always enjoyed. JOSM has always supported WMS background imagery (which Potlatch still doesn't), but Potlatch supported tiled imagery much earlier.

You'll never go wrong by trying both and seeing what you prefer - several people use both tools in different circumstances. However, as a very rough rule of thumb (and a vast over-generalisation), I'd say that JOSM is geekier than Potlatch. If you're a hardcore Linux command line user you should probably go straight to JOSM. If you're a Mac user you'll probably like Potlatch. :)

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answered 07 Jun '11, 11:09

Richard's gravatar image

Richard ♦
accept rate: 18%

It should be pointed out that JOSM is really the only option if you wan to edit the map while off-line.

(16 Nov '12, 08:53) sleske

Yes, that's the second bullet point. :)

(16 Nov '12, 11:59) Richard ♦

The difference between the two "big" editors - JOSM and Potlatch 2 - isn't as large as it used to be:

  • both now use explicit "uploads", rather than live edits like Potlatch 1
  • both support aerial imagery out of the box
  • both offer templates (aka "presets") for common map features
  • both let you configure how the map data looks
  • and both can, of course, add any tags and relations

However, JOSM offers several unique advanced features that are afaik unparalleled in Potlatch 2. This includes:

  • support for more mapping styles: audio mapping, photo mapping
  • some additional geometry tools
  • a powerful search function for complex selections and edits
  • the ability to easily install plugins, and configure various aspects of the editor in detail
  • reading local map data or GPS tracks
  • saving map data without publishing it (yet) - e.g. as a safeguard against crashes, or to create fake data for testing a program

Potlatch 2 can be useful if you need to perform a quick edit on a computer where no JOSM installation is present. JOSM can be used without installation using the "Web Start" feature on, but Flash is more likely installed on foreign computers than Java, and Potlatch 2 is clearly optimized for online use.

If you are looking for the editor that offers most functionality, I clearly recommend JOSM. Look into Potlatch 2 if you value a more gentle learning curve or want the easy online access. And don't stop learning once you know how to use your first editor.

Btw, while JOSM and Potlatch (2) are the most popular choices, you might want to see what else the OSM developer community has to offer. Have a look at the wiki's Comparison of editors for some pros/cons of the available editing tools.

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answered 06 Jun '11, 21:37

Tordanik's gravatar image

accept rate: 35%

edited 06 Jun '11, 21:44


both use explicit uploads, but only JOSM uses explicit downloads from the database. This can be seen either as an advantage for JOSM (you decide when to download and know when it is finished, editing is blocked during download) or as an advantage for potlatch (you don't have to care for downloading while moving the map, it will always do it automatically), but if you're on a week internet connection you will prefer JOSM.

(07 Jun '11, 23:25) dieterdreist

You should probably use both of them eventually, but not right away. There will be a learning curve associated with learning any OpenStreetMap editing software. That is unavoidable. What you can do is avoid facing two learning curves at the same time. If you have somebody to coach you with OpenStreetMap, follow along with their suggestions and editor of preference. Learn the basics of that editor, and the basics of OpenStreetMap as a whole. Then branch out and learn another editor as well.

There are a few things that one editor can do that the other cannot do. For example, if you want to do photo-mapping, you can't use Potlatch. For some mapping actions you may find that you prefer one editor over another. For other mapping actions you will be indifferent.

Knowing how to use both Potlatch and JOSM is like having two different screwdrivers in your tool kit. You might have your choice, or you might have to use the Right One for the Particular Task.

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answered 06 Jun '11, 16:38

Richard%20Weait's gravatar image

Richard Weait
accept rate: 17%


Don't forget there's also Merkaartor, which offers yet another variation on OSM editing that's worth trying.

(06 Jun '11, 16:40) Jonathan Ben...

JOSM. It's faster as it's run locally. You select an area you want to work on, download the data, work in freedom and then upload your changeset.

You have far more flexibility with what you can do.

Potlatch is useful for the odd edit when you're not near your own computer, and that's about it.

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answered 06 Jun '11, 17:37

Dash's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%


That second part is key -

If you travel a lot for work like I do, and have internet access on a work laptop which you're allowed to use for personal use in your own time, but not to install software on potlatch is ideal, and very accessible.

(06 Jun '11, 18:58) c2r

If you were a beginner I would say use potlach2, It is easy to start and no installing is If you have seen something missing, read the documentation,from the link on the map page,and come and join us.

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answered 07 Jun '11, 17:23

andy%20mackey's gravatar image

andy mackey
accept rate: 4%

After trying Potlatch, I can do some usefull thing yes. Easy. But some simple task as shifting a road without shifting 'everything' connected to it is impossible. Also it speaks english. Very annoying to map your POI. Is "Ecole maternelle" same as kindergarten.....

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answered 07 Jun '11, 19:51

Franck78's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

Whether "Ecole maternelle" is the same as kindergarten or the same as primary school does not depend on the OSM editor but on the user of the editor ;-) .

(09 Jun '11, 17:48) ALE

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question asked: 06 Jun '11, 16:38

question was seen: 13,731 times

last updated: 16 Nov '12, 11:59

NOTICE: is no longer in use from 1st March 2024. Please use the OpenStreetMap Community Forum