Struggling to switch to JOSM

Howdy! As many of us know, iD is the “basic” editor that most people start out on, as did I. But wait, two years and a million map changes later I’m still using it! I consider myself an experienced mapper, and JOSM of course has many advanced features. So I’ve tried to switch to JOSM a few times but find it so clunky to use. For me, It’s harder to make small edits, editing tags requires more clicking, and many other minor issues.

So what’s your opinion? (Select multiple if necessary!)

  • JOSM has no problems and is superior for experienced mappers, you just need practice
  • JOSM is great once you get it “set up” correctly (defaults, presets, plugins, view options)
  • JOSM has some usability issues but they’re worth working around
  • JOSM has major issues, only worth using when necessary
  • Stop worrying about this, just use the editor you like
0 voters

Follow-up details:

Nice things I like about JOSM
  • Advanced search to select features
  • Download things based on Overpass query
  • Native(ish) desktop-class software which respects the user (Not that iD doesn’t)
  • No arbitrary limits on feature modification size like iD
  • Download GPS traces directly
  • Import external data
  • Big plugin library
Things I dislike
  • Search syntax is (IMO) poorly documented and not very intuitive
  • Selection is brittle (I can clear my carefully selected items with an errant click)
  • I apparently have to have tags memorized for every feature I care about
  • Very difficult to tell what tags a feature has without selecting it and inspecting tags
  • You would think relation editing would be way nicer than iD but it seems worse somehow???

Edit: I’m grateful to JOSM maintainers for all their work on the software! This is just my experience, I’m sure it works great for others. Hoping to get over the initial learning curve to get to the juicy power-user abilities.

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For advanced mapping, JOSM is necessary. iD remains a useful tool for smaller / less complicated tasks.
iD is a web tool, that is its main advantage. JOSM has some problems, but there is a very active maintenance crew and it is pretty open to self-programmed improvements.


For the things you dislike:

  • Search syntax is documented if you hover over the hints. Maybe we could do better, but I don’t know how.
  • Selection is brittle → utilsplugin2 adds the ability to “undo” a selection (SelectionUndo selection)
  • You don’t need to have tags memorized. Although I find it faster than PresetsSearch preset... (shortcut F3).
  • Have you looked at the paintstyles (JOSM Preferences → Map Paint Styles)?
  • No clue what you don’t like about relation editing in JOSM. Maybe the dialog?

Sorry, I don’t mean to complain. I really appreciate all the maintainers putting hard, often thankless work into JOSM (and iD and other editors)! I’ll give your suggestions a try! It’s clear that JOSM is widely-adored generally so I’m hoping my struggles are just initial learning curve that I’ve yet to get over.

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The more I read over my post the more I’m starting to regret it. It’s really a complainer huh. I know entitled users can be a big problem with FOSS projects and I always try not to be one. I hope you’ll forgive me for my inappropriate tone and generally negative attitude in this post’s premise, @vorpalblade-kaart and other JOSM maintainers :sob:


I don’t mind negative criticism/complaining so long as it is useful. Don’t just say “JOSM sucks.” Say “JOSM sucks because this specific action takes 30 minutes.” You gave specific things that you disliked. Yes, there are solutions for most of them, but they often require you to already know the solution.

Anyway, the problem to “fix” most of the papercuts you mentioned is maintainer time. We have 2-3 core maintainers working on JOSM in any one month, and I’m the only one that works on it “full-time” (minus time spent working on the HOT Tasking Manager, which can be a pretty significant drag). I usually work on bigger features that will have a large impact.

We also have some drive-by contributors (which I need to do a better job of merging patches from them).

We all have different priorities, and some things have higher priorities than others. So “this one weird situation could be done better by massive amount of work” probably will be ignored/put off.


It’s more like a fair assessment of different tools, with pros and cons on both sides, and a fairly large amount of OSM-tasks where both serve fine.

As for presets, in JOSM many presets have been built into the selection panel, eg if you select a water object you can click the preset link above the selection, and things like intermittent or the kind of water body can be checked or picked from a list.

I agree that the learning curve for JOSM is steeper than iD, but once you get to want more, iD also needs some digging into.

Working with relations has been vastly improved in iD, but when it comes to e.g. international route relations with variants, divisions, sections using other complicated hierarchical route relations as members, there is no way you can manage that with iD. JOSM has better tools for that, although a tool like Knooppuntnet Monitor shows how route relation management can be improved further.


I would say that different editors are better for different things.

Investigating why multipolygon is invalid and missing from map? JOSM (its validator is great!)

Editing single tag on one object? iD

Editing standard things while walking? StreetComplete

Editing more advanced things while walking? Vespucci

Editing more advanced things with Apple device? Go Map!!

and so on


I voted ‘stop worrying’, sort of what Mateusz lays out

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I second what was already told here. Thankfully there are different tools for different problems. This is what I do:

Regular easy/medium mapping: iD
Addition of AI roads: RapiD
Advanced stuff/imports: JOSM (the only one that can do that)
Massive easy replacement: Level0 (just started using it)
Editing while on the street: EveryDoor
Editing while traveling, very quick stuff: Organic Maps

And there is StreetComplete that I don’t use because I use iOS, and I don’t use GoMap because I don’t like advanced editing while walking. There are other non-editor stuff I use, such as MapRoulette and Tasking Manager.

So, for your question, already answered, is: chill out! Use whatever works best for your needs!

Thanks for starting this topic and attempting to center it around constructive feedback. It’s so easy but ultimately unnecessary to divide the OSM community into rival camps based on preferred workflows. I hope it’s clear by now that, even though iD and JOSM are optimized for a certain level of expertise, one isn’t necessarily a “good” or “bad” mapper for using one or another. Editors are just tools; try them all out and use the one that suits your tastes and that you can become the most effective with.

Personally, after over 15 years of mapping, I’ve still found iD or Rapid adequate for virtually all of my needs, but that’s partly because of what I like to map and how: I’m a generalist who often spends an afternoon roaming around a neighborhood, mapping such an assortment of features that I’d never be able to keep the raw tags straight in my head. On the other hand, a mapper who specializes in mapping something inherently complex in OSM, such as route relations, might find it better to learn a very specific workflow in JOSM and hope it never changes.

Lately, as I’ve been working on large-scale boundary edits in OpenHistoricalMap, I’ve resorted to increasingly elaborate workarounds in iD and ultimately had to migrate to JOSM almost full-time. As a software developer, I certainly am capable of learning how to use JOSM, but this doesn’t keep me from feeling like a fish out of water.

Some of the iD limitations you cited aren’t inherent to a Web application, but they aren’t arbitrary limitations either. For example, it probably would be feasible for an iD “expert mode” to support manipulating a selected feature at any zoom level, if not for the fact that iD automatically loads a full copy of everything in the viewport. If it could support sparse downloads (e.g., based on Overpass API queries or just element IDs on demand), then suddenly there isn’t as much of an issue with editing while zoomed out.

Of course, there are plenty of other considerations besides performance. You can imagine what would happen if iD were to make it easy to delete all the members of an international boundary relation at once. Novices and experts can both benefit from a degree of safety. Maybe my stubborn use of iD keeps me from getting in over my head with large mechanical edits or imports of datasets I didn’t fully understand, or accidentally offsetting an entire city by a quarter mile, as I once witnessed at a mapathon. (I did have to bust out JOSM in order to revert that!)

JOSM’s trust-the-user approach bombards you with alerts. These are often very good warnings to heed, but other times it’s just noise. The alert about dragging nodes too far can get annoying, but it has also saved me from accidentally moving the whole boundary instead of just a node – one of the knock-on consequences of binding right-click-drag to panning the map.

To respond to one of these alerts, you have to know what you’re doing, but that requires learning from mistakes, since our documentation is imperfect and incomplete. As much as we like to rag on iD for scrambling relations, I just as often see JOSM users – including paid professional mappers – break multiple relations at once by splitting a way after a sparse Overpass download. If someone has scolded you for this mistake before, you’ll know to download the surrounding area before splitting and heed the validator warning about modifying an incomplete relation. And if you don’t, some would consider it your fault for misusing the editor. Paradoxically, an editor that tries to be safer cannot escape the finger-pointing.

Design philosophy aside, neither editor is perfect. Both have feature areas that are undeveloped, to put it kindly. I probably could come up with a more specific list of paper cuts, as well as a list of things I really like about JOSM (selection history!), but I think the differing approaches to safety largely account for the different “vibes” I get using both editors. Anyways, as far as I’m concerned, literally no editor can ever beat Potlatch 1: its visual undelete mode was based on OSM API functionality that has since been removed.


I don’t think you are quite getting the use case correct there … it is more editing while sitting down in a restaurant, or editing for people that do not have access to a desktop computer etc.

And then, what is this “advanced editing” thing supposed to be?

But back to the actual topic, JOSM has a wide range of functions and is necessarily going to be somewhat more involved than programs with less, but compared to your typical “pro” GIS tool (aka Arcgis and QGis) that hurdle is not a particularly large one to get over.

That said, I find iD quite complex and given some of its quirks not particularly easy to use, but that is likely more because I very rarely use it so just lack of practice which is the most probably cause of friction regardless of which app we are talking about.


JOSM, to me, and I’m an old guy who used to work at Apple and Adobe, is awesome evidence that humanity has a future. It’s that good. Its heart and spirit and flexibility make it the powerful force of nature it is. If you fly with JOSM airlines, howdy in these skies. If you fly with iD, g’day.


That’s exactly the point. I’m not saying the app is bad, I’m saying that, for my workflow, on the streets, I prefer EveryDoor.

For simple stuff (eg: addition/edition of PoIs, quick update of tags, micro mapping), EveryDoor is better for me; for a little more advanced stuff (eg.: creation of ways), I prefer to do it at home in a desktop.

I do see the case for someone using an iPad, or as you said, who don’t have access to a desktop, but neither are my case. And that’s totally fine, the app is still good but it’s not for me.

The(se) friendly skies are full of all sorts of aircraft and pilots (software and mappers).

I’m “only” Hang 1, working on Hang 2, as I’ve flown some paragliders (in real life).

And, I map with JOSM, iD, others (in virtual, OSM life). It’s kinda the same.

Actually gomap doesn’t support advanced editing, particularly relation editing is not its strength, but it is quite powerful for basic editing, and for advanced editing I would want a desktop anyway.

It definitively took a while for me to adopt to JOSM but it become necessary once I realised just how important JOSM is for route mapping (particularly public_transport:version=2 ones where order matters). I myself still use iD from time to time, especially if it’s about smaller changes.
In fact, I primarily use JSOM for four things:

  • Large scale changes (JOSM tends to lag less)
  • Automated edits (thanks to being able to select multiple elements by a search function)
  • Relation editing (basically, iD’s just plain suck*)
  • Overpass integration (iD loads all elements on the screen, JOSM only what it is told to download)
  • You can’t keep a relation open in a separate window
  • If you want to add elements to a relation, you have to use a drop down menu on the elements you want to add (and this may not always show the desired relations even after filtering)
  • Added elements are automatically put at the end of a relation
  • Sorting is drag-and-drop and one-by-one which makes it very tedious
  • You can’t duplicate relations

There also is the fact that JSOM is much less handholding than iD (such as when combining two ways or when unjoining two ways which are part of a route) which is another reason why I’ve been using it for routes (or ways tied to routes).
Some other useful features is to selecting overlapping elements (iD can only select the uppermost element and so you have to filter them out, JSOM can also load elements below if you hold Alt), the ability to select objects of a certain layer which makes it superior to layered editing and being able to put selected nodes on a line (which only works partially on iD) which is part of the reason why it’s an “advanced” tool despite the difficulty to use.

One thing what I do wish for JOSM is to edit properties as text and not tabularly. This is one feature I really miss in JOSM and makes copy-pasting easier.
Some of iD’s other features which is superior to iD include creating circle (JOSM will merely rearrange nodes into a regular polygon when iD will create new ones when necessary).
Another interesting bad UI/UX feature in JOSM is just how difficult it is for me to add a node because I have to use the line tool for that and I can’t double-click on a way if I want (on the upside, I can easily add a node which at the cross of two ways without changing the geometry).

The punchline is that unless you change routes or plan on making large scale changes, it’s fine to use iD.

Yes, I think this is key. I use Potlatch exclusively because it works simply and efficiently for the sort of mapping I want to do. If I were mapping a bazillion houses or bus route relations I might think differently.

Use the right tool for the job! iD is good for micromapping, mobile editors are good for POI editing, JOSM is good for large-scale edits that require plugins like Fastdraw or BuildingTools. Every editor has their strengths and weaknesses.