It is said here that EPSG:4326 is not a projection.
In my mind, a projection is a transformation of the surface of the Earth producing a flat image, notably a bitmap.
We know that WGS84 (World Geodesic System '84) is a model to reference the Earth surface. It's an angular coordinate system and not a projection.

When I request an image from a WMS server and I use EPSG:4326, I receive a bitmap image. Hence, in my mind, EPSG:4326 is both a projection and a coordinate system used to locate the image (its dots). The projection is Mercator Equidistant Cylindrical and the coordinates are WSG84.

JOSM is said to be unable to reproject a bitmap, that is, to transform a bitmap image from one projection to another. However, if I choose EPSG:3857 as the projection JOSM uses to display the map "at the screen" (in a window), JOSM is quite able to display 4326 from the server (but not other projections). Hence, the image must be "the same", more exactly "not to be reprojected". This seems incoherent with what you have just answered (4326 and 3857 displaying differently). So what's going on there?

Have I got that right and is EPSG:4326 a projection or not? (in bold on iant's request)
BTW, I read this, seeming to say that an EPSG is both projection and coordinates:
"Les codes EPSG constituent une liste des systèmes de coordonnées géoéréférencées de projection"

1 Answer 1


The term 'projection' is often used as a synonym for the more correct term, coordinate reference system (CRS), which can include geographic and projected coordinate reference systems.

When a geographic CRS is displayed in two dimensions, its angular units are treated as if they are linear--they're just displayed. They are not displayed using a Mercator projection algorithm. The closest projection algorithm is Plate Carrée. Its forward equations are:

x (easting) = R*lambda (if the central meridian is zero)
y (northing) = R*phi


R = radius of the sphere (in your case the semimajor axis of WGS84 would be used)
lambda = longitude in radians
phi = latitude in radians

so you can see that true Plate Carrée coordinates are just scaled compared to displaying latitude-longitude values in degrees.

While the x equation is the same for the spherical Mercator equations, the y equation is different:

y = R ln tan (PI/4 + phi/2)

When you request data from an image-based web service like WMS, usually the layers have been cached (pre-built) in various CRS. The service then publishes which CRS are supported.

Note: Unfortunately, my company (Esri) is guilty of popularizing the usage of 'projection' instead of 'coordinate reference system'. I would just like to state that I started at Esri after that erroneous usage began.

  • You can use this link- isdksilverlight.mapdotnet.com/?init=ProjectionDistortion to toggle between 3857 and Plate Carree. You'll see that they are quite different- the Mercator projection distorts size equally in all directions as you move away from the equator, preserving shape. Naïve projection of lat/lon as if degrees are always of equal distance distorts width but not height, changing shaoes radically. Jul 18, 2013 at 21:10
  • @iant: it is not clear what you don't understand. Please clarify.
    – Papou
    Jul 20, 2013 at 15:09
  • @iant: it is not clear what you don't understand. Please clarify. What I'm asking is (as usual) in the phrase with a question mark (is my explanation correct? is EPSG:4326 a projection?). Obviously, my "problem" is understanding and it appears that mkennedy and Russel understood it very well. What is your problem?
    – Papou
    Jul 20, 2013 at 15:20
  • Thanks Russel but your link requires Silverlight. As I don't want Microsoft to mess my Ubuntu System with automatic installation, I wanted to see the manual installation. Beside buzz, I found "Download Silverlight", clicked and read: Forbidden: You don't have permission to access /moonlight/redirector.html on this server. What did I tell you? Must be a silver moon.
    – Papou
    Jul 20, 2013 at 17:51
  • Thanks for your answers. <del>Mercator</del> what I explained. OK for Plate Carrée, but with an accent ;-) I see. I, like many, think of a projection as sortof the "format" of a (bit)map going from a server to a screen. Coherent with "reprojection" which is transforming such a "format" to another, to overlay different projections. Just like explained by JOSM (if anybody understands). Having mastered 4326, I still don't see very well how 3857 looks like (sorry Russel) and what is the answer to "JOSM..." in my question, I have simplified that paragraph in light of your answer.
    – Papou
    Jul 20, 2013 at 18:26

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