[Proj] Transformation pipelines - your opinion?

Thomas Knudsen knudsen.thomas at gmail.com
Fri Oct 21 07:55:28 EST 2016

Nicolas, I understand, and respect, your opinion, but i disagree for a
number of reasons. Let me start with the simplest, and the one I think will
probably also be the most convincing counterargument for your major concern
(“...people who are only interrested in cartographic transformation
functions of proj4 will have to pay for something they don't want...”):

If you take an architectural look at the proj.4 library, it consists of
(currently) 146 different projections, each adding in the range of 2-10
kilobytes to the library footprint.

The pipeline functionality is typical in that respect: it is organized as a
(small) number of additional projections (yes really: the pipeline driver
itself is, architectually speaking, just another projection). And, as you
can see in the (edited) compilation result below, the current weight of the
pipeline package is only approximately twice the weight of the probably
most used projection (the Engsager extended transverse mercator, etmerc):

$ gcc -I. -W -Wall -Wextra -pedantic -O2 -c PJ_pipeline.c PJ_horner.c
PJ_cart.c PJ_helmert.c proj_etmerc.c
$ dir *.o

 2.655 horner.o
 3.576 PJ_cart.o
 6.465 PJ_helmert.o
 8.382 PJ_pipeline.o
10.733 proj_etmerc.o

Let us assume that the final pipeline functionality may end up weighing 3
times that, it is still only 6 times the weight of etmerc, and all in all
less than 10% of the total weight of the library on my test platform (gcc
under Windows 7).

For these, say, 60 kB, you buy an infrastructure for implementing a large
number of transformations through use of external parameter files, rather
than by letting them add to the direct weight of the library, by
implementing them as hard coded projections.

My colleague Kristian Evers and I are in the process of adding proj.4
support for a number of Danish, Faroese and Greenlandic systems, each of
which (due to a very large number of parameters) will weigh a substantial
fraction of 60 kB if not implemented using pipelines and external parameter

Hence, I believe that even if you have no use for the pipeline
functionality, it will cost you only a modest amount of additional weight -
much less weight than the addition of, say, 10 extra hard coded projections

Now, add to this, that the conceptual simplicity of a projection library in
comparison to the complexity of a full geodetic framework, really is an
illusion: While in theory projections are simple (in the sense
“mathematically well defined”) transformations from angular to linear
coordinates, in reality they are not at all simple, if you want them to
relate to any kind of real world.

Evidently, if you only need to relate a latitude/longitude pair in a given
horizontal datum, to a set of projected coordinates in the same horizontal
datum, a projection library is all you need.

But that is very seldom the case, as also indicated by the fact that
NAD27-to-NAD83 transformation was part of the proj bundle right from the
start, and the fact that sponsors during the years have found value in
sponsoring Frank Warmerdam’s work on implementing first horizontal datum
shifts, later on also vertical.

The latter also hints at the fact that today, the vast majority of
coordinate-capture is done by GPS/GNSS, and hence natively 3D, although not
necessarily referred to a system that makes much sense, except for low
accuracy work.

To preserve the high geometrical accuracy from the global system, when
transforming to a regional reference system (e.g. ETRS89) and vertical
datum (e.g. NAP/EVRS), you need access to more fundamental geodetic
functionality (although not much more than already included in the pipeline
package), before you can finally transform your latitude, longitude, and
elevation data into traditional map coordinates, using the projection
functionality already existing in proj.4.

When moving away from the stable parts of tectonic plates, you also need
support for intra plate deformation models. This is the case for large
parts of Scandinavia, which are heavily influenced by post-glacial uplift.
Using the pipeline metaphor, this can be expressed in fairly simple terms,
making it accessible to end users through direct support from their domain
specific software, using proj.4 for georeferencing.

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