Benefits of working with ArcGIS Online

April 16, 2020 Céline Doré

Explore the many benefits of working with ArcGIS Online.  We will review how easily data can be uploaded to ArcGIS Online and then shared with your colleagues.  We also explore how to edit the data in ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Pro. 

As many of us are finding ourselves working from home, now is the perfect opportunity to leverage ArcGIS Online.

ArcGIS Online is a cloud-based mapping platform that offers collaboration tools for creating, visualizing, editing and sharing spatial information. Some key benefits of using of ArcGIS Online:

  • Easily share data, maps, apps and other items with teams, departments and/or the public.
  • Visualize your data spatially through web maps and apps that can be accessed from anywhere at any time.
  • Your data can be accessed in a web browser, ArcGIS Pro, smartphones, tablets and even be embedded into your own websites.
  • There is no need to access a file share for your data – you can simply publish to ArcGIS Online, then share with the intended audience. It also makes sharing data with clients outside the organization easy.

Another benefit to ArcGIS Online is that the content is prerendered, ready to use and hosted by Esri, so you do not have to invest in additional hardware, staff or training. You can use ArcGIS Online as a standalone solution for your mapping and analysis needs or you can use it to extend the capabilities of ArcGIS Desktop.

Now that we know the benefits to ArcGIS Online and your organization is set up, how do you get your data there? Let’s start by discussing different data (item) types that you can publish to ArcGIS Online.

You can publish a variety of item types to ArcGIS Online but we will focus on feature layers and tile layers (if we go through all the types of items we can publish, this blog would turn into a novella).

Feature layers

A feature layer is a grouping of similar geographic features that can be either points, lines or polygons. Feature layers are most appropriate for visualizing data on top of basemaps. You can view, edit, and analyze feature layers. You can also control how the layer appears in your web map with symbology, pop-ups and labels. Feature layers are great for data that changes frequently. If you are familiar with shapefiles and feature classes, you already have a good foundation to work with feature layers.

Tile layers

ArcGIS Online includes a variety of basemaps to be used as backgrounds with geographic context for your feature layers. Basemaps are designed for fast drawing of tile layers for your web maps, web apps and ArcGIS applications. Tile layers are great for visualization of relatively static data (so data that does not change often). Although Esri provides many tile layers used as basemaps, you may want to upload your own to be used in your web maps. Your tile layer can sit on top of a basemap or you can use your tile layer as a basemap (this allows you to use your own projection).

Tile layers can be stored as raster tiles or as vector tiles.

Raster tile layers

Raster tile layers can be created using image files (for example, JPG or PNG format) or static operational layers. The tile layer provides fast display of your data through a wide range of applications such as web, desktop and mobile.

Vector tile layers

Vector tiles include similar data to that found in some of the available raster tile basemaps, but they store geographic features as points, lines and polygons. “Unlike raster tile layers, vector tile layers can adapt to the resolution of their display device and be restyled for multiple uses. Vector tiles have a smaller file size than raster tiles, which translates to faster maps and better performance. The combination of tile access performance and vector drawing allows the tiles to adapt to any resolution of the display, which may vary across devices” (ArcGIS Online Help). Some benefits are that you can customize the style of the vector tile layer like change symbols, transparencies, fonts without having to regenerate tiles, better resolution for display and are smaller in size so they display more quickly than raster tiles. Other benefits are also listed in the help (there are many).

Our Community Map of Canada team has created Canadian Vector Tiles that can be used in ArcGIS Online, please review the blog post and the video below for more details about this:

Introducing the Community Map of Canada Vector Cache

Contribute to the Community Map of Canada!

Now that we have discussed types of items to load into ArcGIS Online, we will focus on how to publish feature layers (again, to try and keep this article relatively short).

How to publish to ArcGIS Online?

You can easily publish to ArcGIS Online using ArcGIS Pro or via the ArcGIS Online website. When you publish a hosted feature layer, data is copied from your data source to ArcGIS Online. To be able to publish, you need privileges to do so. Read more about roles and privileges here.

Steps to publish from ArcGIS Pro

  • Click the Share ribbon
  • Chose Web Layer > Publish Web Layer
  • In the Share As Web Layer tool that opens, enter a Name, summary of the data and add tags (tags are keywords used to describe the data. They are used to find and search your content)
  • Layer Type should be a feature
  • You can choose how the hosted feature layer will be shared (with Everyone, your organization or a group)
  • Under the Configure tab, you can enable editing, sync and export data. Sharing, editing, sync and export data are all parameters that can be changed later
  • Click “Analyze” to discover if you have any errors that need to be addressed before publishing. Any errors will have to be fixed before you can publish successfully. Warnings will allow you to still publish.
  • Publish the layer using “Publish”

Steps to publish from the ArcGIS Online website

  • Sign in to www.arcgis.com using your organization credentials
  • Under Content, chose Add Item > From my Computer
  • You can select a csv or a zipped file containing a file geodatabase or a shapefile
  • Add a name and tags. Make sure to keep “Publish this file as a hosted layer” enabled.
  • Click OK. A new hosted feature layer will be added to your content

To publish a raster tile layer, please see this YouTube video

How to edit the data being hosted in ArcGIS Online

Now that our data is uploaded to ArcGIS Online, our next step is to add the data to a web map to be able to edit.

  • Click on your hosted feature layer to open the Item Details page
  • Chose Open in Map Viewer

  • This will open your hosted layer in a web map. You can add more layers through Add > Search for layers. You should also see an “Edit” button.

When clicked, you can edit your features found on the web map

If you do not have an “Edit” button, this means that your hosted feature layer does not have editing enabled. You can change this parameter through the Item details page:

  • In the Item details page, choose Settings
  • Browse to “Feature Layer” and select “Enable editing

  • Click Save to save the layer changes
  • When you refresh/open your web map, you should now see the Edit button

Editing in ArcGIS Pro

Another great benefit to working with a hosted feature layer, is that they can be added and edited directly in ArcGIS Pro. You can then use all the editing tools that you are familiar with to edit your hosted feature layer.

  • Open ArcGIS Pro and select the Map template
  • Add a Name and chose a location to save your project
  • Click the Map ribbon > Add Data
  • Select Portal > My Content > select the hosted feature layer to add the map

  • Click the Edit ribbon and start editing using the Create or Modify option.
  • Save your edits. They will be reflected in any ArcGIS Online web map that your feature layer is part of.

How to Share to different users/departments

We have previously mentioned that one of the benefits of using ArcGIS Online is that you can easily share your data with your colleagues. Instead of using a file share, you can simply use your Organization to access the data. Now that your data is uploaded to your organization, you will have to share it for your colleagues to have access to it. Here are the easy steps to do this:

  • Sign into your ArcGIS Online account
  • Click My Content
  • Find your hosted feature layer and check the box next to its name
  • Click Share. This will open the Share window where you can select Organization. This means that all members of the organization will have access to the layer.

What happens if you want to share your data with only certain people from the organization? For example, you may want to share hosted feature layers A, B and C with your field workers and share feature layers D and E with your planning department. This is when you would create groups and share your items to it. In our example, you would share layers A, B and C with group A and invite your field workers to that group. You would then create an additional group to share layers D and E and invite your users from the planning department.

Creating groups

  • Click the Groups tab in ArcGIS Online
  • Click the Create group button
  • Enter Group details such as a Name and Tags
  • Choose “Only group members” for who can view this group
  • Keep all other defaults. If you want details on the other options for creating a group, please review Create Group help.
  • Click Create Group
  • Under Contents, select the items that you want to share to the group.
  • Click Share. This will open the Share window where you can select “Edit group sharing”. Select the group that you just created.

Sharing is easy and can be done with people outside of your organization. If your users also have an ArcGIS Online organization, you can invite them to your group and they will have access to the items shared with that group.

My colleague, Lorraine has made a great YouTube video about how to create groups that you can access here.

Phewww! That was a lot of details all at once. But I promise, working with ArcGIS Online is fun. Test, explore and if you run into any issues or have any questions, you can always contact us in Technical Support.

Other great and FREE resources to get your started:

Get Started with ArcGIS Online

Introducing ArcGIS Online YouTube

ArcGIS Online Quick Lessons

About the Author

Céline Doré

Céline Doré is a Senior Support Consultant for Esri Canada’s Desktop Support team. She has over 15 years of experience working with ArcGIS for Desktop and extensions, ArcGIS Online and apps. She enjoys working with clients to help them answer their questions. Céline has a bachelor’s degree in geography from Lakehead University and a GIS Application Specialist diploma from Fleming College. When not in the office, you can find her reading, working on a garden or baking.

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