Feature layers

A feature layer is a grouping of similar geographic features, for example, buildings, parcels, cities, roads, and earthquake epicenters. Features can be points, lines, or polygons (areas). Feature layers are most appropriate for visualizing data on top of basemaps. You can set properties for feature layers—such as style, transparency, visible range, refresh interval, and labels—that control how the layer appears in the map. Using a feature layer, you can view, edit, analyze, and execute queries against features and their attributes.

Each type of feature layer meets a different need and, therefore, has slightly different functionality. For a comparison of functionality available with each type of feature layer, see Feature layer functionality.

For information on Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) features, see OGC.

Hosted feature layers

Hosted feature layers are layers that have been published to ArcGIS Online. The feature data in these layers is hosted by, or stored on, ArcGIS Online. These layers offer the most flexibility, scalability, and compatibility across ArcGIS. In addition to the general feature layer functionality listed above, you can do the following with hosted feature layers:

  • Edit data in the field either online or offline using apps such as ArcGIS Survey123 or ArcGIS Field Maps.
  • Share locations from mobile apps such as ArcGIS Field Maps.
  • Control editor tracking and feature layer capabilities and settings.
  • Create views from the feature layer to support different user needs.
  • Publish tile layers to support high-demand use cases.
  • Publish WFS layers to support requirements for OGC-compliant layers.
  • Publish scene layers from feature layers containing points or multipatch layers.

You can publish hosted feature layers through a variety of workflows, including ready-to-use templates.

Hosted Indoors Spaces feature layers

When you publish a Reservations layer that conforms to the ArcGIS Indoors information model to an ArcGIS Online organization that is licensed for Indoors Spaces, a hosted Indoors Spaces feature layer is created. Hosted Indoors Spaces feature layers are used to enable workspace reservations in Indoor Viewer and the Indoors mobile apps.

Hosted Indoors Spaces feature layers have similar functionality to other hosted feature layers when you interact with them in ArcGIS Online, with the following exceptions:

  • Anyone who has access to an Indoors Spaces feature layer can edit it.
  • You cannot share Indoors Spaces feature layers with the public, distributed collaboration groups, or groups that allow external users.

ArcGIS Server feature layers

If you host layers on an ArcGIS Server site, you can use these ArcGIS Server feature services as layers in ArcGIS Online. These layers are similar to hosted feature layers with the following differences:

  • The data is not copied to ArcGIS Online; it stays in the data source you registered with the ArcGIS Server site.
  • When you delete the ArcGIS Server feature layer, the data is not deleted.
  • Much of the configuration for ArcGIS Server feature layers is performed in ArcGIS Server Manager, not ArcGIS Online.
  • Functionality on the ArcGIS Online website is different for ArcGIS Server feature layers than for hosted feature layers.

Many of these differences guard against unwanted changes being made to the data stored in the folders and databases you registered with the ArcGIS Server site, as this data is often your system of record and is likely accessed directly by other applications. However, the hosted feature layer data is managed by ArcGIS Online and not directly accessed by other applications.

If you want to work with an ArcGIS Server feature layer in ArcGIS Online, you can add the layer from the ArcGIS Server site to ArcGIS Online from My Content. This allows you to reference the REST endpoint (URL) of the service and use the layer in maps and apps, while leaving the data stored in the data sources you registered with the ArcGIS Server site. You can also add ArcGIS Server feature layers to Map Viewer or add them to Map Viewer Classic.

Layers in an ArcGIS Server map or feature service

You can add individual layers in a map service or feature service as an item or to a map in Map Viewer or Map Viewer Classic. This allows you to use a single layer in the service in a map or app instead of having to use all layers in the service.

For example, if you have access to an ArcGIS Server map service that contains a roads layer, a buildings layer, and a railroads layer, but you only need to access the roads, you can add the roads layer as an item (recommended if you need to provide credentials to access the service) or directly to a map. To do this, you need to copy the roads layer's URL from the REST endpoint of the map service. The URL for a map service's REST endpoint is in the format https://<server>.<domain>/server/rest/services/<service_name>/MapServer. A link for each layer in the service is listed in the Layers section of this page. Click the link for the layer you want to use. Copy the URL of the page that opens to obtain the layer's URL.

Note:

Feature layers created from a layer in a map service are read-only; you cannot enable editing on them.

Feature collections

Items such as .csv files, shapefiles, map notes, and sketches can be added directly to a map. These are considered feature collection layers in the map. Any feature collection you add can be saved as part of the map. Doing so saves the feature collection data as part of the map. Any changes you make to the feature collection—for example, by editing data—are only reflected in the map. The changes are not applied to the original .csv file, shapefile, or map note from which the feature collection was derived.

You can also save the .csv files, shapefiles, and map notes layers in the map as feature collection items by clicking Save Layer on the layer properties menu. The item will appear as a new feature collection item in My Content and can be shared with others and added to multiple maps. When you save a feature collection as its own item, the data is retained with the feature collection item and not stored as part of the map. Any changes you make to the feature collection item, such as modifying its data, are saved once you click Save Layer. If the feature collection item is used in other maps, the changes will be reflected there as well. If the feature collection item is deleted from My Content, it will no longer be available to others.

Map notes

You can create features on a map in Map Viewer Classic by adding a map notes layer. A map notes layer is a type of feature collection. With a map notes layer, you use features to symbolize something you want to show on your map, such as public access points, hiking trails, or fire perimeters. You can also add descriptive information that appears in pop-ups when the feature is clicked.

By default, the features in a map notes layer are saved with the map so that only you, the map author, can edit and save them. You can also choose to save the layer as a feature collection item in your content, which allows you to edit its item details and share it with others. Map notes layers are useful for displaying information such as events happening within a community or an inventory of oil production facilities. This is a good way to add a small number of features to a map, for example, the swimming pools managed by your city's parks and recreation department. It's also a way to create feature layers if you don't have an organizational account with publishing privileges or access to ArcGIS Server.

Route layers

You can use Map Viewer Classic to get directions and create a route layer in a map. Route layers are a type of feature collection that contain four sublayers—stops, direction events, directions, and route info—each with its own properties, such as pop-ups and labels, that you can configure as desired. From Map Viewer Classic, you can save the route layer as an item in My Content and use it in other maps. Once the route layer is saved as an item, you can share it with others.

Streaming feature layers

Streaming feature layers are feature layers created from an ArcGIS GeoEvent Server stream service. They are useful for visualizing real-time data feeds that have high volumes of data or that have data that changes at unknown intervals. For example, a fleet of vehicles might be transmitting their location, and the current location of the vehicles needs to be continuously monitored. When you add a streaming feature layer to Map Viewer Classic, you can use streaming controls to filter the data that the service sends to the layer. Streaming feature layers can be identified by their icon Streaming features in the content page.

Streaming feature layers connect to an ArcGIS Server stream service using HTML5 WebSockets. Most modern browsers support WebSockets.

Feature layer functionality

The following sections list how to create each type of feature layer and compare available functionality with each type in Map Viewer Classic, Map Viewer, Scene Viewer, and item details.

Publishing methods

The following list describes how you create each type of feature layer in ArcGIS Online:

  • Hosted feature layer—Add an item to ArcGIS Online and publish, publish from ArcMap or ArcGIS Pro, create an empty hosted feature layer from a template or an existing feature layer, or define the schema for an empty hosted feature layer. See Publish hosted feature layers for more information.
  • ArcGIS Server feature layer—Publish from an ArcGIS Desktop application or ArcGIS Pro to an ArcGIS Server site and add the service to ArcGIS Online.
  • Streaming feature layer—Configure streaming layers in ArcGIS GeoEvent Server and add the service to ArcGIS Online.
  • Feature collection—Add a .csv file, shapefile, or map notes to Map Viewer Classic and save the layer.

Map Viewer Classic

All feature layer items in ArcGIS Online can be added to Map Viewer Classic, but the available functionality may differ slightly. The following table compares feature layer functionality in Map Viewer Classic:

FunctionalityHosted feature layerHosted Indoors Spaces feature layerArcGIS Server feature layerStreaming feature layerFeature collection

Edit (if editing is enabled on the layer)

Yes

Anyone with access to the layer can edit it even if editing isn't enabled.

Yes

Yes

Not applicable; you cannot enable editing on feature collection items

Add to Map Viewer Classic with full editing control

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

No

Change style, set transparency, and set visible range

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Define labels

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes, but not supported for map notes

Set refresh interval

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

Configure pop-ups

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Apply filters

Yes, in Map Viewer Classic

Yes

Yes, in Map Viewer Classic

Yes, using streaming controls in Map Viewer Classic or in ArcGIS GeoEvent Server

No

Copy and save as a new layer in the map

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Use standard feature analysis tools

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Calculate fields in the table

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Add fields to and delete fields from the table

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Map Viewer

You can add hosted feature layers and ArcGIS Server feature layers to the new Map Viewer in ArcGIS Online, but the available functionality differs slightly for each type of layer. The following table compares feature layer functionality in Map Viewer Classic:

FunctionalityHosted feature layerHosted Indoors Spaces feature layerArcGIS Server feature layerFeature collections

Edit (if editing is enabled on the layer)

Yes

Anyone with access to the layer can edit it even if editing isn't enabled.

Yes

Not applicable; you cannot enable editing on feature collection items

Change style, set transparency, and set visible range

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Define labels

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Configure pop-ups

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Duplicate and save layer in a map

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Create group layers

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Configure forms for editable layers

Note:

Forms are stored with the map and not the feature layer.

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Apply filters

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Calculate fields in the table

Yes

Yes

No

No

Add fields to and delete fields from the table

Yes

Yes

No

No

Scene Viewer

You can add hosted feature layers and ArcGIS Server feature layers to Scene Viewer. Each layer can contain an unlimited number of features.

Item details

Many of the settings and details you configure for feature layers are the same for all feature layers and for items in general, such as setting tags and categories, setting a summary and description, enabling delete protection, and setting an extent. Settings and details that are different across feature layers are listed in the following table:

FunctionalityHosted feature layer (including Indoors Spaces feature layer)ArcGIS Server feature layerStreaming feature layerFeature collection

Publish other layers from

Yes

No

No

Yes, a hosted feature layer

Create views from

Yes

You cannot create views from a feature layer in ArcGIS Online, but the equivalent workflow is to publish multiple feature layers from the same data in an ArcGIS Desktop app or ArcGIS Pro.

No

No

Define view areas on the Visualization tab

Yes

Not applicable

Not applicable

Not applicable

Export data from

Yes

No

No

No

Add and view metadata

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Enable attachments

Yes

You cannot enable attachments in ArcGIS Online. However, you can enable attachments on the source data before publishing the feature layer.

No

No

Overwrite the layer

Yes

You cannot overwrite the feature layer from ArcGIS Online. However, you can overwrite from ArcMap or ArcGIS Pro.

Not applicable; streaming layer data is continually changing.

No

Append data

Yes

You cannot append from ArcGIS Online. However, since the data resides in the ArcGIS Server site's registered data store, append to the source data.

Not applicable; streaming layer data is continually changing.

No

Calculate field contents on the Data tab

Yes

No

No

No

Add fields and delete fields on the Data tab

Yes

No

No

No

Enable or disable unique constraint on columns

Yes

No

No

No

Define attribute lists and ranges

Yes

No; you can view existing lists and ranges but not add or delete them on the Data tab.

No

No

Add field descriptions and value types

Yes

No

No

No

Edit nonspatial field values on the Data tab

Yes

Yes

No

No

Alter field properties including display name (title), description, field value type, unique value constraints, and whether edits are allowed for a field

Yes

No

No

Can edit display name, description, and field value type but not the other field properties.

Apply filters on the Visualization tab

Yes

Yes

No

No

Modify settings for editing

Yes

You cannot enable or modify editing settings from ArcGIS Online. Configure the editing settings when you publish the feature layer or modify the settings in ArcGIS Server Manager after publishing.

No

No

Enable sync for offline use and collabortion

Yes

You cannot enable sync from ArcGIS Online. Set when publishing or modify in ArcGIS Server Manager.

No

No*

*Sketch layers and map notes layers saved as part of a web map are automatically enabled for offline use. Other feature collection layers or layer items do not support offline use.

Track edits

Yes

You cannot enable editor tracking from ArcGIS Online. However, you can enable editor tracking on the source data from an ArcGIS Desktop app or ArcGIS Pro.

No

No

Update details, data, and visualization configuration for individual sublayers

Yes

Yes

No

No