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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 your 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.

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 the ArcGIS platform. With hosted feature layers, you can do the following:

Hosted feature layers can be published through a variety of workflows, including ready-to-use templates.

ArcGIS Server feature layers

If you host layers on your own ArcGIS Server site, you can still use these ArcGIS Server feature 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.
  • You cannot create views or publish tile, scene, or WFS layers from ArcGIS Server feature layers.

Many of these differences guard against unwanted changes being made to the data stored in the folders and databases you registered with your 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 your ArcGIS Server feature layer in ArcGIS Online, you can add the layer from your 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 your maps and apps, while leaving the data stored in the data sources you registered with your ArcGIS Server site. You can also add ArcGIS Server feature layers to Map Viewer.

Feature collections

Items such as CSV files, shapefiles, and map notes can be added to a map as feature collections. A feature collection is a type of feature layer. 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 a feature collection as its own item by clicking Save Layer in 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 your map 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.

The features in a map notes layer are saved with the map so that only you, the map author, can edit and save them. These types of feature layers are useful for displaying information such as events happening within a community or an inventory of oil production facilities. This is an easy 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 to get directions and create a route layer in your 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, 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, 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. To get more information about WebSockets and to test if a browser supports WebSockets, visit WebSocket.org.

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, 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 item to ArcGIS Online and publish, publish from an ArcGIS Desktop application, or create from a template. See Publish hosted feature layers for more information.
  • ArcGIS Server feature layer—Publish from an ArcGIS Desktop application 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 and save the layer.

Map Viewer

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

FunctionalityHosted feature layerArcGIS Server feature layerStreaming feature layerFeature collection

Add to Map Viewer with full editing control

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Change style, set transparency, and set visible range

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Define labels

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes, but not supported for map notes

Set refresh interval

Yes

Yes

No

No

Configure pop-ups

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Apply filters

Yes, in Map Viewer

Yes, in Map Viewer

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

No

Copy and save as a new layer

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Use standard feature analysis tools

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Calculate fields in the table

Yes

No

No

No

Add fields to and delete fields from the table

Yes

No

No

No

Scene Viewer

You can add hosted feature layers and ArcGIS Server feature layers to Scene Viewer, provided the layer contains fewer than 2,000 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 layerArcGIS 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.

No

No

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 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 your 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 on the Data tab

Yes

No

No

No

Apply filters on the Visualization tab

Yes

Yes

No

No

Modify editing settings

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 (offline editing)

Yes

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

No

No

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.

No

No