In ArcGIS for Microsoft 365, you work with geographic data through layers. Layers are logical collections of geographic data that are used when creating maps. They are also the basis for geographic analysis.

Layers can represent geographic features, such as buildings, landmarks, and x,y coordinates (points); networks, such as roads and rivers (lines); and boundaries, such as cities, postal codes, and countries (polygons). Layers can include imagery, surface elevation, cell-based grids, and practically any data feed that includes location—for example, weather gauges, traffic conditions, security cameras, and tweets.

Layers shown with ArcGIS, Excel, Power BI, and SharePoint data

You can add reference layers to a map to provide context for the data. Contextual reference layers can include content from your ArcGIS organization or ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, as well as demographic data such as household income, age, or population counts. Layers can also provide details about the areas surrounding the data locations on the map.

The layer type determines how you can interact with its data.

Layer types

A map can contain the following layer types:

  • Basemap layer—Used for viewing only, the basemap provides visual context for the data. You can change the basemap you use but cannot edit or style it.
  • Data layer—A layer created using your data. You can change the style for data layers or change the data values to update how the layer is presented on the map. Locations can be displayed as points, polylines, and polygons.
  • Reference layer—A layer that adds context to the data layer. If enabled by your ArcGIS administrator, a reference layer can include content from ArcGIS; geographic, policy, community, and demographic data from ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World; and public content published by the GIS community, including Esri, local governments, and agencies around the world.
  • Buffer/Drive time analysis layer—Similar to a reference layer, a Buffer/Drive time analysis layer defines an area on the map within a specified distance or time from a location using road and, when available, traffic data.


To learn more about layer types, see the Layers topic in the ArcGIS Online help.

Related topics

See the topics listed in the following table for more information about layers: