Add custom reference layers to ArcGIS Online

If your organization has a shapefile that defines custom boundaries (water districts, sales districts, or zoning boundaries, for example), you can publish it as a hosted feature layer in ArcGIS Online and add it as a reference layer to your ArcGIS for Power BI visualization. To use custom reference layers, they must be publicly shared, hosted polygon feature layers in ArcGIS Online.


You must have the following to publish hosted layers in ArcGIS Online:

  • An account that is part of an ArcGIS Online organization
  • Privileges to create content and publish hosted web layers
  • An ArcGIS client if you want to publish hosted feature layers from ArcGIS Desktop or ArcGIS Pro

Publish a hosted feature layer

To make your custom boundaries available as reference files in ArcGIS for Power BI, upload your shapefiles (packaged in a .zip file) or GeoJSON files (.geojson or .json) to ArcGIS Online and publish them as hosted feature layers. Then share the layers.

To publish a custom feature layer, do the following:

  1. Sign in to your ArcGIS Online organizational account.

    Your account must have privileges to create content and publish hosted feature layers.


    If you have a large file to publish, check Keep me signed in when signing in. This helps prevent the website from timing out before the hosted feature layer has been created.

  2. Open My Content, click Add item, and click From my Computer.

    The Item from my computer window appears.

  3. Click Choose file and browse to the file on your computer.
  4. Select the file and click Open.

    Shapefiles must be compressed as a .zip file containing at least the .shp, .shx, and .dbf files. If your shapefile does not include a .prj file and the x,y domain extent is between -180 and 180 degrees, the features will be published in the GCS_WGS_1984 coordinate system. If the data is not within this extent, you will receive an error, and you will need to delete the feature layer.

    If there are multiple shapefiles in the .zip file, they will all be included in the feature layer.

  5. Check the Publish this file as a hosted layer check box.

    If you leave the box unchecked, your data file is added to My Content, but no hosted feature layer is published. You can publish the features later from the item details page. See Item details for more information.

  6. Type a title for the item.
  7. Type tag terms separated by commas.
  8. Click Add item.

    Your file is published as a hosted feature layer. It may take some time to upload the file.

    The data file and the feature layer are added to My Content. You can edit item details and share the items.


    If you edit features in the shapefile from a desktop application, you can upload the edited shapefile and replace the data in the hosted feature layer. See Overwrite hosted feature layers for more information.

  9. To test the new hosted feature layer, open it in Map Viewer.

Share the hosted feature layer

By default, the hosted feature layer can only be accessed by the publisher or an administrator. To make the layer available to ArcGIS for Power BI users, you must share the file with the public. For more information about sharing items in ArcGIS, see Get started with sharing.

To share a layer, do the following:

  1. Open My Content.
  2. Check the box next to the feature layer you want to share.

    You can share multiple items simultaneously by checking multiple titles, or you can share all the items in a folder by checking the Title check box.

  3. Click Share.
  4. In the Share settings window, check Everyone (public) and click OK.

    The hosted feature layer is now available to all ArcGIS users. ArcGIS for Power BI users can add it as a reference layer to their map visualization.