ArcGIS and the Web: Better Map Sharing

6/30/09–Have you ever wanted to share some of your great maps with the rest of the world? Or maybe just easily share some of your work with a colleague? Well, the new ArcGIS Online sharing application, now open for public beta access, can be used as a system for sharing, finding and using GIS content across the Web. With ArcGIS Online, you can upload maps, register online map services, create and save Web maps as items for others to share, and discover and use maps published by ESRI and other ESRI users. You can organize and control access to the maps you share by making them public or private, and you can create and join groups.

Better sharing of geographic information is enabled in part via new technology that allows layers referencing feature or raster data to be packaged into a single “layer package”, comprised of both the layer cartography and data. These layer packages can be shared with other users via files, e-mail, or the new ArcGIS Online sharing capability. The new ArcGIS Online sharing services are powered by a full REST API.

How it Works – A Sharing Demonstration

With the new ArcGIS Online search feature users can find GIS data shared by other users. If your ArcGIS Desktop document is missing some desired layers, then typing in keywords to search for and find needed data via ArcGIS Online can help. The data can be previewed, and then added to ArcGIS Desktop from your search results with a single click. Shown below is the ArcGIS Online home page (left) and a search results page (right).


A great new feature of ArcGIS Desktop 9.3.1 is the ability to create layer packages, highlighted below. Layer packages encapsulate ArcGIS Desktop cartography and data (or URLs to services, if a service layer) in an easy-to-share share package. For instance, to create a layer package in ArcMap, just right-click any layer and choose “Create Layer Package”.


Layer packages can be shared in a variety of ways—they can be e-mailed, published onto CDs or DVDs, or placed on network drives. There is also a new way to share them—via ArcGIS Online. You can log in to your ArcGIS Online account and add a newly created layer package to share with others. All ArcGIS users will have their own ArcGIS Online account, along with storage space to share their maps with others.



Shared data can be of many types, from source data to complete maps and layer packages, to GIS services and Web maps. These items can be organized and shared publicly, or within groups that can be created and managed to allow public access or restricted access within specific user communities.


You can add shared items to ArcMap (or other ArcGIS Desktop clients) by simply clicking on the “Use this item” actions on any item’s property page.

The item now appears in ArcMap, with all cartography preserved.


Or you can add maps and data to ArcMap from ArcGIS Online by choosing the “Add Data from ArcGIS Online” command in ArcMap.


This command launches the ArcGIS Online website and searches for data in the ESRI Maps and Data group. In the page that appears next, you can see the list of ESRI Maps and Data layers and add any of those to ArcMap (or any other ArcGIS Desktop client) immediately, or you can perform your own search to find whatever you want.


You can also share map services with ArcGIS Online. After you add a map service as a reference item, you can create a Web map without programming! Just click the “Create Web Map” link to create your new Web map.

Next, you can click on any map service item properties, and then you can add the map service to your new or existing Web map simply by clicking the “Add to Web Map” button.


You can now add more layers, set layer ordering, set map transparency, and so on, for your Web map. You can query attributes and you can even save your Web map as a shared item for other users to find and utilize! As with all items uploaded or shared at ArcGIS Online, you can also choose to keep the Web map private. You’ve just built a Web map in seconds, with no programming!


Sharing is also a part of ArcGIS Explorer, the forthcoming new release of the product. The new ribbon-based user experience is highlighted below, as well as other features that improve its ease of use, such as the “Basemap” chooser which connects to basemaps from ArcGIS Online and other sources.


Below, a shared layer package from the ArcGIS Online web site is directly opened in ArcGIS Explorer 900, showing how full ArcMap cartography is preserved. ArcGIS Explorer has always been a great way to view and publish GIS services, but now it’s also a great tool for providing broad access to GIS data via layer packages created using ArcMap. ArcGIS Explorer 900 has an integrated 2D/3D display, and the layer package is opened in 2D mode.


Next, the display is switched from 2D to 3D. When the display is toggled into 3D mode the data is automatically shown as extruded 3D polygons.


How’s that for map sharing!   

As you’ve just seen, the ArcGIS Online sharing application is part of the ArcGIS system, and is tightly coupled with ArcGIS software, data types, and information cards. ArcGIS Desktop, Explorer, and Server work together to form a seamless authoring, serving, sharing, and discovery experience for geographic information.

Be sure to check out our Help and Web Videos.

Lots more to come, so please stay tuned as we plan on releasing new functionality on a regular basis. Come on in and help us build the future of ArcGIS Online!  We look forward to your feedback.

- The ArcGIS Online Team

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  1. marylandgis says:

    I finally got 9.3.1 and was eager to try layer packages and publishing to AGOL. Disappointed to get “Broken data links” error for the simple point layer Im experimenting with. Can’t find any help… What’s the problem? My layer displays fine in ArcMap. The publishing optimizer shows no problem with the layer.

  2. ginger says:

    We reposted your comment on the ArcGIS Online: Sharing application (public beta) forum at In the future, please submit any questions to the forum.