About creating web GIS applications

As you learn and use ArcGIS for Server, you'll probably reach the point where you want to build or customize your own web application to work with your GIS services. Esri offers several resources that you can use to create web GIS applications and services. The resource that you choose depends on your experience and skill level, as well as the requirements of the application.

Intelligent web maps

If you have no prior experience with web application development, consider using ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS to make and share a map.

ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online allows you to make your own map on the web by adding GIS services from different sources. These could be your own services or services that you discover using ArcGIS Online's search capabilities. You can even make a map from a spreadsheet that you've saved in a CSV (comma-separated value) format.

You can make your web maps intelligent by choosing to define pop-up information that helps people interact with and learn from your map. Because your map is connecting to live web services, it updates itself whenever the service is updated.

When you've finished making your map, you can save it in ArcGIS Online, an Esri-hosted repository of maps and apps. Intelligent web maps saved in ArcGIS Online are versatile: you can link to them directly or embed them in future applications that you build with the ArcGIS web APIs and viewers, described later in this topic. In addition to just storing your map on ArcGIS Online, you can create groups to collaborate and share with different user communities.

For full instructions on how to create a web application using ArcGIS Online, see the topic Sharing your map in a web application. Additionally, the ArcGIS.com help provides instructions on how to reference your GIS services on the website, add them to the ArcGIS.com map viewer, and share them with others.

Portal for ArcGIS

If your organization doesn't have a connection to the Internet or wants to maintain its own repository of web maps and apps, you could use Portal for ArcGIS. The portal can be installed locally and provides the same mapping, sharing, and searching functionality as ArcGIS Online. The ArcGIS web APIs and viewers can reference web maps stored in your portal.

Like ArcGIS Online, you can make your maps intelligent by defining pop-up information, symbology, and even enable editing, which helps people learn and interact with your map. Since your map is connected to your own internal services, you control what content is visible to users of the portal.

To learn more about Portal for ArcGIS and how to make a web map using the software, see What is Portal for ArcGIS?

Web APIs

Esri offers web mapping APIs for JavaScript, Flex, and Silverlight. You can use these APIs to build a web application from scratch. They offer common GIS functionality and are designed to be accessible to beginning programmers. The links below contain summaries of the APIs, which in turn link to the ArcGIS Resources website where you can read the full documentation:

Using the web APIs, you can reference the intelligent web maps that you save in ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS. This allows you to do your map authoring in a user-friendly environment before you start writing code. Alternatively, you can use the APIs to build a map piece by piece from different GIS services, adding or removing them in response to events.

Choosing an API

The APIs are functionally very similar, and when choosing an API, the most important question is not "What do you want to do?", but, rather, "Which platform are your developers most comfortable with?" If you've been working with Microsoft technologies and your developers are inclined in that direction, the ArcGIS API for Silverlight may be a good choice for you. Using similar logic, if your developers are familiar with the Dojo JavaScript toolkit, you'll probably find the ArcGIS API for JavaScript to be a nice fit.

Many beginning developers find the JavaScript, Flex, and Silverlight APIs easy to learn because of their supporting resources. In the ArcGIS for Developers site, you can watch videos, read tutorials, and examine working samples that are designed for beginners. Additionally, Esri has made sample ArcGIS server sites available so that you can practice with the APIs. In fact, you can get a JavaScript mapping application running on your machine with just a text editor and an Internet connection.

Configurable applications

The following applications are designed to help expand the use of your GIS services within or outside of your organization.

Esri Maps for Office

Esri Maps for Office provides mapping capabilities in Microsoft Office through a Microsoft Add-in. You can use this add-in with Microsoft Excel to mash up your services from ArcGIS Server and create web maps that show data from your spreadsheets in ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS. Additionally, an add-in for PowerPoint allows you to embed these web maps into your presentations.

Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS

Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS allows you to monitor your ArcGIS Server services to assess the status of activities, events, and daily operations. Using the Operations Dashboard, you can create and share operation views of your services using ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS. Operation views include maps, lists, charts, and other representations of real-time and static data.

Collector for ArcGIS

Collector for ArcGIS is a field data collection and editing app for smartphones and tablets. With Collector, you can use your ArcGIS Server services to create new or edit existing features using a GPS or by tapping on a map, route to work locations, track your current location, and measure distance between locations. You can also share maps from ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS with Collector.

ArcGIS Viewer for Flex

The ArcGIS Viewer for Flex is a configurable web application built on the ArcGIS API for Flex. It allows you to create customized GIS web mapping applications without programming. The ArcGIS Viewer for Flex is designed to work with services from your GIS server, ArcGIS Online, and Portal for ArcGIS. It can also reference intelligent web maps that you've authored using ArcGIS Online and Portal for ArcGIS. The ArcGIS Viewer for Flex supports data display, interactive querying, web editing, data extraction, geocoding, printing, and more.

ArcGIS Viewer for Silverlight

The ArcGIS Viewer for Silverlight is a ready-to-deploy web application built on the ArcGIS API for Silverlight. It allows you to create custom GIS web-mapping applications without programming. The ArcGIS Viewer for Silverlight is designed to work with the services from ArcGIS Server, ArcGIS Online, and Portal for ArcGIS. It can also reference intelligent web maps that you've authored using ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS.

ArcGIS Explorer Desktop

ArcGIS Explorer Desktop is a free GIS viewer for visualizing and sharing GIS information. You can reference services from your GIS server and embed web maps you've created in ArcGIS Online and Portal for ArcGIS in ArcGIS Explorer maps.

Mobile applications

You can extend the reach of your services to a broad range of mobile devices, such as Windows smartphones, Apple iOS devices, Android devices, Tablet PCs, and in-vehicle mounted systems, by building mobile GIS applications. Often, you can start with a premade application or develop your own. To learn more, see the links below:

Further reading

If you're interested in learning more about web GIS application design, deployment, content, and editing, see the Design concepts for web GIS applications book of this help section.