Disconnected Editing with ArcGIS in the Browser

GIS Contributor


Matt Sheehan discusses disconnected editing for ArcGIS and the libraries that Web Map Solutions has developed to provide users with disconnected capabilities to any ArcGIS web app in the browser.  

ArcGIS users have for a number of years made disconnected one of the most popular requests communicated to Esri: the ability to visualize and edit GIS data while offline.

2014 was the year the dream became a reality. The Esri mobile teams not only launched disconnected as part of their native SDK’s, but also a disconnected version of Collector for ArcGIS.

The latter was a particular hit, and has become a very popular new tool for field based staff. Targeted at Apple’s iOS devices and Android, the app runs on both tablets and smartphones.

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Collector provides the ability to download both base maps and editable feature layers for use offline. Feature attachments are also supported. So snap a picture of a feature with the mobile’s camera, attach it to that feature and upload when back online.

Lack of wi-fi connectivity is a challenge in both remote and urban areas. One could actually argue that disconnected capabilities should be built into all mobile apps, not just those used for editing.

A view of a desk with a laptop open with a map on it and the symbol for "No WIFI" overlaid.
When WIFI isn’t available, disconnected editing allows users to continue to collect and manage data offline.

Collector for ArcGIS has really captured ArcGIS users attention and interest in mobile. It has also opened a new slew of additional questions and needs.

Foremost among these are questions about flexibility.

  • “We need a mobile app like Collector which has our company styling and branding.”
  • “We need to add custom tools for offline use like forms.”
  • “Having a mobile disconnected editing app which is configurable and can be extended is a big need.”
  • “Since we use a range of mobile devices and all platforms in our organization we would like cross-platform, cross-device offline enabled mobile apps”

These are all great requests, truly stimulated by the release of Collector. We’ve wondered about good solutions. And soon realized that advances in web technology: Javascript and HTML5, offer an excellent potential approach.

For the last six months we have been building a Web technology base using Javascript, which provides disconnected capabilities.

How does our approach to work? We have built a set of libraries which provide disconnected capabilities to any ArcGIS web app in the browser. You heard me right. Load a web app which leverages our libraries in your browser. Download basemaps and editable feature layers to the device. And regardless of wi-fi connectivity your ArcGIS app will continue to work.

What if my browser crashes when I am offline?

No problem all data is stored in local databases, and will reload when you restart your browser. We have started to build other useful offline tools including custom forms as additions to our libraries.

Web technology has come a long way. Today web apps built with Javascript provide considerable flexibility and are truly cost effective.

About the author

Matt Sheehan has been working with GIS for over 20 years. He is a Principal at WebMapSolutions, which specializes in providing mobile GIS solutions.


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