Feature collection vs. feature layer vs. hosted feature layer

04-17-2020 03:07 PM
Frequent Contributor

I'm working up some documentation, not so much how to create these things, but the various scenarios for when I would recommend one over the other.  I'm getting a little lost between these 3.

If I upload a file, such as CSV into a web map, it is a feature collection, but remains part of the web map you loaded it into. 

If I wanted to use this anywhere else besides this one web map, I should then use "Save Layer" and that because a feature layer (not hosted) and is no longer a feature collection?  

When would I want this to be a hosted feature layer, rather than non-hosted?  To actually limit the ability to edit it?   To make it so that somebody other than me (the original author) can edit it?

After reading the documentation, I'm still not sure.  But I think this is the path/order for creating a layer initially and then where you need to take it, depending on how you want to use it?

3 Replies
Occasional Contributor III

Hey Tracy Schloss‌,

These can be tricky concepts as they have a lot of overlapping features. I often refer to this page for a refresher of what each type is: Feature layers—ArcGIS Online Help | Documentation 

My interpretation is that feature collections are often generated by users and are not as easy to update as you need to make changes and then save the layer.

Feature services are for an organization to host feature data on their own servers which means that they can have the ability to share it as required but updating it happens only on there end.

Hosted feature services means that you are hosting the feature data in ArcGIS online and this is the most flexible way as you can control who sees it, who can edit it, and it can be used for display and other purposes in the various web apps.

Often I find that all the different types of feature layers will meet my needs but ever once in a while one of them won't have the functionality that I need. My latest example is that Feature collections can't be used in Dashboards for Dashboard elements only for display purposes.

Happy to discuss further.



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MVP Regular Contributor

Hi Tracy,

Ben's response was extremely thorough and helpful, but I wanted to touch on one more point you mentioned in case it might help

When would I want this to be a hosted feature layer, rather than non-hosted? To actually limit the ability to edit it? To make it so that somebody other than me (the original author) can edit it?

Editing abilities are not directly determined by whether the layer is hosted/not hosted. Rather, you can limit editing abilities for certain users by utilizing hosted feature layer views. (as the name indicates, this can be done on hosted layers only) Alternatively, you can disable editing completely by simply unchecking the edit option in the Item Details page of a hosted feature layer. 

As far as having others be able to edit the layer even when they aren't the original author, you can handle that by creating a group with shared update capabilities and then sharing the item with that group (note that members who you want to have editing abilities for that layer will also need to be a member of that group). Keep in mind also that anyone who has an administrator role can edit any item, regardless of who the owner is. 

Hope that helps!


Frequent Contributor

As a side comment to the ability to edit and shared update capabilities, this apparently does not extent to updating data through Maps for Office, at least that what my staff is reporting. 

We've been having a discussion in general about best practices for publishing and updating data given all the ways COVID related data is coming to us.   Typically whoever starts a project is the one who continues to work on it.  In our current situation, we've had to redistribute the workload, in particular moving the data updates from one person to another after the initial application is completed.  People tend to have a preference for keeping data updated, and it hard to tell if there is any "right" way to do it, or if it's more a matter of preference. 

We go back and forth ourselves as to what is best.  Hosted feature layers that are shared sound like something we can have multiple staff edit.   The feature layer created in Maps for Office, not so much.  Also feature layers that are based on enterprise geodatabases, assuming people are using ArcGIS Pro, works well to have different people updating that data.  

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