Difference between Feature Service and Hosted Feature Layer?

10-14-2019 12:10 PM
New Contributor

I am relatively new to the Esri technologies. My question is very simple.. What is the difference between the Feature Service and Hosted Feature Layer?

#feature service(s)‌, hosted feature layer 

0 Kudos
8 Replies
Occasional Contributor

Let me try:

1. Feature service is 'feature accessible' map service published on ArcGIS Server site.

The source of your data has to be a database.

2. While hosted feature layer is spatial data published to ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS. 

The source of your data can be: 

Details see: Publish hosted feature layers—Portal for ArcGIS | ArcGIS Enterprise 

BTW, of course you can publish your data from database through SDE connection by ArcGIS Desktop.

Occasional Contributor II

Adding to the comment above:

  • Feature Service: Feature services—Documentation | ArcGIS Enterprise 
    • "Feature services allow you to serve feature data and nonspatial tables over the Internet or your intranet. This makes your data available for use in web clients, desktop apps, and field apps".
    • "As the publisher of a feature service, you determine what functionality is available to the people who use the feature service, define the styling used when displaying the features, and define templates for editing data. When people access your feature service, they can view your data and the data associated with it through relationship classes. They can use your feature service in the maps and apps they create and, if you allow it, they can edit the data in the feature service".
    • "Feature services run on ArcGIS GIS Server sites".
  • Hosted Feature Layer: Hosted layers—Portal for ArcGIS | ArcGIS Enterprise 
    • In regards to an Enterprise Environment, Hosted Feature Layers are stored within the Managed Database (ArcGIS Data Store, dedicated SDE Database) that you register within your site. This is different from Feature Services, where ArcGIS Server stores and runs the service.
    • "Hosted feature layers support vector feature querying, visualization, and editing. Hosted feature layers are most appropriate for visualizing data on top of your basemaps. In web apps, hosted feature layers are drawn by the browser and support interactive highlighting, queries, and pop-ups".

Feel free to reach out if you have additional questions or concerns!


Esri Contributor

This presentation may also help explain these two terms in more detail: Best Practices for Layers and Service Types - YouTube  (see from around 2:25 and a few minutes onwards).

Using the concepts from that presentation a feature service is the raw web service (REST) endpoint found at the functional or GIS Server tier. The feature layer is an item found at the information model or portal tier and sits on top of the raw feature service itself and provides additional features and control.

The two terms are often used a bit imprecisely as synonyms. For the most part the distinction doesn't matter too much but when developing or troubleshooting it can be important to distinguish and understand the difference.

Esri Regular Contributor

One way that I look at it this:

New Contributor II

I have the same question but all the responses aren't clear to someone who is new to ArcGIS. What exactly does Feature Service or Hosted Feature Layer refer too? Is it a database /database table?? You cant explain something using the same thing. Using "Layer" to explain "Layer" or feature to explain the same can never bring out the meaning..

Occasional Contributor

My understanding of this subject....

  • feature service - the REST endpoint published from either your own server, or ESRI. The feature service can stand on it's own and does not need to used in AGOL or Portal Items. A feature service can contain one or more features i.e. "feature/0", "feature/1", that each are part of the parent feature service.
  • feature layer - either an AGOL or Portal item created from a feature service. Where this gets confusing is the whole AGOL/Portal item is usually referred to as a "feature layer", but it can also contain feature "sub layers" if the feature service had more than one feature. These sub layers each get their own "child" page.
  • hosted feature layer - feature layer in AGOL, where ESRI is hosting the feature service for you


someone please chime in with corrections. The terminology around all this quite confusing and used inconsistently around the web

New Contributor II

I am also trying to wrap my head around this.  Would this be an accurate (simplified) description for what you describe above:

Feature Service is a server providing access to the spatial data as raw data to be consumed by any GIS supporting WFS layers, while Feature Layer is ESRI Online providing one or more datasets in a grouping that have been symbolized/labelled/etc a specific way to be used in ESRI GIS's?  In essence is a Feature Layer like an ArcPro layer file but can be for multiple datasets and it exists in ESRI Online?

Also, does a Feature Layer have to be hosted on ESRI's server or could it be hosted by an Enterprise local server?

0 Kudos
by MVP Regular Contributor
MVP Regular Contributor

ArcGIS Server feature layers are similar to hosted feature layers with the following differences:
• The data is not copied into a system-maintained data store; it stays in the data source you registered with the ArcGIS Server site.
• When you delete the ArcGIS Server feature layer, the data is not deleted.
• Much of the configuration for ArcGIS Server feature layers is performed in ArcGIS Server Manager, not the portal.
• Functionality available in the portal is different for ArcGIS Server feature layers than for hosted feature layers.

Please see the official document for details:




0 Kudos