Working with ArcGIS Server

ArcGIS Server is a Web GIS that helps you take your geographic information and make it available to others. Perhaps you've already had some experience using GIS software to create GIS resources, which are the maps, geodatabases, and other tools that you need for storing and using your geographic information. ArcGIS Server gives you the power to take the GIS resources on your computer and make them available to a wider group of users throughout a network of computers. In ArcGIS Server, the way you publish a GIS resource to others is through a service.

What is a service?

A service is a representation of a GIS resource that a server is making available to other computers on a network. This network can be a local one, such as your company's computer system, or it can be a broader network, such as the Internet. The computers on the network that access your service are called clients. When you use ArcGIS Server to publish a service, you are giving clients access to a GIS resource. In many cases, clients can do the same things with the service that they could if a copy of the resource were on their own computer.

Using ArcGIS Server

As you use ArcGIS Server, you will follow a workflow of three steps to make your geographic information available through the server:

Authoring the GIS resource

GIS resources do not originate in ArcGIS Server; instead, you use ArcGIS Desktop to create them. To determine what GIS resources you need to author, it's important to think about what GIS functions you need to perform with ArcGIS Server. The table below displays the types of GIS resources that you can publish using ArcGIS Server, what they can do, and the corresponding ArcGIS Desktop application that can create the resource.

GIS resource

What it can do in ArcGIS Server

Which ArcGIS Desktop application creates it

Map document or map service definition*

Mapping, geoprocessing, network analysis, Web Coverage Service (WCS) publishing, Web Feature Service (WFS) publishing, Web Map Service (WMS) publishing, mobile data publishing, KML publishing, geodatabase data extraction and replication


Address locator




Geodatabase query, extraction, and replication; WCS publishing; WFS publishing


Globe document

3D mapping




ArcMap or ArcCatalog through the Geoprocessing menu and ModelBuilder

Raster dataset, mosaic dataset, or layer file referencing a raster dataset or mosaic dataset

Imaging, WCS or WMS publishing

ArcCatalog or ArcMap

* A map service definition (MSD) is created from a map document (MXD) and can be used as a GIS resource. See Map service capabilities to understand which functions are available with an MSD-based service.

From the table above, you can get an idea of what type of GIS resource you will need to prepare to accomplish your objectives with ArcGIS Server. For example, if you need to publish an interactive map on the Internet, then you will need to create a map document using ArcMap. If you need to be able to type in an address and see its location on a map, you will need to use ArcGIS Desktop to create an address locator.

You may have noticed that some of the GIS resources in the table above can accomplish similar things in ArcGIS Server. For example, both a map document and a toolbox can be published for geoprocessing. In these cases, the type of resource you create depends on the circumstances in which you will be using the service. You can find help for deciding which type of resource to create in the topic What types of services can you publish?

Getting help with ArcGIS Desktop

If you are unfamiliar with ArcGIS Desktop or need assistance in preparing your GIS resources, you can use the ArcGIS Desktop Help. This help system is available as part of the ArcGIS Desktop installation or online at the ArcGIS Resource Center. The ArcGIS Server Help provides links to ArcGIS Desktop Help Online where appropriate.

Publishing the GIS resource as a service

Once you've created your GIS resource, you can publish it as a service using ArcGIS Server Manager. You can additionally use Manager to view your services, organize them in folders, monitor their performance, and create applications that make use of your services.

Publishing a service requires some preparation to make sure your GIS resource is accessible to all necessary components of the server. You should reference the resource and its data in such a way that all server object container (SOC) machines on your server can access it. Additionally, you must give the SOC account appropriate permissions to the directory containing the resource and its data.

When you create a service, you are asked to choose which capabilities of the GIS resource you want to enable. All service types support a base capability that is closely related to the GIS resource type. For example, all map services support the Mapping capability, and all globes support the Globe capability. However, additional capabilities may be available for a service depending on its type of GIS resource and what data and tools the resource contains. For instance, when you publish a map document that contains a tool layer, you get the option to enable the Geoprocessing capability, which allows clients to run a model on the server and see the results in the map service. Another example of a capability—one that you can enable when you publish any map service—is Mobile Data Access, which allows mobile devices to extract the map's data using a Web service. You can find a complete list of available capabilities in the topic What types of services can you publish?

By default, services are automatically enabled for Web access when you create them. If desired, you can disable Web access or set limits on what clients can do with the service through the Web. Additionally, you can specify which users on the network will have access to the services.

Using the service through a client application

Once you've published your service, other users on the network will be able to access it. In some cases, you may want people to use an existing application, such as ArcGIS Explorer, to view your services. In other cases, you may need to develop a client application yourself using the tools included with ArcGIS Server.

Supported clients of ArcGIS Server services include ArcGIS Explorer, ArcMap, and ArcGlobe. In some cases, other applications may be able to consume services with certain types of capabilities enabled. For example, you could use a standard Web browser as a client to a map service with the WMS capability enabled. Additionally, if the KML capability were enabled, you could view the service with Google Earth.

Creating Web applications

ArcGIS Server Manager includes a wizard for creating your own Web mapping application that uses your services. You can choose the layers that your map will display, configure tasks that will simplify the GIS workflow, and set the theme and appearance of the application. Manager maintains a list of the applications you've created, so you can view, edit, or remove them at any time. To start creating a Web application, see Introduction to creating Web applications with Manager.

If you want to create Web applications that contain functionality beyond that provided by Manager, you can use the Web Application Developer Framework (ADF). The Web ADF contains the building blocks for creating GIS Web applications. You can use the Web ADF to build a Web application from scratch or customize an existing application that you created with Manager.

The Web ADF also provides a framework for blending ArcGIS Server services with other types of services, such as ArcIMS services. You can add these types of services to the Web applications that you build in Manager. Also, the developer libraries included with ArcGIS Server provide the classes you need to work with these other types of services.

If you just need to embed basic mapping and query functionality into a Web application, consider using the JavaScript APIs included with ArcGIS Server. These allow you to access GIS servers through JavaScript code that runs in the browser. The JavaScript APIs work well for creating lightweight mashup applications. These might overlay data from different sources or provide simple query and geocoding functionality. You don't need to have any GIS software installed on your machine to develop or use these applications; you just need to be able to access an ArcGIS Server.

Creating mobile applications

Perhaps your services will be used in the field on mobile devices. ArcGIS Mobile, offered with ArcGIS Server for the Microsoft .NET Framework, provides classes and templates for building GIS applications for mobile devices, such as Pocket PCs and Smartphones. See the ArcGIS Mobile Help to get started.

You can use ArcGIS Server to publish mobile data services, which allow mobile devices to extract the contents of your map through a Web service. To learn how to create this type of service, see Mobile data services.

Creating ArcGIS Explorer maps

ArcGIS Explorer is a free lightweight desktop application for data visualization and navigation. You can add ArcGIS Server services as data to ArcGIS Explorer and combine them with data from other servers or your own local file system.

OGC services

The Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC), has published specifications for sharing maps, vector features, and rasters across the Internet. These are the WMS, WFS, and WCS specifications, respectively. When you publish map, image, or geodata services, you have the option to enable capabilities that expose these services through OGC specifications. See OGC support in ArcGIS Server for a chart of the OGC services available for each service type.

Manager allows you to view a list of the OGC services you have published and the URLs for each of them. See Viewing OGC services in Manager for instructions.

KML network links

KML is an open specification for displaying geographic data in mapping applications. Using Manager, you can publish a set of layers from a map service as a KML network link. Others can view the layers using a client capable of reading KML, such as ArcGIS Explorer or Google Earth. You can also use Manager to take an existing KMZ file (compressed KML) and make it available on your server. Managing KML network links details this process.

Creating other clients

Other possible clients of ArcGIS Server include desktop applications that you build with ArcGIS Engine and application Web services that communicate with ArcGIS Server Web services through Web Service Description Language (WSDL).

Getting help

The ArcGIS Server Help contains sections for publishing services, creating applications, administering the server, and working with geographic databases. Various tutorials are included in the help to walk you through the process of using ArcGIS Server for the first time.

You can use the Help link in Manager to open the ArcGIS Server Help system. Additionally, you can launch the help from the Start menu.

A continually updated and expanded version of the help is available online at the ArcGIS Resource Center.