Christmas with Collector for ArcGIS: An In Field test. Part 1.

It’s been three years since I joined Esri Australia from one of Esri’s distributor offices in Europe. While being fully loaded with my technical support and training assignments at work I’ve been spending every available opportunity on exploring this beautiful country. In all my travels around Australia I’ve been using GIS as one of the main instruments for navigation, getting directions and story telling about my trips across the continent by making maps showing routes, visited places and the places I’d like to visit one day.

In most situations these were just simple geographic maps consisting of free basemaps pulled from the website, a couple of layers to show POI (Points of Interest) and a layer showing the route of that particular trip. I would export these maps to PDF and either post them online in my blog or send them to my co-travellers as email attachments.

But now with the new Collector for ArcGIS Application released by Esri for iOS and Android platforms, and the new capabilities of ArcGIS Online combined with the technical advantages provided by the latest smartphones, I took it to the next level.  Now we can use mobile applications and collect data in the field just by using our iPhones or any other compatible smartphone, which most of us have.

We have just finished another trip across Australia during which we drove more than 4000 kilometres in 16 days from Perth to Exmouth and back again and in this field trip I tested the field data collection workflow which is now available to everyone with a smartphone and ArcGIS Online subscription.

The idea was to create a very simple map with a few layers, publish it as a web service on ArcGIS online and edit data in the field. In our case we just wanted to highlight the places we were visiting in WA and let everyone know where we were and how things were going. In addition to that, the functionality of such a map was supposed to provide the user with the ability to take pictures using the smartphone’s camera and add them to point features on the map.

The map, which is available for the general public, can be viewed here:

Every webmap contains two types of layers: operational layers – the ones that the user will interact with to edit the data and visualize the changes, and the basemap layers or the layers that are included to provide a frame of reference for your map (i.e. ArcGIS basemaps) which are normally not editable. So, the map that I created to highlight our WA voyage contains four layers:

  • The basemap – it can be changed at any time and the user can choose from 9 standard basemaps or add a custom basemap.
  • POI or Points of Interest – this is a custom basemap layer, which contains some highlights of WA that we were going to see
  • Campsites: we decided to travel in a campervan and stay at campsites / caravan parks. This is another custom basemap layer
  • Checkpoints – this is the main operational layer in the entire web mapping application. It was supposed to be an editable layer which could store the point features added via the mobile application in the field.

How to use this map: zoom in to the area of interest and left-click on the green marker symbol to open the pop-up window that will show the attributes:


Just under the attributes you will find a link to a photo taken with my iPhone which can be opened in a new window.

All points were collected using the Collector for ArcGIS app on my iPhone and updates were submitted to ArcGIS online via 4G / 3G / Edge connection (depending on the type of connection that was available).

This is a really simple example of how this technology can be used for fun (or, say, for letting your parents or friends know that you’re doing fine in the remote areas of the country in +40 outside, without calling them every day). Of course you can use it for serious applications, such as field data collection for emergency response, environment management programs etc. My example highlights that this technology can be used pretty much everywhere as long as the data involved is geographically enabled.

So, how was this map created? Let’s have a look at how to implement this field data collection workflow.

There are some major steps:

1. Create a map with the required basemap layers and operational layers

2. Publish a feature service using the ArcGIS Online for organisations

3. Set-up a web mapping application: configure pop-ups, symbology, make sure that only the required operational layers are editable and share the map

4. Set editing permissions

5. Use the Collector for ArcGIS app to collect features using your smartphone in the field.

To start we will consider the first four steps of the above workflow and I’ll show you how to prepare a web map which will be used by the Collector for ArcGIS App.

Software Requirements:

1. ArcGIS for Desktop (Standard or Advanced)

2. ArcGIS Online for Organisations subscription (you can use a an initial 30-day trial)

3. Collector for ArcGIS app installed on your smartphone which must also be connected to internet via 3G/4G.

Part 1: Getting started preparing your data and maps for the Collector for ArcGIS App.

Step one involves a few basic ArcGIS for Desktop routines. I created a new file geodatabase and three point feature classes:


I quickly added a few points to the campsites layer – basically the locations of caravan parks (using addresses) and promptly digitized a few points of interest that I’d managed to find in guidebooks, travel brochures etc.

The checkpoints layer was created as an empty layer. This was the main operational layer for my Collector for ArcGIS app, so I had to create the feature class schema: define the name, type, coordinate system and attribute fields:


In short, the user of the Collector for ArcGIS app was supposed to fill only four attributes for each point collected in the field: name, temperature (we knew it was going to be very hot in North-West WA), comment and date.

Each point had to be followed by a photo taken with the smartphone and we found out that the best way to enable this capability was to use the geodatabase feature attachments . An attachment can be associated with a particular feature within a feature class and it can be everything: a PDF document, a video or a picture.

So the last “data management” step was to enable attachments on the Checkpoints layer:


You can read more about geodatabase attachments here:

So the map that I created in just 15 minutes looked like the following:


Step 2

Publish the map to ArcGIS Online.

As mentioned above this can only be done if you have a valid ArcGIS Online for Organisations subscription (trial or annual). Please read the following article to learn how to subscribe to ArcGIS Online for Organisations:

You can publish your data to ArcGIS Online directly from ArcMap. See below:

1. Sign in:


2. Navigate to File > Map Document Properties and fill out the mandatory fields: Title, Summary, Description and Tags.

3. Navigate to File > Share As > Service and choose Publish a service. Type in the name (of the service)and make sure you’re publishing it to  “My Hosted Services”


For this example I used Esri Australia Support Team’s ArcGIS Online account. Publishing maps to ArcGIS Online is similar to publishing your data using the ArcGIS for Server, however in this case you don’t have to use ArcGIS for Server as all the data is being pushed to the “cloud”.

If the main idea of your project is to collect data in the field using the Collector for ArcGIS app, just like in my case, it is important to publish a feature service, which will allow you to edit both vector data and attributes.

Make sure that Feature Access is checked (Capabilities tab)


Click on the Feature Access and enable all available operations:


Navigate to the Parameters tab and note the parameter called Maximum number of records Returned by the server. The default value is 1000 meaning the published service will allow you to visualize no more than 1000 features at a time. Once the service has been published to ArcGIS Online you will lose the ability to change this parameter, so it’s always a good idea to change it to a larger value if you’re planning to collect more than a one thousand points.

One you’re done filling out the parameters and description fields, hit the Analyze button and make sure that there is nothing that can prevent the map from being published.

If there are no errors, hit the Publish button.


This can take a few moments.

Step 3

Set up the web map.

Go to and sign in with you ArcGIS Online login. Please note that you have to use your ArcGIS Online for Organisations account and not your free public Esri global account.

Navigate to My Content


This list should now contain two elements: a feature service that you’ve just published and a map layer:


Check the Features Layer and hit Create Map (as below):


A new ArcGIS Online (AGOL) web map will open and the layers that have been published as a service will appear. The symbology should be exactly the same as in ArcMap.

Now, switch to the Contents Tab and click the pull-down arrow next to the one of the layers that will be used as basemap layers (or reference layers). Disable the editing capability.


Repeat this for other layers that you do not want edited by the end users.

Note that I have only three GIS layers in this example, so the above step is more or less optional. In the event I had dozens of layers, I would have to choose the ones that are editable to simplify the collection process.  When we choose what layers are editable in a mobile application we must keep in mind that a smartphone’s screen is normally quite small in comparison to a laptop’s and the more layers that are available for editing in the web application, the more editing templates will appear on the screen each time you want to add a new feature. It’s best to keep this list compact and focus on operational layers.

Don’t forget to make sure that the layer which will be used to store the points (lines or polygons) collected using your mobile device is editable.
The next step is to configure the pop-ups. The pop-up window in the AGOL map viewer acts like an attribute window in ArcMap and it shows you the attributes associated with the feature selected on the map.
When you click on a feature published to ArcGIS online, the pop-up window will show all the attributes available, including the ObjectID, Shape and other system specific fields (which sometimes mean nothing to non-GIS people). So it’s a good idea to disable these fields and leave the ones that contain the actual attribute data that the user will be utilizing (such as Name, Description etc.)
Open the context menu of a layer that you want to change and choose the “configure pop-up” option

There are many ways to configure the pop-ups: you can include hyperlinks, pictures and change symbols and styles. In this example I will simply configure the attributes to make sure that only the most important attribute information will be available to Collector for ArcGIS users on their iPhones.

In the pop-up configuration window you need to hit the Configure Attributes option.


Untick the attribute fields that you don’t want to see in the pop-up window.


Hit ok and repeat the procedure with other layers in you web map.  When done, click the save pop-up button in the lower left corner.

Save your new web map. Note that you will have to type in the name, at least one search tag, a brief summary and choose a folder within your organisational account (if left blank the map will be saved to My Contents).


Navigate to My Contents and click on the name of the new map that has been created. This will open the Item Description page and if you hit Edit you’ll be able to edit the description of your new map, change the thumbnail, and add some information about access restrictions and limitations.


That’s it for today. Stay tuned for Part 2 which will demonstrate how to set-up permissions and use sharing options on ArcGIS Online for Organisations.

3 thoughts on “Christmas with Collector for ArcGIS: An In Field test. Part 1.

  1. surjeet singh

    Hi Ivan,
    this blog is awesome. it will be very helpful about collector for ArcGIS.
    i have one query related to ArcSDE geodatabase. see if i create a mxd using the data stored in the arcsde 10.2.2 and publish a service with name like my_map. now i want to host this service with ArcGIS online. now in that case how the arcsde geodatabase will be mapped with ArcGIS online.
    it is very important to know this as i am working on this right now.
    i will be very thankful to you if you will help me out.
    surjeet singh


Got something to say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s