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What is ArcGIS Server?

ArcGIS Server is a back-end server software component of ArcGIS Enterprise that makes your geographic information available to others in your organization and optionally anyone with an Internet connection. This is accomplished through web services, which allow a powerful server computer to receive and process requests for information sent by other devices.

ArcGIS Server can be used in two models. The primary model is to be part of an ArcGIS Enterprise deployment in which ArcGIS Server is federated with an ArcGIS Enterprise portal. This is the deployment pattern that most users should use. In this model, your geographic data is made available through layers and web maps in the portal. Those items can then be consumed in a wide variety of apps, including browser-based web apps and native apps on mobile devices, with little to no custom development required.

Learn more about integrating ArcGIS Server with ArcGIS Enterprise

The secondary model is for ArcGIS Server to work in a stand-alone mode, in which it is not federated with an ArcGIS Enterprise portal. This was a common deployment pattern in previous releases. New deployments should only use this pattern in a limited set of circumstances. A common pattern for stand-alone sites uses ArcGIS Server to provide foundational content and services as a data provider, with little to no security controls on the services, allowing consumers to provide their own applications to interact with the content. Consumers themselves will typically have ArcGIS Enterprise or ArcGIS Online to use the data in the various applications.

ArcGIS Server sites using the stand-alone model can migrate to a federated ArcGIS Enterprise model. For complete information, see the Esri white paper on ArcGIS Server migration.

To get started with ArcGIS Server, you’ll need to prepare your hardware, software, and data before you can begin publishing services. Then, you can use various types of applications to consume your services.

Prepare hardware, software, and data

The hardware you use for your server is typically more powerful than your other desktop computers. ArcGIS Server requires a machine capable of running a 64-bit operating system. The ArcGIS Server architecture is scalable, meaning you can add multiple machines if extra processing power is needed.

Depending on organizational requirements, you may need the help of your IT staff to allow your server to be accessed over the Internet. When planning your hardware and environment, remember that ArcGIS Server can also be deployed on virtual machines or commercial cloud platforms such as Amazon EC2.

Once you install ArcGIS Server, you can start using it right away or you can integrate it with your organization’s existing web server by installing the ArcGIS Web Adaptor. You also need to have ArcGIS Desktop on at least one computer in your organization in order to publish GIS web services. This computer does not have to be the server.

Publish services

If you’ve worked with ArcGIS Desktop, then you know how to use applications like ArcMap to view and analyze GIS data. You use these same applications when publishing web services to ArcGIS Server. You can author maps, geoprocessing models, mosaic datasets, and other GIS resources in ArcGIS Desktop and use a simple wizard to share them as web services.

As part of the sharing process, ArcGIS alerts you to potential performance issues in the resource you are publishing. It also checks its list of registered data locations to understand whether it needs to fix any paths after your resource is moved to the server.

Below are the types of resources you can publish to ArcGIS Server:

GIS resourceWhat it can do in ArcGIS ServerWhich ArcGIS Desktop application creates it

Map document

Mapping, network analysis, Web Coverage Service (WCS) publishing, Web Feature Service (WFS) publishing, Web Map Service (WMS) publishing, Web Map Tile Service (WMTS) publishing, KML publishing, Geodatabase data extraction and replication, feature access publishing, schematics publishing


Address locator


ArcCatalog or the Catalog window in ArcMap


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

ArcCatalog or the Catalog window in ArcMap

Geoprocessing model or tool

Geoprocessing, Web Processing Service (WPS) publishing

ArcMap (geoprocessing result from the Results window)

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

Image publishing, WCS or WMS publishing

ArcCatalog or the Catalog window in ArcMap

Folders and geodatabases of GIS content

Create a searchable index of your organization's GIS content


If you don’t want to publish right away (for example, if you don’t have immediate access to the server machine) you can save a service definition file instead and publish it later. The service definition includes all the data paths and properties necessary to publish the service at another time. You can even choose to include all the source data, allowing you to truly package the service into one transferrable file.

During the publishing process, you'll enable capabilities that define the various ways your audience can use the service. For example, Feature Access is a popular capability that allows web users to edit vector features in a map service. Another example of a capability is WMS, which exposes your service through the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Web Map Service (WMS) specifications.

See What types of services can you publish for greater detail on the services and capabilities available to you.

If you find that your web service does not offer the precise functionality or business logic that you need, you can expand it through server object extensions (SOEs). An SOE extends the base functionality of a web service using ArcObjects, the vast suite of components on which the Esri family of products is built. SOEs are an advanced option requiring custom development, but once written they are easy to deploy to your server or share it with others. No special software other than ArcGIS Server is required to run an SOE.

Use services

Once you have web services running, you can use them in any application, device, or API that can communicate through HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol).

  • ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Enterprise let you make and save maps that display your services. You can optionally overlay your service with other services.
  • The ArcGIS APIs for JavaScript, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone allow you to develop custom applications that use the full breadth of your web services within an interface you design yourself.
  • ArcGIS Desktop applications, such as ArcMap and ArcGIS Pro, are designed to use web services published by ArcGIS Server. Using a service in these applications is often as easy as clicking the Add Data button.
  • Any other application that can make a SOAP or REST web service request can connect to ArcGIS Server. Supported clients range from smartphone and tablet apps that find the nearest grocery store to enterprise desktop applications for customer management or resource planning.

Maintain your server

As you work with your server over time, you’ll need to adjust settings, add and remove services, and set up security rules. ArcGIS Server Manager is a web application included with every installation of ArcGIS Server that provides an intuitive point-and-click interface for administering the server. You can use Manager to view the server logs, stop and start services, publish service definitions, define users and roles for security, and perform other similar tasks.

As easy as it is to use Manager, there are times when you may want to administer your server automatically through scripting. ArcGIS Server has a REST-ful administrator API that allows you to automate server management tasks using the scripting language of your choice. For example, you can write a Python script that checks the health of your services periodically and sends you an e-mail if a service is detected to be down. This help system contains various examples of how to script your server administration.