Esri Establishes Closer Ties with the Developer Community

Technology Showcased at the Esri Developer Summit Aims to Inspire Software Developers

GIS technology is quickly advancing in new directions, benefiting developers in many ways that will impact their work. That was evident from the news that came out of the 2021 Esri Developer Summit (DevSummit), held virtually in April.

For example, Esri announced the release of ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes, which gives organizations a new way to deliver GIS using microservices. Esri also released ArcGIS Platform, a platform as a service (PaaS) product that provides software developers with mapping and location capabilities to integrate into their apps. Geospatial artificial intelligence (GeoAI) capabilities are becoming highly sophisticated, and new 3D GIS capabilities in ArcGIS API for JavaScript give developers the ability to provide more contextual awareness for locations and even create and visualize 3D scenes on Mars. Additionally, Esri has opened up the Calcite Design System to developers, allowing them to give their apps a consistent look and feel.

Jack Dangermond and Jim McKinney standing at a desk with a computer monitor on it
Jack Dangermond (left) joined Jim McKinney (right) to talk about the strong connection between Esri and the developer community.

More than 5,500 developers from over 60 countries gathered for the three-day virtual event. Attendees received updates on Esri software and developer technologies during a series of plenary and technical sessions. The virtual Ask Our Experts Showcase also gave app developers the opportunity to get their technical questions answered by Esri staff.

While Esri wants to bring DevSummit back to its usual venue of Palm Springs, California, in 2022, the mission remains the same, whether people meet in person or online.

“This event is by developers, for developers,” Jim McKinney, chief technology officer for desktop development at Esri, said in welcoming attendees. “DevSummit is the largest gathering of geospatial developers on the planet, and you are a significant part of that. We are not only hoping to educate you but inspire you.”

Esri president Jack Dangermond joined McKinney for a few minutes to talk to the audience about the strong connection between Esri and the developer community, especially as Esri continues to redesign the developer experience. The aim is to bring the power of mapping and location intelligence to all developers by making capabilities more accessible.

“The developer community…has been foundational to our success, and I appreciate very much the work that you do—this year particularly,” Dangermond said.

In 2021 and beyond, Esri plans to build on that foundation and establish closer ties with app developers.

“This is the year of opening up GIS to developers in a more amplified way,” Dangermond announced.

He said he sees the important work that developers are doing in areas such as public health, climate change, racial equity, and biodiversity. He noted one prominent example: the work done by a team at Johns Hopkins University using ArcGIS technology to create a dashboard that mapped COVID-19 cases and deaths globally.

“That whole gamut [of work] is so important, whether it’s putting a map in an app or whether it’s building rich, science-modeling tools that are looking at the future of our world and how to make it a better place,” Dangermond said. “Especially [important are] you, the GIS developers who bring the maps and the language of our world to life in various ways.”

Esri Introduces ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes

A major announcement made at the DevSummit this year was the release of ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes.

Increasingly, apps are being built using containers or microservices to increase efficiency, scalability, and stability. Kubernetes is open-source software (originally designed by Google but now maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation) that deploys, manages, and scales these types of containers or microservices.

“ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes delivers GIS technology using cloud-native architecture,” Sud Menon, director of software product development at Esri, told the developer community during his DevSummit Plenary Session presentation.

Sud Menon smiling while talking
Sud Menon explained ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes, a new deployment option based on a microservices architecture.

In brief, ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes is a new deployment option based on a microservices architecture for scalability and resilience, containers for delivering software, and Kubernetes for orchestrating the containers.

“Each independent capability, such as hosted feature services or spatial analysis services, is delivered as its own, independently scalable microservice,” said Menon.

The main benefits of ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes, he pointed out, are streamlined installation, dynamic scaling, easy upgrades that minimize downtime, higher resilience, and easy IT integration.

Initially, ArcGIS Enterprise for Kubernetes is available for Red Hat OpenShift (an on-premises deployment option), Microsoft Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), and Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS). Menon said that later in 2021, ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes will be available for the Google Cloud Platform Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE).

ArcGIS Platform: A PaaS for Developers

While current ArcGIS software users can already access location content, services, and capabilities using ArcGIS Enterprise, ArcGIS Pro, and ArcGIS Online, Esri released ArcGIS Platform to reach the wider software developer community.

A 3D rendering of a city, with buildings shown in orange, green, blue, yellow, and other colors
With ArcGIS Platform, developers can integrate location capabilities into their apps, products, and business systems.

A PaaS offering, ArcGIS Platform is for software developers who want to integrate location capabilities into their apps, products, and business systems.

“It’s designed to bring powerful mapping and location capabilities as a set of independent services to you in the form that you are expecting,” said David Cardella, product manager for ArcGIS Platform. “These services have been powering ArcGIS for many years, but now we’ve opened them up in ways we haven’t before, and we are making them available to the global developer community.”

ArcGIS Platform offers three main elements:

Developers get access to the mapping library of their choice. ArcGIS Platform comes with ArcGIS API for JavaScript for creating web apps; a set of APIs for developing mobile and desktop apps; scripting APIs for automating mapping and analysis; and support for popular open-source mapping libraries, including Leaflet, OpenLayers, and Mapbox GL JS.

“With the work we’ve done to enhance our back-end services, you will be able to use these libraries to access our location services in just a couple of lines of code,” Cardella said. “The choice of mapping libraries is yours. But regardless of the one you choose, you will be able to use location services from ArcGIS Platform.”

Cardella said that the location services available in ArcGIS Platform—basemaps, data hosting, data visualization, routing and directions, spatial analytics, geocoding and search, image analysis, and more—are now easier to access and integrate into solutions.

The business model is transparent and easy to understand, he added, stating that developers will only pay for the services they use, regardless of the API or authentication method they use.

Esri offers a free account to developers to help them get started using ArcGIS Platform.

“You will receive a generous free tier to kick-start your development that includes two million map tiles and thousands of other service transactions, [such as] searching, routing, or geocoding,” Cardella said.

Building Apps Using Services from ArcGIS Platform

Euan Cameron, chief technology officer of developer technology at Esri, said developers have many options to choose from when they use services from ArcGIS Platform to build apps. These options include low- or no-code services, APIs to create web apps, native and embedded apps, and apps built using game engines.

“We even have a design system to help you build beautiful-looking apps,” Cameron said.

This design system has Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) and JavaScript frameworks that include a set of web components that can be integrated into apps, an interactive help system with great examples and documentation, and design guidelines and graphic resources.

Julie Powell, principal product manager of web development technologies at Esri, said that the new design system from Esri creates a consistent look and experience among a suite of apps with its user interface (UI) components, colors, icons, and design patterns. And Esri is now sharing its design system with developers.

Julie Powell standing at a computer monitor, giving a presentation
Julie Powell demonstrated Esri’s new Calcite Design System, which developers can use in their web apps.

“It’s called Calcite, and now we are making it available to all of you so you can use it in your web apps,” Powell said. “All you have to do is go to the [ArcGIS] Developers website, create an account, and you can start using it.”

The new Map Viewer in ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Enterprise uses the Calcite Design System for the user experience.

In her presentation, Powell showed the audience the library of UI components in the design system, such as accordion, button, card, label, data picker, and alerts.

“Because they are web components, you can use them with any JavaScript framework,” she said. “They are also flexible, so you can configure them for your particular use case. The part that I like the best is [that] because they are responsive, they are designed to work on any form factor, so you have confidence when you build your application that it will adapt well to any screen size.”

The design system also comes with colors and themes. While the UI components default to the ArcGIS color palette, users can configure a color scheme that matches their organization’s branding. It’s also easy to switch from a light to a dark theme or vice versa by changing a single property. All the components then adjust accordingly to the theme.

“There are also 1,400 icons you can choose from,” said Powell. “This helps tell more of a visual story and simplify the text in your apps.”

Powell explained that the Calcite Design System can help developers create consistency in all their web apps.

“You can seamlessly integrate with the ArcGIS ecosystem and, at the same time, highlight your brand and style,” she said.

New Map Viewer Debuts

Developers got to see the Calcite Design System components in action during a demonstration of the new Map Viewer, which came out of beta in April.

The new Map Viewer’s sketch layer, showing how users can place a stamp—of a dragon, in this example—on imagery of a sports field
Map Viewer has new and improved tools for doing analysis, thematic mapping, and sketching.

Jeremy Bartley, group manager of the ArcGIS API for JavaScript team, demonstrated the viewer, which is available in ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Enterprise.

“Map Viewer is a good example of an application that’s completely built [using] the underlying technology within Esri, from ArcGIS API for JavaScript to the Calcite components to hosted feature services,” he said.

Bartley showed attendees around several of the new and improved analysis, thematic mapping, and sketching tools that are included with Map Viewer. It also comes with an improved and intuitive UI for creating web maps. In addition, there are better pop-up configurations and labeling options, scale-driven styling, more printing layouts, reverse geocoding, new smart mapping styles, and new color ramps—including ones that are color-blind accessible—to better express data.

3D GIS Is Out of This World

New 3D capabilities in ArcGIS API for JavaScript make many things possible, including creating 3D scenes of Mars.

Arno Fiva, an Esri 3D developer evangelist for ArcGIS API for JavaScript, showed the DevSummit audience an app built by Esri developers that supports two extraterrestrial coordinate systems. Other developers can use ArcGIS API for JavaScript in a similar way to create 3D scenes of the Martian landscape.

The Explore Mars app provides users with detailed elevation and imagery data for the whole planet. Fiva demonstrated how to use the app to zoom in to any location on Mars, including craters, valleys, and sites where various rovers have landed. The app comes with line, area, and elevation measurement tools and tools to compare areas on Mars with 3D models of Earth-based regions, including cities such as Zurich, Switzerland, and natural features like the Grand Canyon. For example, to see how much area Sudan would take up on Mars, users can click on the country on a globe and select Place it on Mars.

The New Data Engineering Experience

New tools in the May 2021 release of ArcGIS Pro 2.8 make data engineering—a highly time-consuming aspect of the spatial analysis process—much easier, according to Lauren Bennett, who leads the spatial analysis and data science software development team at Esri.

A slide showing the data engineering processes, which include construct, clean, format, and integrate
New tools in ArcGIS Pro 2.8 make data engineering—the process of getting data ready for analysis by adding new fields or filling missing values—easier.

Data engineering—getting data ready for analysis by adding new fields or filling missing values—is crucial, she said.

“Our analysis is only ever as good as the data that we put into it,” Bennett pointed out.

The release of ArcGIS Pro 2.8 introduced a data engineering experience that makes it easier to explore and visualize data. Tools that are in the ArcGIS system are brought together to construct, clean, format, and integrate data to prepare it for analysis, Bennett said. Esri solution engineer Lakeisha Coleman demonstrated this new capability using data from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and demographic and unemployment data.

As McKinney said during the Plenary Session, the hope is to educate and inspire.

“You have a great set of tools and developer technologies for yourself, your customers, or your enterprise,” he said.

He then encouraged developers to stay connected through the Esri Community.

“We look forward to hearing from you!” he added.