ArcGIS Online

Use World Imagery Wayback

The World Imagery basemap is regularly updated. When updates are made, the older imagery is replaced and is no longer visible. In most cases, the latest imagery is always preferred, but there may be reasons to use older imagery. For example, there may be undesirable color variations, previous versions may align better with your GIS data, or there may be unwanted shadows or clouds. In these cases, you may want to access a previous version of the World Imagery basemap or layers. Another reason is that you may want to go back in time to view change that has occurred as the result of development, fires, or other events.


What is Wayback imagery?

Wayback Imagery is a digital archive of the World Imagery basemap that enables you to access over 120 versions of World Imagery captured over the past 7 years. The different vintages of imagery are published as tile layers that you can add to your maps, or can use as basemaps. Note that this archive is based on the date that it was published in the World Imagery basemap, not on the date the imagery was actually acquired, which may be older.

There are two ways that you can leverage Wayback imagery; using the online archive, or using the Wayback app. The Wayback app is the easiest and recommended way to get the most out of Wayback imagery.


Use the Wayback app

The World Imagery Wayback app is the best way to browse archived versions of imagery. The app displays a timeline and list, letting you browse all archived versions based on location and scale. You can focus on only imagery with local changes, preview preview imagery by hovering or selecting individual layers, or use swipe mode to explore further.  Choose one or more Wayback layers to place them in a queue, when finished you can add them to a new ArcGIS online web map.

Step 1 – Open the Wayback app.

You can find the app in the Apps tab of the ArcGIS Living Atlas website, in the Wayback Imagery group, or by searching  ArcGIS Online. Favorite the app or share it into one of your groups for easy access.

Step 2 – Zoom to your area of interest

One the app is opened, use Search to zoom to your area of interest.

Step 3 – Examine the available imagery

Pan and zoom in or out to the desired location and level of detail, the results shown in the app are based on location and scale. The layer list shows all vintages, those with local changes are highlighted in white. In the upper left a timeline is visible, with dates with local changes highlighted. Check the box to see only the updates with local changes.

Step 4 – Explore and select the layer(s) you want to add to your map

Hover over any layer to see a preview on the map. To explore the imagery in full screen mode, use swipe mode (see the Use swipe mode section below).

Preview image

Click a layer to see it on the map, and click the map to view all details.

Image details

Add layers to the map queue by clicking the Add icon.

Add to map queue

Step 5 – Make a web map.

Layers you have selected are queued in the app. The blue circle shows the number of layers selected. Click the web map icon to add the selected layers to a new map.

New web map

You’ll be prompted to sign in to save your map.


Use swipe mode

Swipe mode lets you to use a slider to view imagery from the Wayback archives, vastly improving your ability to compare over a broad area and select the imagery best suited for your needs. To use swipe mode, follow steps 1 through 3 above, then follow the additional steps below:

Step 1 – Click the swipe mode toggle to enter swipe mode.

Toggle swipe mode

Step 2 – Select imagery on the left and right to swipe.

The available imagery is listed on the left and right side of swipe mode. Click to select and display the dates of interest and move the slider to compare the imagery.

Wayback swipe mode
View larger image

Step 3 – When finished, toggle swipe mode again to return to normal mode.

Toggle swipe mode

After using exploring the imagery using swipe mode, you can add the layers you want to a new web map. See steps 4 and 5 in the previous section.

Tip: A powerful feature of swipe mode is that you can capture the selected imagery and map extent and share the swipe with others. From swipe mode, click Share.


Then click Copy to capture the URL to email, link, or share with others.


Here are several examples:


Browse the Wayback archive

The entire Wayback archive can be found in the Wayback Imagery group. Each item in the archive represents World Imagery as it existed on the date the imagery was published. Wayback includes all updated versions of World Imagery dating back to February 20, 2014.

Using the archive you can view the imagery as it existed on the publish date. Each is represented as an ArcGIS Online item. Select the version you want and use it as a basemap, or use it with other layers in your web map. Follow these steps:

Step 1 – Sign in to your account. Search ArcGIS Online for the Wayback Imagery group.

a –Enter “wayback imagery” in search.

b –Select Groups.

c –Toggle search outside your organization.

Search for wayback imagery

Tip: The group allows members from any organization. If you’ll be using group content frequently, click Join this group to become a member of the group. Once you’ve joined, the group will show up in your group list where it can be found easily.

Join this group

Step 2 – Open the group and browse the layers to find the vintage you want. The example shown below uses World Imagery (Wayback 2014-02-20). Note that the archived imagery is in paired layers; one is the WMTS layer that has the imagery, the other is a transparent tile layer with metadata.

Wayback imagery

Step 3 – Open the item details and add the layer to your map

Find the WMTS layer and click the title to open the item details, then click the thumbnail to open the layer in a map. Note that WMTS layers are currently only supported in Map Viewer Classic.

Open in Map Viewer Classic

Step 4 – (Optional) Set the layer as your basemap

If you want to use the layer as a basemap, click More options (…) and Move to Basemap. After moving the layer to the basemap, you can remove other basemap layers.

Move to Basemap



Using these methods (we recommend the Wayback app) you can choose the imagery for your basemap or for other other mapping workflows, such as visualizing change over time.  As other vintages become available, they will be added to the Wayback archive and will be searchable using the Wayback app.


For more information

For more information, see the following:

This blog article was originally published on January 3, 2019, and has been updated.

About the author

Corporate tech evangelist and senior principal product manager at Esri, focusing on ways to broaden access to geographic information and helping users succeed with the ArcGIS online system. On a good day I'm making a map, on a great day I'm on one. Follow @bernszukalski or email


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