Web GIS Explained – 5 Essential Elements and What is Web GIS?

A hot buzz term that you’ll be hearing quite often these days is “Web GIS”, however, you may be wondering to yourself, what is Web GIS as it seems fairly broad in scope.  According to Esri, Web GIS is a type of distributed information system, comprising at least a server and a client, where the server is a GIS server and the client is a web browser, desktop application, or mobile application. Web GIS offers many advantages including ease of use, support for unified updates, diverse apps and more.

From SSP – The term WebGIS is being tossed around all over the place right now but the true meaning of the term may be very different than what you understand it to be. This video covers an explanation of how Esri WebGIS provides for the evolution of your GIS from a System of Record into a System of Engagement. WebGIS is more than maps on the web; Find out how you can utilize an Esri portal to transform your entire GIS roadmap.

This fine video on this hot topic answers why Web GIS? Web GIS from SSP Innovations @SSPInnovations – source video here


In its simplest form, web GIS can be defined as any GIS that uses web technology to communicate between a server and a client (Esri)

The following are a few key elements essential to web GIS (Source):

  • The server has a URL so that clients can find it on the web.
  • The client relies on HTTP specifications to send requests to the server.
  • The server performs the requested GIS operations and sends responses to the client via HTTP.
  • The format of the response sent to the client can be in many formats, such as HTML, binary image, XML (Extensible Markup Language), or JSON (JavaScript Object Notation).

In the document titled “A framework for deploying web GIS applications” it has been pointed out that there are 5 essential elements in every web GIS app. These include:

  1. a web application
  2. digital basemaps
  3. operational layers
  4. tasks and tools
  5. one or more geodatabase
Elements of a web GIS application
Elements of a web GIS application (Image: Esri)

See Also:

While all clients can benefit from enterprise GIS capabilities, we’ve identified certain bottlenecks (cost, infrastructure, knowledge) that act as barriers to implementation. To overcome these challenges, we’ve created our GEOPowered Cloud – A platform offering shared and dedicated hosting supporting ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Enterprise and Esri partner solutions – Take your Web GIS to new heights! Learn more about the Vision of The GEOPowered Cloud – An Enterprise GIS Deployment Platform


GEOspatial Evangelist & CMO

Geographer, GIS professional, writer, and fan of all things mobile.

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