For me, the most significant development at Esri’s 2012 Developer Summit was the pre-release of ArcGIS Runtime. ArcGIS Runtime represents a new direction for building lightweight, focused mapping applications with Esri technology. The resulting applications are responsive, trivial to deploy, cloud friendly, and optimized for their target platforms – be they mobile or desktop.

The first hints about Runtime came at the 2011 DevSummit, more was revealed at the 2011 UC (see especially the third slide for platform support), and this year’s Esri Federal GIS Conference brought a demo and technical overview.

I see Runtime as a natural extension of two larger trends: Esri’s focus on a web service architecture (e.g. the transition towards ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Online), and the proliferation and success of small, focused applications on mobile devices.

What is ArcGIS Runtime?

ArcGIS Runtime is a framework for developing map-centric applications with functionality added via widgets (for editing, geoprocessing, introspection, etc.). The user experience and programming model is consistent across desktop and mobile devices — “Desktop is just another device” — but is optimized for each platform’s capabilities and programming model. This means great user and development experiences on any one platform, but no portability of Runtime applications between platforms — a wise trade in my view. Map data and geoprocessing functionality can be accessed over the web (via ArcGIS online or an ArcGIS Server) or locally in tile, map, and geoprocessing packages.

The programming model closely matches existing web service APIs and treats local and remote data identically — a trick that’s accomplished by spinning up a tiny embedded ArcGIS Server to manage local resources. This web-service-centric approach implies coarse-grained interfaces and is naturally parallelizable (think performance, responsiveness).


I found the following aspects of Runtime most interesting:


The most commonly asked questions about Runtime were around licensing. Some of the responses were inconsistent (and all were subject to change), so take the following with a large grain of salt:

There is a free (i.e., no extra cost to deploy) version, and a non-free one, along with three optional extensions (Network Analyst, 3D Analyst, Spatial Analyst). Licenses are purchased in packs of 25 (or possibly 50) and follow an honor system. (You embed the license key into your app, and then pay Esri based on the number of times you distribute it.) The non-free license is expected to be similar to MapObjects and in the “low hundreds of dollars” per deployment. Maplex labelling is included. If the customer already has an ArcObjects license, nothing further is needed.

Coming Soon

Two major upcoming features in Runtime were announced: 3D viewing (right now you can do 2D viewing and 3D analysis), and improved support for offline or partially connected scenarios.

Future Thoughts

One of the questions I’m left with is, “What does it mean for a future ArcGIS Desktop to be based on Runtime?”. I missed the ending session where Scott Morehouse revealed this would be the case (but my colleagues didn’t; see also Dan Levine’s comments on the GISi blog). Perhaps it means we’ll see ArcGIS Desktop on Linux or Mac? Is it possible to build such a rich editing experience on top of the coarse-grained Runtime? All will be revealed in time.

We’re also thinking about how FME might leverage Runtime’s new capabilities. Could we use Runtime as another option for reading and writing File and SDE Geodatabases? For now, the answer is a tentative no (especially as there is no advantage over File Geodatabase API for the former). What about exposing the included Geoprocessing capabilities in FME Desktop? (Runtime is off-limits to FME Server which would have to use ArcGIS Server.) Again, the answer is a tentative no, as there isn’t a good alignment between that use case and how Geoprocessing works in Runtime. (You define geoprocessing packages with logic and data in ArcGIS Desktop, and then pass small amounts of data to/from the Geoprocessing Tasks in Runtime.)


ArcGIS Runtime is a significant leap forward for building and distributing focused, map-centric applications based on Esri technology. It’s well aligned with the overall Esri ecosystem (including the increasingly highlighted ArcGIS Online), and represents a deep commitment for the web services architecture – both locally and over the web. It will be very interesting to see how these technology bets pay off.

Are you planning on investigating ArcGIS Runtime? Can you see ways of us using the runtime in FME that I’ve missed? How do you think this successful mobile paradigm (many small focused applications) will affect desktop computing in future?

About Data ArcGIS Esri GIS

Paul Nalos


4 Responses to “ArcGIS Runtime: A New Option for Focused Mapping Apps”

  1. AsserSwelam says:

    I watched the ArcGIS Runtime video in the ESRI Dev Summit. Thats is a great work ESRI done this year. End of days for ArcGIS Engine runtime and all the efforts for deploying GIS apps.

  2. Paul Nalos says:

    Hi Asser,

    Yes, very impressive indeed. I’m not as confident ArcGIS Engine’s days are numbered – deep access to the Geodatabase was a common example of something that wouldn’t come to Runtime anytime soon – but it is clear that a large class of applications were just freed from their dependence on Engine. As discussed in the post, I’m pretty sure I’m missing part of the picture, though, as I don’t see the path to the hinted ArcMap on Runtime. We’ll be watching with interest.

    PS: Thanks for the tweet!



  3. Bala K. says:

    Can you see ways of us using the runtime in FME that I’ve missed? How do you think this successful mobile paradigm (many small focused applications) will affect desktop computing in future?
    Based on your description, It seems to be in Cloud-View-Controller framework ( Cloud – that could be local/embeded/remote). The data interoperability extension may only be the way that Cloud could use FME.
    They are lucky to have lot of Domain specific users whose knowledge can be used to enhance their product. Also being associated with that Domain will attract more people from that profession to use their product. But, they have challenges given big players are entering their Domain. Patnering with FME can only help them given you specialize in moving persistent data between these Clouds.

  4. Paul Nalos says:

    Hi Bala,

    Great observations. I’ll respond part-by-part:

    > … It seems to be in Cloud-View-Controller framework …

    I hadn’t seen that term before, but it’s certainly apt.

    > The data interoperability extension may only be the way that Cloud could use FME.

    Today, you can use the Data Interoperability Extension with ArcGIS Server, which you could then use to publish to Runtime clients. I won’t comment on Data Interop and the cloud, aside from saying: Yes, it’s on our minds.

    Getting back to ArcGIS Runtime, I’ll note that Runtime doesn’t (yet?) have a way to plug-in external data sources (ala Engine’s Plug-in Data Sources), so that avenue isn’t open to bringing Data Interop to Runtime directly.

    > They are lucky to have lot of Domain specific users…

    Certainly, success breeds success. If you make users happy, they’ll evangelize your product to others and invest in making it better in all kinds of direct and indirect ways.

    > Patnering with FME …

    There’s no question we’re interested in moving and transforming data any way we can. From my perspective, our relationship with Esri continues to be strong and symbiotic in that regard.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts