5 Things I Hate About the ArcGIS Javascript API

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Building a mapping application with ESRI’s Javascript API is a lot of fun. But it can also be a real pain. Here are five things that absolutely drive me crazy when writing an ArcGIS Javascript map.

1. It is based on Dojo. It’s probably just my lack of Javascript programming sophistication but I find Dojo a little hard to work with. Although the API documentation has improved in recent versions, I don’t find it very intuitive. If you are a beginner or new to Javascript, the getting started documents are just plain frustrating. Ben Farrell thinks there are seven stages of learning Dojo including anger and acceptance. I’m not sure if there are really only seven stages but I can attest to the anger and acceptance.

2. It uses multiple versions of Dojo. Here I go again with the Dojo thing. Half of the developer samples on the ArcGIS.com developer’s site seem to be written pre version 1.7 while the others are post 1.7 and rely on the AMD module format.  I understand that version transitions of supporting libraries can be difficult but this is ridiculous. Since the ArcGIS API updated to version 3.6, many of the developer samples have been updated to show the AMD require format. Unfortunately, the transition has been slow and there is still a lot of mixed version code and a lot of live samples are broken. If you are going to upgrade to a new version of your API, let’s have things ready to go.  

3. No built-in label engine for dynamic, on-screen annotationIt seems obvious to me that the users of a map would want to mark it up with text; especially in conjunction with a draw toolbar. Apparently it isn’t obvious to the ESRI developers. Instead we are left to work with with the labelPoints function which uses the geometry server to create an unseen point and then puts a text symbol on top of it.

4. The label engine problem above leads me to my next gripe. The LabelPoints function doesn’t allow line breaks. That means that if you want to label a polygon with something like, oh say, area and perimeter, you have to have it all on one line or call the labelPoints function twice and use an offset. How about we get the ability to at least use a newline character (\n) and be done with it.

5. No out-of-the-box support for a table of contents. There is a lot of debate about whether an ArcGIS-like table of contents is a good thing in a web map. No matter what side of the debate you fall on, the fact is that people are used to using them and users often want the ability to turn layers on and off. There are a few projects out there that attempt  to solve the problem but each has its own limitation and problems.  It is a little surprising that ESRI doesn’t have a solution for this one yet. Or, maybe it isn’t really that surprising.

I have plenty more gripes with the Javascript API than the ones listed above but I don’t want to get too depressing. Also, I actually enjoy developing with the API (most days) and there are some great things about it. If you want to add to my list put it in the comments.