The End of Another Era: Esri’s Retirement of JavaScript 3.x and ArcGIS Web AppBuilder
Wed, 15 Mar 2023

The End of Another Era: Esri’s Retirement of JavaScript 3.x and ArcGIS Web AppBuilder

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This week, Esri formally announced the retirement of two of their most popular products for building web GIS applications: The ArcGIS API for JavaScript 3.x, and ArcGIS Web AppBuilder will be officially retired in July 2024.

There are hundreds of thousands of public-facing Web AppBuilder apps (and probably 5 times more non-public or internally facing), not to mention all the custom apps built with the popular 3.x JavaScript API that Web AppBuilder uses. Retiring any product with such prevalent use has huge impacts, and that’s definitely true for these popular offerings from Esri. But it shouldn’t be a huge surprise since the information about their upcoming retirement has been published on Esri’s product life cycle documentation, and Esri has been socializing their recommendation to migrate to modern replacements at their events for over a year.

Still, we recognize that many organizations may be caught flat-footed, or at least triggered by these announcements to plan their future for web GIS more seriously.

At VertiGIS, we recognize this transition and we’re very comfortable with this kind of technology change. Over the past 15 years alone, we’ve helped Esri’s users that deploy web GIS apps move from ArcIMS, to ArcGIS Server with Web ADF, to Flex and Silverlight Viewers, and to Web AppBuilder. You could say we’re experts at navigating web GIS modernization.

In over 20 years of helping organizations build amazing web GIS applications, we’ve learned what it takes to make your apps resilient to technology change. Here are some of the key tenets to a future-proof web GIS strategy:

  • Avoid custom code. Whether you develop yourself or hire a consultant, customizing your apps with programming locks your apps in to a specific language and architecture. It’s expensive up-front, it’s expensive to maintain, and it’s especially expensive to re-write or re-platform.
    • Instead, configure your apps with a flexible, configuration approach that is technology agnostic.
  • Have a strategy for managing multiple apps. Esri customers who embark on a web strategy will very commonly build more than one app. It might start with one, but it always grows to several (if not dozens). If mishandled, each new app increases the maintenance burden and costs, and further prevents your ability to advance to more modern technology.
    • Make sure you have a common framework for sharing configuration, business logic, and deployment patterns for managing several apps at once so you’re not having to maintain (or upgrade) each individual app separately.
  • Adopt new technology right away, and incrementally. It reminds me of the old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite a time, of course”. Organizations can make the mistake of believing they have to wait for emerging technologies to mature or approach feature parity before they migrate their “workhorse” applications over. Our experience shows that its much more productive to start using emerging technology as soon as its released (or even in pre-release) for lighter weight apps or new requirements. These apps can continue to run alongside your existing “workhorse” apps and iteratively improve over time, until they do approach feature parity. Then, when the new technology has matured, you’ve already developed a wealth of experience using it and exposing it to your organization, and you’ll better understand the differences between the old and new paradigms. 

VertiGIS offers a configurable, framework approach to building, deploying, and managing your web GIS apps. Whether you are looking towards ArcGIS Maps SDK for JavaScript or ArcGIS Experience Builder to succeed your 3.x API-generation apps, VertiGIS can help you develop a robust, enterprise strategy for building, maintaining, deploying, and managing world-class apps for your staff and/or citizens. Specifically, VertiGIS Studio Web is built on Esri’s next-generation ArcGIS Maps SDK for JavaScript and can be used to build amazing apps that will last for years, and can insulate your organization from further technology changes. VertiGIS Studio Workflow and VertiGIS Studio Printing can also be used inside your ArcGIS Experience Builder apps. VertiGIS customers have stepped-up their web GIS game with every new technology change over the years and avoided rewriting the same apps over-and-over.

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