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Use display filters

Display filters are scale-dependent queries that specify which features of a layer are drawn at which scale ranges in a map. Use display filters on a layer that has so much feature density at small scales that it is difficult to interpret or slow to draw. See Author a multiscale map for more strategies on working across scales.

For example, you are working with a very detailed dataset of hydrology in the United States, symbolized by flow volume. At small scales, there are too many features drawing to extract any meaningful information from the map visually:

A map of a detailed hydrology dataset
With no display filters, too many features are drawn to discern any spatial patterns in the data.

Add display filters (with queries that specify different flow rates to show at different scale ranges) to control the feature density at different scales without impacting the symbology or the underlying features. Even though fewer features are drawn, they are still all available for query and analysis.

The following map shows only the rivers with the largest flow rates at the smallest scales, as defined by a display filter:

The detailed hydrology dataset with only the highest flow rate rivers drawing at a small scale
Only major rivers draw at small scales.

As you zoom in to larger scales, the query of the display filter allows smaller flow-rate rivers to draw as shown in the following map:

The detailed hydrology dataset with only the high and medium flow rate rivers drawing at a medium scale
Smaller flow rivers are added to the display at medium scales.

Until, at the largest scales, the display filters allow all features to draw, regardless of their flow rate attribution as shown in the following map:

The detailed hydrology dataset with all rivers and streams drawing at a large scale
All rivers and streams are drawn at the largest scales.

Display filters differ from definition queries in the following two main ways:

  • Display filters affect the display only, leaving all features available for query and analysis. Definition queries filter features entirely from the layer.
  • Display filters are scale dependent.

Display filters are available only in 2D maps. They cannot be set in scenes.

Display filters affect display only

Display filters affect only the drawing display of features. Features that are excluded from drawing by the active display filter are still accessible by the layer. All features appear in the layer's attribute table and can be selected, identified, and edited. These features participate in geoprocessing operations as well. Because only visible features are labeled, display filters affect the labeling of the layer.

Display filters are applied to scale ranges

Display filters are organized within the layer by scale range. They are mutually exclusive and continuous: the scale ranges of display filters cannot overlap, and there cannot be scale gaps between them.

When setting scale ranges, it is important to understand what happens at scale boundaries. Two versions of a feature should not draw simultaneously at scale boundaries. Ensure that the Draw up to and including the maximum scale in scale ranges map property is not checked. In the Contents pane, right-click a map and click Properties to open the Map Properties dialog box. Click the General tab to inspect this property. It is not checked by default on new maps, but it is checked for map documents imported from ArcGIS Desktop. This is especially important if you intend to create vector tiles from the map.

Display filters are independent of symbology

Display filters exist independently of the way the layer is symbolized. This means that display filter queries can use any feature attributes, not just those that are used to specify the symbology of the features. For example, you can symbolize a line layer of road features by road class, using different symbols for streets, major roads, and highways. But you can use display filter queries to show only roads that have a minimum traffic volume (regardless of road type) at smaller scales.

This also means that the display filters persist even if you change the way the layer is symbolized.

Work with display filters

To use display filters in a layer, they must be enabled. You can turn off display filters at any time. They are saved with the layer even if they are turned off. A layer always has a default display filter that covers the full extent of the scale range of the layer. You must add additional display filters to subdivide the scale range with different queries.

The scale ranges of display filters are continuous and mutually exclusive. They cannot overlap and there cannot be scale gaps between them. This means that when display filters are enabled, there is always one and only one display filter applied at each scale.

The scale ranges of the display filters are controlled by the single scale slider at the top of the display filters. The top row of the table shows the scale range. One display filter, named <all features> by default, covers the entire scale range by default and is always present. You can modify and rename this display filter, but you cannot delete it. You can add additional display filters.

A building layer with three display filters

Add display filters to a layer

To establish display filters on a layer, follow these steps:

  1. Select a layer in the Contents pane.
  2. Under the layer's contextual tab, on the Appearance tab, in the Drawing group, click Display Filters Display Filters to open the Display Filters page on the Symbology pane.
  3. On the Display Filters page on the Symbology pane, turn on Enable display filters.
  4. Click the Show query button Show Query next to the display filter name to expand the display filter to add an expression, or modify the expression if one already exists. If there is no expression present, click the New expression menu and click one of the following:

    Create a new expression

    Use the query builder to build the expression without writing SQL code. See Write a query in the query builder to learn more about building queries.

    Create a new expression in SQL

    Write SQL code to define the expression.

    Add expression from file

    Import an existing expression saved as a query expression file (.exp file extension).

  5. Click Apply to verify and apply the expression to the display filter.
  6. To add additional display filters, click the Add Display Filter button Add display filter at the top of the pane. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for each display filter added. Optionally click the name of a display filter to rename it descriptively.
  7. Once the display filter expressions have been defined, use the slider at the top row of the table to change the scale boundaries for each display filter. Display filters are continuous and mutually exclusive across the scale range of the layer. Drag the interim stops to a new scale location, or click them to open a pop-up to choose a different map scale to adjust the scale boundaries of each display filter. You work only with the stops on the main slider, but the subsliders below give you a visual understanding of the scale ranges of each symbol.

    The scale stops on the slider are determined by and limited to the list of scales defined for the map. See Map scales and scale properties to learn how to customize the list of map scales and set up map scale aliases.

Delete display filters from a layer

You can delete display filters one at a time, or you can delete all of the display filters associated with a layer at once. A layer must always have at least one display filter that, by default, covers the full scale range of the layer.

To delete one display filter, right-click the display filter name and click Delete Delete.

To delete all display filters at once, click Delete all filters at the top of the pane.

Enable or disable display filters on a layer

You must enable the display filters for them to be respected by the map display. You can disable them at any time without losing their definitions. To temporarily suspend the display filters, uncheck the Enable display filters check box at the top of the pane. The scale settings and queries remain intact, but layer drawing does not respect them until the check box is checked again. This way, you can compare the display at different scales with and without the filters applied.

Sharing layers with display filters

When you share a map that contains a layer with display filters as a map image layer, as a tile layer, or as a vector tile layer the display filters are included in it. When you add these layers into a web map, the display filters are respected. Alternatively, if you add the individual layer as a feature layer to a web map, the display filters are not available.

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