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I am aware of MapPackages MPKs which pack the mxd-project and data and symbology together in order to easily distribute mapping projects. Layer packages are however just the individual layers packaged with data and layer properties. So basically MPKs without any project settings.

So what are the advantages of LPKs over MPKs?

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To compliment @J.R I can think of several reasons why you would want to send just the data

  • They may have an older version of ArcMap so would never be able to open your MXD
  • You may have customized your MXD through VBA scripting which you don't want to share
  • Your MXD reference layers specific to your intranet which they have no access to.
  • You may have other sensitive information you should not be sharing embedded in your MXD
  • As a package of data, you can share it by email or on ArcGIS Online, people are interested in your data not necessarily the awesome/awful map you have made.. ;)
  • Finally I note that map packages insist on installing in my documents and your end user who may not be as GIS savvy as you can "loose it" by not understanding where it has installed and in some cases keep installing the map package thinking they are opening it... Fills up their hard disk!

As a personal note I rarely share map packages because of this, send them the data with the symbology keeps it nice and simple.

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I guess it's for when you want to share just a layer with it's specific symbology.

As some layer may have complex or standardized symbology (think of geological or land cover or zoning map) you may want to prevent the hassle to redo the symbology from scratch (and be sure the symbology is right) but still let people the freedom to set the rest of their own project to their liking.

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Most layers (lyr) would reference only one feature class. They include the selections and symbology for that feature class. I know of two good uses.

Some add-on software that creates GIS data can produce layer packages for exporting and sharing data. This enables receivers of the data to get only what they need. A similar situation is when a complex map package doesn't quite work at the receiver's end; the problem layers can be re-sent as layer packages. Layer packages are faster and more reliable to produce than map packages because they are smaller and simpler. We occasionally have had to send layer packages to printing firms for this reason.

A great use is to save a layer's symbology before its source feature is redesigned, renamed, or moved. Layers with broken links lose a lot of information such as classified symbology. If you have a lyr package created before the conversion, you can extract it, open it, and use what you see there to re-create any map layers that did not get updated with the new source.

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Another reason why you might want to use a layer package is if you need to publish a layer as a web service by side-loading it. You can upload a .lpk file directly to ArcGIS Server or ArcGIS Portal, and publish it (as a feature, map, wfs, etc service) from there. This happens in certain instances where the mapping client (ArcMap, ArcGIS Pro) isn't able to be directly connected to Server/Portal.

Granted, this is an edge case, but one in which a layer package is the perfect/only solution.

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