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Working with Microsoft Excel files in ArcGIS

Release 9.2
Last modified January 10, 2008
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About working with Microsoft Excel files in ArcGIS

You can open Microsoft Excel tables directly in ArcGIS and work with them like other tabular data sources. For example, you can add them to ArcMap, preview them in ArcCatalog, and use them as inputs to geoprocessing tools.

Excel files are added to ArcMap like other data, through the Add Data dialog box. When you browse to an Excel file, you will need to choose which table you want to open. For example, if you have an Excel workbook called sales_figures.xls that contains three worksheets—Sales, Month, and Year to date—each worksheet is a separate table in ArcGIS. Any name references to cells or ranges defined in Excel are preserved in ArcGIS.

When accessed from ArcGIS, a worksheet is shown as a table with a $ at the end of its name, but a named range does not have a $. Worksheets or named ranges with names containing spaces have single quotation marks placed around the table name.

Once added to ArcMap, you can open the table from the Source tab of the table of contents. However, you will not be able to edit the table or export records to an Excel format.

The following example contrasts how a multi-sheet document is exposed in Microsoft Excel and in the ArcMap Add Data dialog box.

When working with Excel files, there are a few things to keep in mind:

NOTE: If you have previously specified on the File Types tab of the Tools > Options dialog box that ArcCatalog show you .xls files, you'll need to remove this file type to be able to access Excel files directly.

How to work with Microsoft Excel files in ArcGIS

Formatting a table in Microsoft Excel for use in ArcGIS

  1. Make sure the first row of the worksheet is properly formatted, since it will be used for the field names in ArcGIS. You should follow these general best practices for field naming, particularly if you want to join an Excel table to another table in ArcMap:

  2. If you have cells with numeric data, dates, and so on, make sure the content is consistently formatted—in other words, make sure all the numeric data is actually numeric. ArcMap will scan the first eight rows to determine the field type that should be used. If there are other types of data in those rows, the field will be converted to text when the table is in ArcMap.
  3. Numeric fields are converted to the Double data type in ArcGIS.
  4. ArcMap can only read the first 255 characters of a cell. If you have more characters than that, ArcMap converts the field to a BLOB type and you won't be able to read its contents.

Adding a Microsoft Excel table to ArcMap

  1. Click the Add Data button Add Data.
  2. Click the Look in drop-down arrow and navigate to the Excel workbook file (.xls).
  3. Double-click the Excel workbook file.
  4. Click the table you want to add to ArcMap.
  5. Click Add.
  6. Excel tables, like other tables without associated features, only show up on the Source tab of the ArcMap table of contents.


  • You can also drag and drop from ArcCatalog to add an Excel table to ArcMap.

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