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Saving a layer to disk

Release 9.2
Last modified August 5, 2010
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About saving a layer to disk

One of the main features of a layer is that it can exist outside your map as a file on disk. This makes it easy for others to access the layers you've built.

When you save a layer to disk, you save everything about the layer, such as the symbolization and labeling. When you add a layer file to another map, it will draw exactly as it was saved. Others can drop those layers onto their maps without having to know how to access the database or classify the data; this can be helpful when sharing data stored in a multiuser geodatabase with nontechnical staff members. You can share layers over the network as well as e-mail layers, along with the data, to people or enclose the layer within the data's metadata.

You can also create layers in ArcCatalog without having to open ArcMap.

Layers, data sources, and paths

The layer file that is created will reference its data source using the Data Source Options setting currently specified for the map on the Document Properties dialog box (accessed from the ArcMap File menu). By default, this setting specifies that data sources will be referenced with their full path.

If the folder connection through which the data was accessed connects to a disk using a drive letter, such as C:\ or N:\, others won't be able to access the data or preview the layer's contents unless they also access the same disk using the same drive letter. If the folder connection was created from the Network Neighborhood, the path will include the name of the computer and the share name, such as \\Blues\Shared Data. Others will be able to access the data and preview the layer's contents. However, if the data is renamed or moved, the layer files must be updated to use the new path.

Similar problems can be encountered with database connections and the layers that access data in the geodatabase. If the geodatabase is moved to a new machine or the database administrator changes the user names and passwords for accessing the geodatabase, you must update the source information for layers and database connections.

An alternative for referencing a layer's data source is to use a relative path. Suppose a folder named Forest contains both a layer and a subfolder named Data. The layer's data source is located within the data folder. With a relative path, the layer will start looking for the data source from the location in which the layer is stored. The layer will continue to work even if the Forest folder is relocated or renamed. To create a layer that uses relative paths in ArcMap, you must set the map's properties so that it uses relative paths for all layers. For more information, see Referencing data in the map.

Once you've saved the layer file, you can't change the data source options from absolute to relative or vice versa. The layer will always maintain the data source option that was set for the map document at the time you saved the layer.

Saving a layer to a previous version of ArcGIS

You can save a layer so you can open and work with it in a previous version of ArcGIS. At ArcGIS 9.2, you can save to ArcGIS 9.0/9.1 or 8.3. ArcGIS 9.1 layer files are directly compatible with ArcGIS 9.0, so you don't need to save them separately for use in 9.0.

When you save a layer to disk, you are only saving a reference to the data source, not the data itself. When saving a layer to a previous version, keep in mind that older versions of ArcGIS may be unable to access newer data sources. For example, you can save a layer that points to any ArcGIS 9 geodatabase as an ArcGIS 8.3 layer and you'll be able to add the layer to a map in ArcGIS 8.3. However, the link to the data source will be broken because ArcGIS 8.3 can't access the newer geodatabase. Similarly, neither ArcGIS 8.3 or 9.0/9.1 can read data from a 9.2 geodatabase.

In addition, older versions of the software won't be able to support some of the functionality and properties that have been added in later versions.

Learn more about saving to previous versions of ArcGIS

How to save layers to disk

Saving a layer to disk in ArcMap

  1. Right-click the layer in the table of contents and click Save As Layer File.
  2. Click the Look in drop-down arrow and navigate to the location where you want to save the layer.
  3. Type a file name.
  4. Optionally, click the Save as type drop-down arrow and click 8.3 Layer files or 9.0/9.1 Layer files to save a layer to a previous version of ArcGIS.
  5. If you choose Layer files (the option without a version number), the layer will be saved in the current version of the software.
  6. Click Save.


  • If you want to use relative paths for the layers in the map, click the ArcMap File menu, click Document Properties, click Data Source Options, and click Store relative path names. Relative paths will be used for all the layers currently in the map and any new layers that are added to it. Layer files created from these layers will also use relative paths.
  • You can also create layer files while in the Catalog tree of ArcCatalog.

Creating a layer from existing data in ArcCatalog

  1. Right-click the data source from which you want to create a layer.
  2. Click Create Layer.
  3. Navigate to the folder in which you want to save the layer.
  4. Type a name for the layer file.
  5. Click Save.

  6. The layer file appears in the folder's contents.


  • Layers created by this method will not use relative paths.

Creating a new, empty layer in ArcCatalog

  1. In the Catalog tree, select the folder in which you want to store the new layer.
  2. Click the File menu, point to New, then click Layer.
  3. Type a name for the new layer.
  4. Click the Browse button.
  5. Navigate to and click the geographic data source for which you want to create the layer.
  6. Click Add.
  7. If you don't want ArcCatalog to create a thumbnail representing the entire layer, uncheck Create thumbnail.
  8. If you don't want the layer to store the full path identifying the location of the data, check Store relative path name.
  9. The location of the data will be recorded in relation to where the layer itself is stored.
  10. Click OK.

  11. The new layer appears in the folder's contents.

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