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Data management with ArcCatalog

About workspaces

Release 9.3
Last modified May 9, 2012
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Datasets are organized in workspaces and geodatabases

Note: This topic was updated for 9.3.1.

Workspaces are the directories, databases, and file folders on disk that hold numerous datasets, including geodatabases, as well as external datasets in many file formats—for example, folders containing ESRI shapefiles, JPEG images, DXF CAD files, dBASE tables, Excel spreadsheets, or GML data files. You can create and manage your workspaces in ArcCatalog as well as make connections to other workspaces.

Your workspaces may consist of a single file folder containing many datasets and other related documents that are organized around themes or projects. For example, if you have a statewide GIS, you might have your data organized by county. Below, the State Workspace contains a folder for each county, with consistent content for each county workspace.

Catalog workspace for a state

Many users organize their projects by layer type such as workspaces for roads, water, parcels, administrative boundaries, and so forth. Below, the Shopping Mall Project workspace organizes datasets in folders by the type of data.

Workspace organized by type of data

In other situations, you may want to organize workspaces around a project such as a road development project or new power plant project. You can also organize workspaces within workspaces. For example, you may have a project workspace (New power plant), and within that workspace, you may have subfolders organized for each dataset or for each project task (New dam, New road, or New transmission lines). The New Power Plant workspace below contains sub-workspaces for each element of the major development project.

large workspace

The geodatabase is also a collection of geographic datasets of various types used for representing features, images, tabular, and other data types managed in either a file structure or a multiuser relational database. It is the native data source for ArcGIS and is used for editing and data automation in ArcGIS. Quite often, you'll set up one or more geodatabases within a workspace. As well, the geodatabase is considered a workspace since you can organize and manage various datasets within it.

Organizing datasets by workspaces and in geodatabases is useful because it provides a mechanism to

Some of the common datasets included in workspaces and geodatabases are

Learn more about the geodatabase.

Working with ArcGIS documents

ArcGIS applications employ the use of documents for working with geographic data. These documents define how maps, map elements, map layers, globes, globe elements, and geoprocessing models are managed within ArcGIS. For example, an ArcMap document (.mxd file) contains specifications for the map layers used to draw each GIS dataset, their symbol and label properties, and other map elements in a layout.

Each ArcGIS document is a file in a workspace (disk folder) and is managed using ArcCatalog.

Below is a list of some of the ArcGIS documents and related files commonly held in a workspace folder.

Document File extension Icon Description
ArcMap document .mxd ArcMap document icon A file containing a map, its layers, display information, and other elements used in ArcMap. Double-click to open the document within ArcMap.
ArcMap template .mxt ArcMap template icon A template file containing the information that can be contained in a map document. Often used to re–create standardized map layouts or provide standardized interfaces. Double-click to open the template with ArcMap.
ArcGlobe document .3dd ArcGlobe document icon A file containing a globe, its layers, and 3D display properties for use in ArcGlobe. Used with the 3D Analyst extension. Double-click to open the document with ArcGlobe.
ArcScene document .sxd ArcScene document icon A file containing a 3D scene, its layers, and 3D properties for use in ArcScene. Used with the 3D Analyst extension. Double-click to open the document with ArcScene.
ArcGIS layer file .lyr Generic layer icon (generic layer)
Group layer icon (group layer)
A layer is a set of rules for displaying and working with datasets in ArcMap, ArcGlobe, and ArcScene. Layer definitions include symbol assignments, classifications, labeling rules, and other information describing the appearance and actions of the layer. A group layer helps organize related kinds of layers in a map and can be used to define advanced drawing order options. To add a layer or group layer, drag-and-drop it into ArcMap, ArcGlobe, or ArcScene.
Published Map File for ArcReader .pmf ArcReader document icon or ArcReader document containing a globe icon A read-only map file created using the ArcGIS Publisher extension. Read-only maps can be used in ArcReader and ArcMap. They can also be served on the Web. Double-click to open it with ArcReader.
ArcGIS Style file .style
A predefined set of colors, symbols, and graphical elements used for displaying and representing geographic datasets according to a mapping standard. Add a style file in ArcMap using the Style Manager.
ArcGIS Address Locator file .loc Address Locator icon A Locator dataset and rules used for geocoding addresses in ArcGIS. Locators are types of geodatabase datasets and can be saved as a disk file for sharing outside of the geodatabase. Select an address locator file during geocoding operations in ArcGIS.
Metadata files .xml Metadata file icon Metadata documents for individual file-based datasets are stored in XML files and are often managed in ArcGIS workspace folders. Click the Metadata tab to preview and work with metadata.
Graph document .grf Graph icon A file containing properties of a graph including the type of graph, data the graph is based on, the fields being graphed, and so on. You can load it into ArcMap through the Graph Manager.
ArcGIS toolbox .tbx ArcToolbox icon A file containing toolsets, tools, models, and scripts. You can import and export a toolbox containing models and scripts.
Geoprocessing script .py
Python script icon (.py) Python and ArcInfo Workstation AML scripts used for geoprocessing in ArcGIS. You can add a Script tool that will execute a Python or AML script.
Map projection file .prj Projection icon A file containing coordinate system information to provide spatial referencing of data in ArcGIS.

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