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Interoperability and standards support

ESRI protocols and programming interfaces

Release 9.3
Last modified October 13, 2010
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ESRI openly publishes and shares a number of its data and web formats as presented in this topic.


A Shapefile is a data file format for storing points, lines, polygons, and associated attribute information. This is a very simple, openly published format defined and supported by ESRI -- originally for use in ArcView Version 2 and 3. Shapefiles have been widely used for data interchange across heterogeneous systems due to:

The ESRI shapefile format specification can be found at:

Geodatabase XML

Geodatabase XML represents ESRI's open mechanism for information interchange between geodatabases and other external systems. ESRI openly publishes and maintains the complete geodatabase schema and content as an XML specification and provides example implementations to illustrate how users can share data updates between heterogeneous systems.

XML interchange of geospatial information to and from the geodatabase is greatly simplified using the geodatabase XML specification. External applications can receive XML data streams including:

Geodatabase XML is the primary interchange mechanism for data sharing among ArcGIS users as well as external users.

To access a white paper on the Geodatabase XML Schema, see XML Schema of the Geodatabase.

Support for the ISO standard for SQL spatial types

ArcSDE geodatabase storage for all DBMS's uses the OGC and ISO standard for a SQL spatial data type. This provides full geodatabase support and access as well as a SQL interface to feature class geometry. This enables you to write SQL applications to your DBMS that you can use to access feature class geometry and perform SQL operations and queries. The spatial type for SQL is supported in all DBMS's for ArcGIS Version 9.3 and beyond. This includes support in:

In addition to the SQL storage options provided by ArcGIS in each of these DBMS's, Oracle and PostgreSQL have other options that are supported.

In all geodatabases, you can decide on a feature class by feature class basis which storage option that you want to use from the available types that are supported in each DBMS. A summary of all storage options that are available for each geodatabase are described here.

For more information on the SQL interface to spatial, see An overview of working with the geodatabase using SQL for more information.

Schema for geodatabase storage in Oracle, SQL Server, PostgreSQL, Informix, and DB2

ESRI documents how geodatabases are stored in relational tables in each DBMS. It also describes how we utilize OGC and ISO simple features and how feature and raster geometry are stored in each DBMS. This includes a description of ArcGIS support for ISO/OGC spatial types in various DBMS's.

For more information, refer to How geodatabases are stored in a DBMS.

ArcGIS Server SOAP and REST API's for web programming

Among its many capabilities, ArcGIS Server is used to publish a range of GIS-based web services -- for example:

Each ArcGIS web service can support a set of corresponding application programming interfaces for both SOAP XML and for REST programming with JavaScript.

For information about the SOAP XML programming interfaces to ArcGIS Server, see Working with the ArcGIS Server SOAP API.

For information about using REST API and JavaScript, see Working with the ArcGIS Server REST API.


ArcXML is the primary XML specification used by ArcIMS for mapping and metadata web services. For example, ArcIMS Feature and Image services are defined on the server using an ArcXML map configuration file.

ArcXML was one of ESRI's original extensible markup language (XML) specifications for publishing maps, data, and metadata. It was developed prior to the W3C SOAP specification for web services that more recent ESRI software uses.

In ArcXML (often referred to as "AXL"), map configuration files contain information regarding map properties, such as a list of layers, spatial information, and layer-rendering instructions. ArcIMS Map Server services use ArcXML for communication between the ArcIMS Server and related client applications.

For more information, see the ArcXML Programmer's Guide.

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