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Adding a layer package to your map

Release 9.3
Last modified October 5, 2010
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Note: This topic was updated for 9.3.1.

A layer package (LPK file) is a single, convenient, ready-to-use file containing a layer and the data it uses. Layer packages are new in ArcGIS Desktop 9.3.1. They are not supported in 9.3 or earlier. You can add them directly into your maps and globes. You can also create them so you can easily share your data with other ArcGIS users via the website, your own website, email, etc.

To add a layer package you find on or any other website into your map, simply click it to launch it. To add a layer package you receive in an email, obtain on a CD or DVD, or have saved to a local folder, simply double-click it to launch it.

When you launch a layer package, you'll be prompted to specify where you would like the package to unpack itself if you are using 9.3.1 or 9.3.1 Service Pack 1. If you are using 9.3.1 Service Pack 2 or more recent, the layer will be automatically unpacked in your Windows 'My Documents' folder in a subfolder called ArcGIS/Packages that ArcGIS creates for you the first time you unpack an LPK file. The layer will then be automatically added either into the application you currently have open or, if no application is open, a new ArcMap session will be started automatically and the layer will appear. (You can control this behavior using the ArcGIS File Handler described below).

After a layer package has been unpacked, you can work with its contents just like any other data. For example using ArcCatalog, you can go to the location in which you've unpacked the layer and inspect the data, drag and drop the layer into other maps or globes, etc. At 9.3.1 LPK files themselves do not appear in ArcCatalog.

Using the ArcGIS File Handler

When you launch a layer file (LYR file) or a layer package (LPK file) from Windows Explorer, a web page such as, Windows Desktop, Outlook emails, etc, it will be sent to one of three applications: ArcMap, ArcGlobe (if you have the ArcGIS 3D Analyst extension installed and licensed) or ArcGIS Explorer (if you have that free download from ESRI installed). By default, the layer will be sent to the application that is currently running. So if ArcMap is running, it will be sent to ArcMap, and so on. If no application is running when you launch a layer, ArcMap will start automatically and the layer will be added into it.

The ArcGIS File Handler utility lets you override the default behaviour so that a particular application is always launched when a layer is launched. You can find the ArcGISFilehandler.exe utility in your Program Files\Common Files\ArcGIS\bin folder. Double-click the ArcGISFileHandler.exe to launch the utility. You'll see the following layer options in the ArcGISFileHandler:

If you choose a specific application, that application will always be used when you launch a layer file, even if a different application is currently running.

When you add a map service or globe service into ArcGIS Desktop from a web page such as a Services Directory page, or from a website such as, a LYR file referencing the service is automatically generated and launched, and so that is handled by the ArcGIS File Handler too.

The ArcGIS File Handler doesn't determine what happens when you drag and drop an LYR file into an application or use the Add Data dialog, because in those situations the layer always goes into the application you are adding the layer into, as you'd expect. Note that drag and drop of LPK files into ArcMap or ArcGlobe is not supported in 9.3.1.

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