What is GIS interoperability?

ArcGIS, like other information technology, is engineered to work well with computing technologies as well as other GIS and geospatial tools. There are three key aspects to interoperability in ArcGIS:

This topic describes how ArcGIS supports interoperability for these.

The ArcGIS system conforms to open standards, enterprise information technology (IT), and Web computing frameworks. This ensures that users can incorporate GIS in any application and on a variety of computing and mobile devices and can use geographic information accessed from multiple databases and Web services. Here are some key interoperability aspects of ArcGIS.

Web standards

One trend is the integration of GIS with other applications (both GIS and other IT systems) on the World Wide Web, which can be used to integrate disparate information systems and orchestrate work across those systems. Web services can be used as the building blocks to implement critical business practices, workflows, and information flows within and across organizations.

Web services interfaces for managing and exploiting information and software logic are a key aspect to ArcGIS. Standards-based Web services and messaging protocols, such as XML, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and REST, are fully supported in ArcGIS. These are the same technology standards that are used in mainstream business and enterprise computing frameworks.

By using these protocols, ArcGIS information services can be delivered to any Web client—professional desktops, Web browsers, mobile clients, and other information technology.

GIS, map, and image services on the Web

With ArcGIS, users encapsulate their GIS work as a number of GIS elements, including geodatabases, map and 3D globe documents, geoprocessing models and scripts, image catalogs, metadata documents, and so on. Each of these GIS elements can be published as open Web services, then discovered and used in Web computing frameworks.

A key GIS trend is the use of 2D and 3D map services that are accessed across the Web in any number of client applications, from desktop mapping software and standard Web browsers to Google Earth and Microsoft Bing Maps and mobile devices.

Many GIS organizations publish key aspects of their content as multiresolution basemaps with high performance and ease of use. They value the ability to leverage open Web map services as digital basemaps onto which they can layer their operational GIS information and tasks.

ArcGIS users leverage all these frameworks. ArcGIS is used to publish GIS Web services using protocols such as SOAP, the Google KML format, and open REST services. In addition, ArcGIS supports the OpenGIS Consortium series of Web services standards (such as WMS, WFS, and WCS).

These open up access to ArcGIS information in many Web and cloud computing scenarios.

Data Interoperability

In addition to geodatabases, GIS and geospatial data come in hundreds of file formats and from many organizations worldwide. Hence, it's important that ArcGIS support the use of these formats. You can read more about data support at An overview of data support in ArcGIS.

ArcGIS contains optional software that can extend its core support for working with many GIS data formats. ESRI and Safe Software, the world leader in geospatial data interoperability, have integrated the popular Safe Software FME product into ArcGIS as an optional extension product, the Data Interoperability Extension. This enables ArcGIS to recognize dozens of additional nonnative formats and allows you to work with them directly, just as you would work with native ArcGIS formats. The Data Interoperability Extension also gives you the ability to define new custom data sources and define data transformation procedures that help you perform advanced data transformations between a variety of GIS and tabular data structures.

ArcGIS is engineered for interoperability

ArcGIS supports the vision that GIS can be implemented using a standards-based computing platform that supports an abundance of geographic information types as well as comprehensive tools for data management, editing, analysis, display, and services.

In this context, ArcGIS software is used as a standards-based IT infrastructure for assembling desktop GIS, enterprise GIS, Web GIS, mobile GIS, and cloud-based GIS infrastructures.

ArcGIS was designed to satisfy all these evolving requirements for scalable, comprehensive, and standards-based computing for GIS.

Overview of key interoperability strategies




  • Support any client and device including mobile, smart clients, Web browsers, geoexplorer applications, desktop applications, and other servers.

Leverage Web mapping and visualization using ArcGIS Explorer, Google Earth, and Microsoft Bing Maps

  • Provide a free, out-of-the-box application named ArcGIS Explorer for working with 2D and 3D map views that integrate Web map services with local data.
  • Enable ArcGIS users to leverage 2D and 3D map explorer applications such as Google Earth and Microsoft's Bing Maps.
  • Support the creation and use of KML format, including the ability to dynamically serve Web maps as KML.
  • Support REST interface for ArcGIS services enabling scripting and mashup programming between ArcGIS and other Web services.

Orchestrate via Web services, Web applications, and TCP/IP

  • Support broad Web and IT standards from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and others, for example, XML, Web services, SOAP, WSDL, REST, JavaScript, Adobe Flex, Microsoft Silverlight, and so on.
  • Support service-oriented architectures (GIS on the enterprise service bus).
  • Support focused GIS industry standards (such as OGC and ISO). For example, ISO 19139 metadata and OGC specifications WMS (including SLD), WFS, WCS, GML, CSW, and so on.
  • Support KML services for publishing GIS services as KML and for using KML within ArcGIS.
  • Share and openly publish ESRI protocols for broad use (e.g., shapefiles, geodatabase XML, REST, SOAP XML API's, and so on).
  • Deliver a GIS portal toolkit for central metadata and application publishing.
  • Support portal standards (e.g., JSR-168, UDDI, CSW from OGC, Web portal frameworks, API's [.NET, Java]).

Application logic

  • Enable common GIS logic to be deployed anywhere—within GIS servers, embedded in custom applications, used within GIS desktops, and deployed into the field on mobile devices.
  • Build application bridges for specific programs (SAP R3, SAS, CRM, permitting, GPS, surveying, GeoRSS, and so on).
  • Use REST to connect GIS services to other Web services.

Data management

  • Directly use and translate any vector, raster, and tabular data format.
  • Strong support for CAD interoperability.
  • Open support for OGC data management specifications such as GML, WCS, WFS, and so on.
  • Openly support geodatabase management in any viable RDBMS and file system:
    • Oracle
    • SQL Server
    • Informix
    • DB2
    • PostgreSQL
  • Support SQL access to geodatabases.
  • Publish key GIS formats from ESRI as developer APIs.
  • Compile and share common GIS data models based on standards.

Applications programming

Provide industry-standard programming APIs (C++, .NET, Java, JavaScript, Abode Flex, and Microsoft Silverlight, and so on) for

  • Embedded engines
  • Servers
  • GIS desktops
  • Web browser applications
  • Mobile devices

Computing platforms

Support the widely adopted computing platforms employed in our user communities. This includes support for Web servlet engines, DBMSs, application servers, and Web portal frameworks:

  • Windows: .NET, SQL Server, IIS, SharePoint, Silverlight, and so on
  • Linux/UNIX: Java, Apache, WebSphere, WebLogic, Oracle Application Server, SAP NetWeaver, and so on
  • Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud
  • DBMSs for Linux/UNIX: Oracle, Informix, DB2, PostgreSQL


  • Support and leverage standards such as Adobe Acrobat, Postscript, PDF, and other prepress-related standards.
  • Support industry-standard fonts.

International language support

  • Provide the ability to use and deploy ESRI software in any language.
  • Provide support for bidirectional text.
  • Support standards for Internationalization (I18N) and Localization (L10N) such as UNICODE and numerous tools for adding language support.
  • Provide localization kits with instructions for translating ESRI software.
  • Provide localized versions of ArcGIS in many languages.

Accessibility standards

  • Provide support for common disability and accessibility standards such as the U.S. Government's Section 508 standards.

Summary of interoperability in ArcGIS