What types of connections are made to database servers?

When connecting to a database server and the geodatabases stored on it, you are always making a direct connection and always connecting with a Windows-authenticated login. You can connect to database servers that are on a remote computer or that are installed locally.

Direct connections

Making a direct connection means you connect directly from the client to the geodatabase without any intermediate service. That also means the ArcSDE libraries and drivers installed with the connecting client application are used and most of the processing takes place on the client machine.

To make a direct connection to a geodatabase, you must have the correct direct connect drivers installed on the connecting client. See What client and ArcSDE geodatabases for SQL Server Express versions are compatible? for more information on which client-geodatabase releases are compatible and where to get the necessary drivers.

Windows-authenticated connections

Additionally, when connecting to a database server and the geodatabases stored on it, you must use a Windows-authenticated login. Windows authentication is a method for identifying an individual user with credentials supplied by the Windows operating system of the user's computer. Therefore, the login with which you log in to the client computer is the login that is used for the connection. This login can be either a local or domain account. When connecting to a remote database server (one on a different computer than the connecting client), use a domain login. When connecting to a local database server (one that is on the same computer as the connecting client), you can use either a domain or a local login. Be aware that if you use a domain login when connecting to a local database server on a computer that is off the network, you may not be able to log in to the database server.

Local vs. remote connections

When connecting to database servers that reside on the same computer as the connecting client application, you can use a local or domain account to log in.

You should use a domain login to connect to the remote database server. A local Windows account on your client machine is not the same login as one created on a remote machine. For example, if your local login is mymachine\myuser, creating a login with the same name on the remote machine, yourmachine, results in this login: yourmachine\myuser. These are essentially two different login names.


There is a way to work around this. Using the same password for the local and remote logins will allow the login to be accepted by the remote machine.

If connecting to a remote computer, the database server must be enabled to accept network connections. By default, the Microsoft SQL Server Express instance is set to accept network connections when you use the installation wizard to enable the SQL Server Express instance to store geodatabases. If the ability to accept network connections was disabled in the SQL Server Configuration Manager, it must be reenabled.

Connections from ArcGIS Desktop

You can connect to the geodatabases stored on a database server either through the Database Server node in the Catalog window or the Database Connections node.

The Database Servers node in the Catalog

The Database Connections node in the Catalog

Generally, you make a connection through the Database Servers node if you must perform administrative tasks that affect the database server or multiple geodatabases on the database server. See Connecting to a geodatabase on a database server for more information on making connections through the Database Server node in the Catalog tree.

If you only need to access the data in one geodatabase on the database server, you can create a connection under the Database Connections node. When you create a Spatial Database Connection under the Database Connections node, use the direct connect syntax for SQL Server databases and Windows Authentication for the connection. Also, you need to change the version to which you are connecting. The default version to connect to from the Database Connections node is SDE.DEFAULT. Geodatabases on database servers always use a dbo schema; therefore, there is no SDE.DEFAULT version in these geodatabases and connecting to SDE.DEFAULT fails. You must connect to the DBO.DEFAULT version or another geodatabase version.


You can initially connect through the Database Servers node and save the connection to the geodatabase. This creates a connection file under the Database Connections node of the Catalog tree. See Saving a geodatabase connection to a specific version for instructions on how to do this.

The following is an example of the Spatial Database Connection Properties dialog box when connecting to a geodatabase on a database server:

Spatial Database Connection Properties
Spatial Database Connection Properties for a geodatabase on a database server

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