Essential metadata vocabulary

This topic provides an overview of some of the terms you will encounter when working with metadata in ArcGIS. Not all these terms are specific to ArcGIS.




All ArcGIS items have a description, which is also referred to as metadata.


An ArcGIS item's description. In ArcGIS metadata can optionally conform to a geospatial metadata standard.

Metadata element

An individual piece of information in an item's metadata. A metadata element may contain a value such as a title or date, or it may contain other metadata elements.

Metadata standard

A document identifying content that should be provided to describe geospatial resources such as maps, map services, vector data, imagery, and relevant nonspatial resources. A metadata standard may also describe the format in which the content should be stored.

Standards are typically created or ratified by national or international standards bodies. Many geospatial metadata standards are produced by ISO including ISO 19115, Geographic Information - Metadata, ISO 19119, Geographic Information - Services, and ISO 19139, Geographic Information - Metadata - XML Schema Implementation.

Metadata profile

A document identifying modifications to a metadata standard that has been adopted by a standards body, agency, or organization. A profile may reduce the overall number of metadata elements that were originally included in a standard. A profile may further restrict the optionality of a metadata element, making it mandatory where before it was optional; a profile may not make mandatory elements optional. A profile may further restrict the values allowed in a metadata element. One example of a metadata profile is the North American Profile of ISO 19115:2003, Geographic Information - Metadata.

Metadata style

The metadata configuration used in ArcGIS. A metadata style identifies the metadata standard you are following, the appearance of metadata when you view it, the pages included in the ArcGIS metadata editor, the XML schema used to validate metadata, and how to export metadata to an XML file that is formatted correctly for the XML schema.

Stand-alone metadata

An XML file containing geospatial metadata that is not associated with an ArcGIS item. Some items can't be described in ArcGIS. Other geospatial resources, such as atlases and globes, aren't handled by ArcGIS at all. Nevertheless, you can describe these resources by creating XML files and using the ArcGIS metadata editor to record information about them.

This naming convention distinguishes XML files containing geospatial metadata that aren't associated with ArcGIS items from XML files containing other data such as geodatabase XML documents.

Metadata synchronization

The process of automatically updating an item's metadata to reflect the current properties of the item. That is, values in the metadata are being synchronized with the item's properties. When an item's metadata is synchronized, metadata will be created if it doesn't already exist.

Metadata catalog

A searchable online collection of metadata describing geospatial resources. One example of a metadata catalog is the U.S. collection of maps and data The Internet or intranet site from which you access and search the metadata catalog is often referred to as a GIS catalog portal.

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