A quick tour of importing and exporting metadata

There are several options available for importing metadata to and exporting metadata from ArcGIS items. These options can be performed from the Description tab in the Catalog window or ArcCatalog, from the ArcCatalog Metadata toolbar, and using the metadata geoprocessing tools.

Importing metadata

Importing metadata is the process of associating existing metadata with an ArcGIS item; it is stored as part of the ArcGIS item. You typically import information in these circumstances:

When discussing importing metadata, the information you want to import is the Source Metadata, and the ArcGIS item to which you are importing the information is the Target Metadata. Both the source and target can be ArcGIS items or stand-alone metadata XML files. A stand-alone metadata XML file might be metadata describing a Web service or another GIS resource that either doesn't support creating metadata or can't be represented in ArcGIS; you can create a new XML file in the Catalog window, then add metadata to it describing the resource.

Metadata for ArcGIS items must be in the ArcGIS metadata format. If the source information is not stored in the ArcGIS metadata format, it is converted to the ArcGIS metadata format before being imported. This tool knows how to convert ESRI-ISO, FGDC, and ISO 19139 metadata in XML format to ArcGIS metadata. Import Type identifies the format of the source information.

Metadata can only be imported from another ArcGIS item or from a well-formed XML file containing metadata. If you have metadata that is not in XML format, such as FGDC metadata in structured text format, it must be converted to XML format before it can be imported.

The source metadata may contain information that is not appropriate to import to another item. For example, any properties that were automatically added by ArcGIS to the source metadata are removed. Also, any unique identifiers in the source metadata are removed to ensure they remain unique. These may identify the metadata when it is published to a metadata catalog or identify the GIS resource described by the metadata. Two items should not share the same identifier.

After importing, the target item's metadata is updated to contain its current properties. Properties of the ArcGIS item that can be recorded that are not present in the imported metadata are always added. Enable automatic updates determines if properties recorded in the imported metadata will be replaced with the actual properties of the ArcGIS item. For example, if the source metadata contains a projection name typed by a person and Enable automatic updates is checked, the original projection name is replaced by the actual name of the spatial reference used in ArcGIS, and if the data is reprojected in the future, that change will be reflected in the metadata. When viewing ArcGIS metadata, metadata elements with an asterisk were updated automatically.

Importing metadata won't change the target item's thumbnail, geoprocessing history, and unique identifiers.

If you want to import the same metadata template to many ArcGIS items or you need to import different source metadata items to different target metadata items, do this by using the appropriate metadata geoprocessing tool in batch mode.

Learn about importing metadata using geoprocessing tools

Exporting metadata

After creating metadata, you might export it to use it outside ArcGIS.

Exporting metadata from the Description tab or the Metadata toolbar first updates the metadata to include the latest properties of the ArcGIS item it describes before transforming the information to an XML file that uses a standard metadata format. A common reason to export metadata like this is to publish it to a metadata catalog. For example, in the United States you might create your metadata using the FGDC CSDGM Metadata style and export metadata from ArcGIS in FGDC XML format for publication to the geodata.gov collection.


The Export button on the Description tab is designed to export metadata created in the Description tab in ArcGIS metadata format to the appropriate XML format for the current metadata style. If you are viewing a stand-alone metadata XML file that is already formatted to follow a metadata standard there is no need to export its content to that format; the operation will not be successful.

Each metadata catalog has different procedures for publishing information. For example, you might log in to the metadata catalog's Web site and upload the exported XML files. Or you might place the exported files in a folder on your organization's external Web server if the metadata catalog has utilities that can automatically upload your metadata. If you update your metadata regularly, publishing your metadata on a regular schedule ensures people have access to current information. Contact the administrator of your metadata catalog for details about the procedures you need to follow.

If you regularly export metadata, consider automating this process by writing a Python script that uses the metadata geoprocessing tools to perform this task, then scheduling the script to run at prescribed times.

Some metadata catalogs based on the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata (CSDGM) require metadata content to be provided in several different file formats including XML, HTML, and text. After exporting ArcGIS metadata to the FGDC XML format using the Export Metadata tool you can generate the additional files using the USGS MP Metadata Translator tool. Creating a model or Python script to that performs both of these tasks at once can simplify the publishing process.

Learn about exporting metadata using geoprocessing tools

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