About viewing metadata

Most ArcGIS items can have metadata, including tools, toolboxes, folders, geodatabases, text files, and file types such as Word documents. Once created, metadata is copied, moved, and deleted along with the item when it is managed with ArcGIS. Metadata for GIS resources is useful when it is done well. It can help you inventory your resources and estimate the cost to maintain them, share your resources and improve communication, and find resources that are available and choose which one to use.

You can view an ArcGIS item's metadata in the Description tab. What you see is an HTML page that you can interact with as you would any HTML page in a web browser.

After viewing an item's metadata, you can start editing it if you have permission to do so—you'll see the Edit button in the Description tab.

A geoprocessing tool's description includes usage tips, its Python syntax, and code samples in addition to traditional metadata

The information available for viewing and editing in the Description tab is determined by the current metadata style. The default metadata style, Item Description, lets you see and edit a concise description of an item. It shows you a small set of information that is a portion of the item's complete metadata document. This set of information can be published to ArcGIS Online with the item and is available for searching. For many people, this level of detail is sufficient on a daily basis.

For map, globe, and scene documents and for layer files, their descriptions are available for viewing and editing both in the Description tab and their respective Properties dialog boxes.

By default, metadata is automatically updated when you view it in the Description tab. ArcGIS gets the item's properties and records them in the appropriate metadata elements. As part of this operation, metadata is created if it doesn't already exist. For example, the extent and count of a feature class's features are current when you look at its metadata, even if new features were recently added. This process is known as synchronization—values in the metadata are being synchronized with the properties of the item.

While automatic updates are helpful because ArcGIS can maintain properties that are recorded in the metadata, they are not a substitute for good metadata. Good metadata can protect your investment in the resources you have created or purchased. For example, without knowledge of data accuracy, provenance, and age, you can't have a high level of confidence in decisions based on that data.

ArcGIS metadata

If you are a metadata specialist or you want to see or edit more information than is available by default, choose a different metadata style that gives you complete access to the item's metadata. The same description is shown at the top of the page, followed by sections that give you access to the rest of the information under the ArcGIS Metadata heading.

If a metadata style gives you access to full ArcGIS metadata, it appears at the bottom of the short description

An item's metadata can contain a vast amount of detailed information. You can see all of the item's ArcGIS metadata content by scrolling down the page. It is divided into sections to improve access to the information you need. Each section in the display corresponds to a page in the ArcGIS metadata editor. The content you edit on a page appears together under the same heading in the display. You can click a heading to hide some details, if you like.

An item's spatial reference and its location in projected coordinates are provided in the Extents section

If a green asterisk (*) appears next to a metadata element's name or value, it means the value is automatically updated in the metadata by ArcGIS according to the item's intrinsic properties. Some intrinsic properties that are automatically recorded in the item's metadata can't be edited. However, this information is displayed under the same heading as related information that can be edited.

Metadata created in the current release of ArcGIS is ArcGIS metadata. ESRI-ISO metadata created in ArcGIS Desktop 9.3.1 or an earlier release using the ISO metadata editor will be automatically upgraded to ArcGIS metadata when you look at it. The original ESRI-ISO metadata content is not displayed. This upgrade is temporary. It will become permanent if you edit the metadata content and save your changes. You can also use the Upgrade Metadata tool to upgrade ESRI-ISO metadata to ArcGIS metadata.

FGDC metadata

An item might have existing metadata in the FGDC CSDGM XML format, created in ArcGIS Desktop 9.3.1 or an earlier release using the FGDC metadata editor, created in the current release of ArcGIS using the FGDC metadata editor add-in, or as a stand-alone XML file created outside ArcGIS. If any FGDC-format metadata content exists in an item's metadata, it will be displayed at the bottom of the page with all metadata styles that give you complete access to the item's metadata. Click the FGDC Metadata (read-only) heading to see this information.

If an item's metadata includes FGDC-formatted information, it appears at the bottom of the page

Existing FGDC-formatted information that corresponds to the Item Description is visible in the summary at the top of the metadata display, can be edited on the Item Description page, and is available for searching in ArcGIS Desktop and publishing with the item to ArcGIS Online.

However, at first, the majority of any FGDC-formatted metadata content is only available for display under the FGDC Metadata (read-only) heading, which is why the information under this heading is identified as being read-only. This information is not automatically updated by the current release of ArcGIS Desktop with the item's current intrinsic properties. If you start editing the item's metadata in the Description tab, your FGDC metadata content only appears on the Item Description and Fields pages. You must upgrade an item's existing FGDC-format metadata to ArcGIS metadata to make all of your FGDC metadata content available in the current release of ArcGIS Desktop and take full advantage of its capabilities.

Learn more about working with and upgrading FGDC-format metadata

If you edit metadata using the add-in that provides the 9.3.1 FGDC metadata editor, you will only see your changes under the FGDC Metadata (read-only) heading.

Stand-alone metadata XML files

Some ArcGIS items don't support creating metadata to describe them. Other GIS resources aren't handled by ArcGIS at all. Nevertheless, you can create detailed descriptions for these resources by adding information to stand-alone metadata XML files using the Description tab.

An XML file that contains metadata but is not part of an ArcGIS item is referred to as stand-alone metadata. This convention distinguishes XML files containing geospatial metadata from XML files containing other data such as a geodatabase XML workspace document.

A stand-alone metadata XML file containing ArcGIS, ESRI-ISO, or FGDC metadata content will be displayed in the same manner as metadata for other ArcGIS items described above.

Other stand-alone metadata XML files might contain metadata stored in a different format that was either exported from ArcGIS or created outside of ArcGIS. If a stand-alone metadata XML file contains information formatted according to ISO 19139 Geographic information — Metadata — XML schema implementation, its content can also be displayed in the Description tab as illustrated below. This information is read-only in ArcGIS Desktop. It must be translated to ArcGIS metadata before it can be edited.

A stand-alone metadata XML file containing ISO 19139-formatted information can be displayed in ArcGIS

Metadata in ISO 19139 format will only include content that exists in the ISO 19139 standard. It won't contain any Esri-defined content such as thumbnails.

XML files that don't contain geospatial metadata can also be viewed in the Description tab as XML data.

The contents of an XML file that doesn't contain a recognized metadata format is displayed as XML data

XML elements or tags are dark red, XML attributes are bright red, and the values of XML elements and attributes are black. You can explore the XML data by clicking an element's minus sign (-) to hide its contents. Click an element's plus sign (+) to show its contents.

HTML metadata for folders

While metadata isn't automatically generated for folders, you can document their contents using a metadata editor in the same way you would for any other item.

Alternatively, you can create an HTML page to document a folder's contents. This type of metadata can help others in your organization locate the resources they need when they are browsing the network. You might describe the project for which the folder's contents were created, indicate the general area in which the data is located, and list the items in the folder.

A folder's description can be a well-formed HTML page that describes its contents

Like XML, these HTML pages must be well formed and free of syntax errors. To be well formed, all opening tags, such as <p> for paragraph, must be properly closed by an end tag, such as </p>. Unfortunately, most HTML authoring tools don't create well-formed HTML. You must use an authoring tool that can create a page in XML HTML (XHTML) format; otherwise, you will have to fix your HTML page in a text or XML editor before it will display properly. Once your HTML page has been created, rename the file metadata.htm and place it within the folder it describes.

Graphics can only be used on a folder's HTML page if they are referenced using a Universal Naming Convention (UNC) path or a uniform resource locator (URL).

Related Topics