Translating ArcGIS information to KML

For GIS users, KML has two key capabilities that are important:

Map layers created in ArcMap, ArcGlobe, or ArcScene are the primary mechanisms used in ArcGIS to prepare and deliver information using KML. You essentially author your map layers so that they support various KML capabilities.

The purpose of this help topic is to provide an understanding of how map layer information is translated into this KML framework. The diagram below shows a simple KML display in Google Earth. An explanation for how map layer information is translated into various KML elements is described for each of the numbered items identified in this display.

ArcGIS elements in KML
Image courtesy of Google Earth

1. Topmost folder in the Places panel in Google Earth

This KML folder is named using the ArcMap data frame from which the KML was generated.


You'll only get this topmost folder if you convert a map to KML. Two options are available for generating KML. The first method, Layer To KML, converts a single map layer. The second, Map To KML, converts the entire data frame (that is, all its map layers).

2. KML screen overlay used for displaying a map legend

You have the option to create a map legend for use as a screen overlay when you convert your GIS map contents to KML.

3. Folders are used to organize KML contents

Each feature layer added from ArcGIS becomes a KML folder, and each raster layer becomes a single entry in the Places panel in Google Maps or Google Earth.

The KML folder name is taken from the map layer name in ArcMap. The folder description (that is, the short description for the layer folder displayed in KML when you double-click the name in the Places panel in Google Earth) is taken from the first two lines in the map layer's description authored in the Layer Properties dialog box in ArcMap, ArcScene, or ArcGlobe.

The map layer name and description used in KML

The ArcGIS layer name is used as the KML folder name in the Places panel.

The name, along with the map layer description, is displayed in a pop-up on the Google map display by double-clicking the KML folder name in the Places panel.

Feature layer name and description pop-up in KML
Photo courtesy of Google Earth

The map layer name is displayed in the Places panel for an image or raster layer.

4. Folder for a feature layer

This is the name of a feature map layer from ArcMap, ArcGlobe, or ArcScene that has been added using KML. Opening the feature folder in the Google Earth Places panel lists all the layer's features.

For example, individual cities can be displayed as features in the Google Earth Places panel, as shown here, by clicking the expand icon (Expand the folder list in Google Earth.) by the folder name:

Feature names and KML snippets in the Google Earth Places panel
Photo courtesy of Google Earth

5. Setting the Names and KML snippets for KML features

The Places panel in Google Earth displays each feature's name. You set the source for the feature names on the Layer Properties dialog box in ArcGIS as follows:

KML feature names are set in ArcGIS as the label properties for the map layer.

You can use another column in the feature attribute table to add a KML snippet description for each feature. You do this by adding the Alias name KMLSnippet in ArcGIS for the field in the feature attribute table that you wish to use.

Setting the attribute field to be the KML snippet description for features

The KML snippet is displayed under the feature name in the Places panel in Google Earth.

6. Feature descriptions

When you click a feature's placemark in Google Earth, you view its feature description in a balloon pop-up.

Feature descriptions displayed by clicking the feature's placemark
Photo courtesy of Google Earth

The default feature description will be composed of visible fields from the map layer's feature attribute table.

Using visible fields for a map layer in ArcGIS as the source for KML feature descriptions

Alternatively, you can use the HTML properties of the map layer to control how the feature description is displayed and establish links to additional contents that users can access through HTML. For example, the balloon pop-up below shows HTML content for a parcel along with HTML links to additional information:

HTML properties for features are shown when you click the feature in the Google map.
Photo courtesy of Google Earth

You can define HTML display properties for map layers in ArcGIS. One of the options you have when you create KML from ArcGIS is to use these HTML properties to define the KML description content. Refer to Setting HTML pop-up properties for feature layers for more information.