Key Catalog window concepts

The Catalog window provides tools for organizing and managing your map documents, layers, geodatabases, geoprocessing models and tools, file-based data, and so on. These are organized and managed in file folders on your computer.

The Catalog window is used to add data to your map and to save and organize results.

Here are some key concepts of the Catalog window.

ArcGIS data and documents are organized in folders and geodatabases

ArcGIS allows you to work with geographic information in many forms including relational databases, files, ArcGIS documents, and remote GIS Web services. ArcGIS users organize this content into

Workspace folders

Workspaces are simply file folders on disk used to organize numerous ArcGIS datasets and a related set of ArcGIS documents such as map documents and geoprocessing toolboxes.

Workspaces can contain external datasets in many file formats as well as references to geodatabases. For example, you can work with file geodatabases held in the workspace folder, connect to ArcSDE geodatabases, and work with numerous data files—such as ESRI shapefiles and coverages, JPEG images, DXF CAD files, dBASE tables, Excel spreadsheets, and GML data files—that are held in your workspace folder.

You organize your datasets and ArcGIS documents into a series of file system folders and in geodatabases. Organizing datasets by workspace folders and in geodatabases is useful because it provides a mechanism to do the following:

  • Control access to datasets.
  • Provide a transaction framework for updating and sharing datasets.
  • Organize, document, and catalog numerous geographic datasets.

ArcGIS documents and files

ArcGIS applications use a series of documents for holding your work created in ArcGIS. These documents define how maps, map elements, map layers, globes, globe elements, and geoprocessing models are managed and used within the software.

For example, a map document specifies the set of map layers contained in a map along with the map layout elements and their display properties used to present GIS datasets. Once you create a map document, you can use it simply by double-clicking the document name to open it. This will launch the ArcMap application for the selected map.

Each ArcGIS document is saved as a file in a file folder—a GIS workspace.

Here is a list of some of the commonly used ArcGIS documents and files found in GIS workspace folders:

Document type

File name extension

How it is used


ArcMap document


Double-click to open in ArcMap.

A file containing a map, its layers, display information, and other elements used in ArcMap.

ArcGlobe document


Double-click to open in ArcGlobe.

A file containing a globe, its layers, and 3D display properties for use in ArcGlobe. Part of the 3D Analyst extension.

ArcScene document


Double-click to open in ArcScene.

A file containing a 3D scene, its layers, and 3D properties for use in ArcScene. Part of the 3D Analyst extension.

Map server document


Used to publish optimized map services using ArcGIS Server.

Created in ArcMap and saved using the Map Service Publishing toolbar.

Layer file


Drag into ArcMap, ArcGlobe, ArcScene, and ArcGIS Explorer.

A layer is a set of rules for displaying and working with datasets in ArcMap and ArcGlobe. Layer definitions include symbol assignments, classifications, labeling rules, and other map use properties.

Layer package


Drag into ArcMap, ArcGlobe, ArcScene, and ArcGIS Explorer.

A layer package is a map layer plus its data packaged together. Layer packages are used for sharing both the data and its cartography.

Address Locator file


Used for geocoding in ArcGIS.

A Locator dataset and rules used for geocoding addresses in ArcGIS. Locators are types of geodatabase datasets and can be saved independently of the geodatabase as a disk file for sharing and use.

Geoprocessing toolbox


Appears as a toolbox. In ArcGIS Desktop, it opens a toolbox folder containing geoprocessing models and scripts. It is also used to publish geoprocessing tools to ArcGIS Server.

Collections of geoprocessing models saved and shared using toolbox files.

Map projection file


Saved with each dataset as its coordinate system.

Coordinate system and map projection information for a dataset.

Geoprocessing and Python scripts


Used in geoprocessing.

Python scripts used for geoprocessing in ArcGIS.

The Catalog window

The Catalog window helps you organize and manage all your geographic information that is held in workspaces and geodatabases. It does this by providing a catalog view of all of your information.

The Catalog Window in ArcMap, ArcScene, and ArcGlobe

In the Catalog window, you focus on working with files and datasets that are relevant for use within ArcGIS. The window helps you organize and manage all your geographic information such as maps, globes, datasets, models, metadata, and services. The Catalog window includes tools to accomplish the following:

Two ways to work with the Catalog window

There are two ways in ArcGIS to work with the Catalog window:

  • You can open a Catalog window panel directly in ArcMap, ArcGlobe, and ArcScene.
  • You can use the ArcCatalog application.

Related Topics

Published 6/7/2010