Introduction to arcpy.mapping

What is arcpy.mapping?

Arcpy.mapping is a Python scripting module that is part of the ArcPy site package. It gets installed with ArcGIS Desktop and is available to all licenses. It was designed primarily to manipulate the contents of existing map documents (.mxd) and layer files (.lyr). It also provides functions to automate exporting and printing. Arcpy.mapping can be used to automate map production; it extends the capabilities of Data Driven Pages and is required to build complete map books because it includes functions to export to, create, and manage PDF documents. Finally, arcpy.mapping scripts can be published as geoprocessing services and the script functionality can be made available to web applications.

It is easiest to understand the capabilities of arcpy.mapping by describing some scenarios it facilitates. Here are only a few of the many scenarios that an arcpy.mapping script can accomplish:

Who is arcpy.mapping for? Why was it built?

Arcpy.mapping was built for the professional GIS analyst (as well as for developers). Traditionally, the scenarios listed above had to be done using ArcObjects and it often proved to be a very difficult programming environment to learn for the average GIS professional. Arcpy.mapping is a courser-grained object model, meaning that the functions are designed in a way that a single arcpy.mapping function can replace many lines of ArcObjects code. The following is a very simple example of how arcpy.mapping can be used to reference an existing map document and export it to a PDF document with only two lines of code.

mxd = arcpy.mapping.MapDocument("C:/Project/Watersheds.mxd")
arcpy.mapping.ExportToPDF(mxd, "C:/Project/Output/Watersheds.pdf")

Arcpy.mapping is not a replacement for ArcObjects but rather an alternative for the different scenarios it supports. ArcObjects is still necessary for finer-grain development and application customization, whereas arcpy.mapping is intended for automating the contents of existing map documents and layer files.

Best ways to get started

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Guidelines for arcpy.mapping

Alphabetical list of arcpy.mapping constants

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