ArcGIS is a geographic information system (GIS) for working with maps and geographic information maintained by Esri. It is used for creating and using maps, compiling geographic data, analyzing mapped information, sharing and discovering geographic information, using maps and geographic information in a range of applications, and managing geographic information in a database.

Parcel editing with ArcMap 10.1 on Windows 7
Initial releaseDecember 27, 1999 (1999-12-27)
Stable release
10.7.1 / June 27, 2019 (2019-06-27)[1]
Written inC++
Operating systemDesktop: Windows 7 SP1 and later, Windows Server 2008 R2 and later;[2] Enterprise additionally supports: Windows Server 2008 R2 and later; RHEL 6 and later, SLES 12;[3]
TypeGeographic information system
LicenseProprietary commercial software

The system provides an infrastructure for making maps and geographic information available throughout an organization, across a community, and openly on the Web.

ArcGIS includes the following Windows desktop software:

  • ArcReader, which allows one to view and query maps created with the other ArcGIS products;
  • ArcGIS Desktop, which is licensed under three functionality levels:[4]
    • ArcGIS Desktop Basic (formerly known as ArcView), which allows one to view spatial data, create layered maps, and perform basic spatial analysis;
    • ArcGIS Desktop Standard (formerly known as ArcEditor), which in addition to the functionality of ArcView, includes more advanced tools for manipulation of shapefiles and geodatabases;
    • ArcGIS Desktop Advanced (formerly known as ArcInfo), which includes capabilities for data manipulation, editing, and analysis.
  • ArcGIS Pro, is the new application of ESRI, will replace ArcMap [5]. ArcGIS Pro works in 2D and 3D for cartography and visualization, and include Artificial Intelligence (AI) [6].

There are also server-based ArcGIS software as part of the ArcGIS Enterprise product, as well as ArcGIS applications for mobile devices like phones and tablets. Extensions can be purchased separately to increase the functionality of ArcGIS. Receiving a certificate in ArcGIS software is also available for professionals from beginners to experts through Esri's training programs.

Product history

ArcGIS version history
10.6 2018-01-17
10.6.1 2018-07-16

Prior to the ArcGIS suite, Esri had focused its software development on the command line Arc/INFO workstation program and several Graphical User Interface-based products such as the ArcView GIS 3.x desktop program. Other Esri products included MapObjects, a programming library for developers, and ArcSDE as a relational database management system. The various products had branched out into multiple source trees and did not integrate well with one another. In January 1997, Esri decided to revamp its GIS software platform, creating a single integrated software architecture.[30]

ArcMap 8.0

In late 1999, Esri released ArcMap 8.0, which ran on the Microsoft Windows operating system.[30] ArcGIS combined the visual user-interface aspect of ArcView GIS 3.x interface with some of the power from the Arc/INFO version 7.2 workstation. This pairing resulted in a new software suite called ArcGIS including the command-line ArcInfo workstation (v8.0) and a new graphical user interface application called ArcMap (v8.0). This ArcMAP incorporating some of the functionality of ArcInfo with a more intuitive interface, as well as a file management application called ArcCatalog (v8.0). The release of the ArcMap constituted a major change in Esri's software offerings, aligning all their client and server products under one software architecture known as ArcGIS, developed using Microsoft Windows COM standards.[31] While the interface and names of ArcMap 8.0 are similar to later versions of ArcGIS Desktop, they are different products. ArcGIS 8.1 replaced ArcMap 8.0 in the product line but was not an update to it.

ArcGIS Desktop 8.1 to 8.3

ArcGIS 8.1 was unveiled at the Esri International User Conference in 2000.[32] ArcGIS 8.1 was officially released on April 24, 2001. This new application included three extensions: 3D Analyst, Spatial Analyst, and GeoStatistical Analyst. These three extension had become very powerful and popular in ArcView GIS 3.x product line. ArcGIS 8.1 also added the ability to access data online, directly from the Geography Network site or other ArcIMS map services.[33] ArcGIS 8.3 was introduced in 2002, adding topology to geodatabases, which was a feature originally available only with ArcInfo coverages.[34]

One major difference is the programming (scripting) languages available to customize or extend the software to suit particular user needs. In the transition to ArcGIS, Esri dropped support of its application-specific scripting languages, Avenue and the ARC Macro Language (AML), in favour of Visual Basic for Applications scripting and open access to ArcGIS components using the Microsoft COM standards.[33] ArcGIS is designed to store data in a proprietary RDBMS format, known as geodatabase. ArcGIS 8.x introduced other new features, including on-the-fly map projections, and annotation in the database.[35]

ArcGIS 9.x

ArcGIS 9 was released in May 2004, which included ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Engine for developers.[30] The ArcGIS 9 release includes a geoprocessing environment that allows execution of traditional GIS processing tools (such as clipping, overlay, and spatial analysis) interactively or from any scripting language that supports COM standards. Although the most popular of these is Python, others have been used, especially Perl and VBScript. ArcGIS 9 includes a visual programming environment, similar to ERDAS IMAGINE's Model Maker (released in 1994, v8.0.2). The Esri version is called ModelBuilder and as does the ERDAS IMAGINE version allows users to graphically link geoprocessing tools into new tools called models. These models can be executed directly or exported to scripting languages which can then execute in batch mode (launched from a command line), or they can undergo further editing to add branching or looping.

On June 26, 2008, Esri released ArcGIS 9.3. The new version of ArcGIS Desktop has new modeling tools and geostatistical error tracking features, while ArcGIS Server has improved performance, and support for role-based security. There also are new JavaScript APIs that can be used to create mashups, and integrated with either Google Maps or Microsoft Virtual Earth.[36][37]

At the 2008 Esri Developers Summit, there was little emphasis on ArcIMS, except for one session on transitioning from ArcIMS to ArcGIS Server-based applications, indicating a change in focus for Esri with ArcGIS 9.3 for web-based mapping applications.[38]

In May 2009, Esri released ArcGIS 9.3.1, which improved the performance of dynamic map publishing and introduced better sharing of geographic information.

ArcGIS 10.x

In 2010 Esri announced that the prospective version 9.4 would become version 10 and would ship in the second quarter of 2010.[39]

In June 2012 Esri released ArcGIS 10.1.[40][41]

In July 2013 Esri released ArcGIS 10.2.[42]

In December 2014 Esri released ArcGIS 10.3. The release included ArcGIS Pro 1.0, which became available in January 2015.

In February 2016 Esri released ArcGIS 10.4.[24]

In December 2016 Esri released ArcGIS 10.5.[43]

In January 2018 Esri released ArcGIS 10.6.

In March 2019 Esri released ArcGIS 10.7.[44]


Older Esri products, including ArcView 3.x, worked with data in the shapefile format. ArcInfo Workstation handled coverages, which stored topology information about the spatial data. Coverages, which were introduced in 1981 when ArcInfo was first released, have limitations in how they handle types of features. Some features, such as roads with street intersections or overpasses and underpasses, should be handled differently from other types of features.[45]

ArcGIS is built around a geodatabase, which uses an object-relational database approach for storing spatial data. A geodatabase is a "container" for holding datasets, tying together the spatial features with attributes. The geodatabase can also contain topology information, and can model behavior of features, such as road intersections, with rules on how features relate to one another.[46] When working with geodatabases, it is important to understand feature classes which are a set of features, represented with points, lines, or polygons. With shapefiles, each file can only handle one type of feature. A geodatabase can store multiple feature classes or type of features within one file.[47]

Geodatabases in ArcGIS can be stored in three different ways – as a "file geodatabase", a "personal geodatabase", or an "enterprise geodatabase" (formerly known as an SDE or ArcSDE geodatabase).[48] Introduced at 9.2, the file geodatabase stores information in a folder named with a .gdb extension. The insides look similar to that of a coverage but is not, in fact, a coverage. Similar to the personal geodatabase, the file geodatabase only supports a single editor. However, unlike the personal geodatabase, there is virtually no size limit. By default, any single table cannot exceed 1TB, but this can be changed. Personal geodatabases store data in Microsoft Access files, using a BLOB field to store the geometry data. The OGR library is able to handle this file type, to convert it to other file formats.[49] Database administration tasks for personal geodatabases, such as managing users and creating backups, can be done through ArcCatalog and ArcGIS Pro. Personal geodatabases, which are based on Microsoft Access, run only on Microsoft Windows and have a 2 gigabyte size limit.[50] Enterprise (multi-user) geodatabases sit on top of high-end DBMS such as PostgreSQL, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, DB2 and Informix to handle database management aspects, while ArcGIS deals with spatial data management.[51] Enterprise level geodatabases support database replication, versioning and transaction management, and are cross-platform compatible, able to run on Linux, Windows, and Solaris.[50]

Also released at 9.2 is the personal SDE database that operates with SQL Server Express. Personal SDE databases do not support multi-user editing, but do support versioning and disconnected editing. Microsoft limits SQL Server Express databases to 4GB.

ArcGIS Desktop

Product levels

ArcGIS Desktop is available at different product levels, with increasing functionality.

  • ArcReader (freeware, viewer) is a basic data viewer for maps and GIS data published in the proprietary Esri format using ArcGIS Publisher. The software also provides some basic tools for map viewing, printing and querying of spatial data. ArcReader is included with any of the ArcGIS suite of products, and is also available for free to download. ArcReader only works with preauthored published map files, created with ArcGIS Publisher.[52]
  • ArcGIS Desktop Basic, formerly known as ArcView, is the entry level of ArcGIS licensing offered. With ArcView, one is able to view and edit GIS data held in flat files, or view data stored in a relational database management system by accessing it through ArcSDE.
  • ArcGIS Desktop Standard, formerly known as ArcEditor, is the midlevel software suite designed for advanced editing of spatial data published in the proprietary Esri format. It provides tools for the creation of map and spatial data used in GIS, including the ability of editing geodatabase files and data, multiuser geodatabase editing, versioning, raster data editing and vectorization, advanced vector data editing, managing coverages, coordinate geometry (COGO), and editing geometric networks. ArcEditor is not intended for advanced spatial analysis.[53]
  • ArcGIS Desktop Advanced, formerly known as ArcInfo, allows users the most flexibility and control in "all aspects of data building, modeling, analysis, and map display."[54] ArcInfo includes increased capability in the areas of spatial analysis, geoprocessing, data management, and others.[53]

Other desktop GIS software include ArcGIS Explorer and ArcGIS Engine. ArcGIS Explorer is a GIS viewer which can work as a client for ArcGIS Server, ArcIMS, ArcWeb Services and Web Map Service (WMS).

  • ArcGIS Online[55] is a web application allowing sharing and search of geographic information, as well as content published by Esri, ArcGIS users, and other authoritative data providers. It allows users to create and join groups, and control access to items shared publicly or within groups.
  • ArcGIS Web Mapping APIs are APIs for several languages, allowing users to build and deploy applications that include GIS functionality and Web services from ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Server. Adobe Flex, JavaScript and Microsoft Silverlight are supported for applications that can be embedded in web pages or launched as stand-alone Web applications. Flex, Adobe Air and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) are supported for desktop applications.


ArcGIS Desktop consists of several integrated applications, including ArcMap, ArcCatalog, ArcToolbox, ArcScene, ArcGlobe, and ArcGIS Pro. ArcCatalog is the data management application, used to browse datasets and files on one's computer, database, or other sources. In addition to showing what data is available, ArcCatalog also allows users to preview the data on a map. ArcCatalog also provides the ability to view and manage metadata for spatial datasets.[56] ArcMap is the application used to view, edit and query geospatial data, and create maps. The ArcMap interface has two main sections, including a table of contents on the left and the data frame(s) which display the map. Items in the table of contents correspond with layers on the map.[57] ArcToolbox contains geoprocessing, data conversion, and analysis tools, along with much of the functionality in ArcInfo. It is also possible to use batch processing with ArcToolbox, for frequently repeated tasks.[58] ArcScene is an application which allows the user to view their GIS data in 3-D and is available with the 3D Analyst License.[59] In the layer properties of ArcScene there is an Extrusion function which allows the user to exaggerate features three dimension-ally.[60] ArcGlobe is another one of ArcGIS's 3D visualization applications available with the 3D Analyst License. ArcGlobe is a 3D visualization application that allows you to view large amounts of GIS data on a globe surface.[61] The ArcGIS Pro application was added to ArcGIS Desktop in 2015 February.[62] It had the combined capabilities of the other integrated applications and was built as a fully 64-bit software application.[63] ArcGIS Pro has ArcPy Python scripting for database programming.[64]


There are a number of software extensions that can be added to ArcGIS Desktop that provide added functionality, including 3D Analyst, Spatial Analyst, Network Analyst, Survey Analyst, Tracking Analyst, and Geostatistical Analyst.[65] Advanced map labeling is available with the Maplex extension, as an add-on to ArcView and ArcEditor and is bundled with ArcInfo.[53] Numerous extensions have also been developed by third parties, such as the MapSpeller spell-checker, ST-Links PgMap XTools and MAP2PDF for creating georeferenced pdfs (GeoPDF),[66] ERDAS' Image Analysis and Stereo Analyst for ArcGIS, and ISM's PurVIEW, which converts Arc- desktops into precise stereo-viewing windows to work with geo-referenced stereoscopic image models for accurate geodatabase-direct editing or feature digitizing.

Address locator

An address locator is a dataset in ArcGIS that stores the address attributes, associated indexes, and rules that define the process for translating nonspatial descriptions of places, such as street addresses, into spatial data that can be displayed as features on a map. An address locator contains a snapshot of the reference data used for geocoding, and parameters for standardizing addresses, searching for match locations, and creating output. Address locator files have a .loc file extension. In ArcGIS 8.3 and previous versions, an address locator was called a geocoding service.[67]

Other products

ArcGIS Mobile and ArcPad are products designed for mobile devices. ArcGIS Mobile is a software development kit for developers to use to create applications for mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablet PCs. If connected to the Internet, mobile applications can connect to ArcGIS Server to access or update data. ArcGIS Mobile is only available at the Enterprise level[68]

Server GIS products include ArcIMS (web mapping server), ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Image Server. As with ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Server is available at different product levels, including Basic, Standard, and Advanced Editions. ArcGIS Server comes with SQL Server Express DBMS embedded and can work with enterprise DBMS such as SQL Server Enterprise and Oracle.[69] The Esri Developer Network (EDN) includes ArcObjects and other tools for building custom software applications, and ArcGIS Engine provides a programming interface for developers.[70]

For non-commercial purposes, Esri offers a home use program with a lower annual license fee.[71]

ArcGIS Engine

The ArcGIS Engine is an ArcGIS software engine, a developer product for creating custom GIS desktop applications.

ArcGIS Engine provides application programming interfaces (APIs) for COM, .NET, Java, and C++ for the Windows, Linux, and Solaris platforms. The APIs include documentation and a series of high-level visual components to ease building ArcGIS applications.

ArcGIS Engine includes the core set of components, ArcObjects, from which ArcGIS Desktop products are built. With ArcGIS Engine one can build stand-alone applications or extend existing applications for both GIS and non-GIS users. The ArcGIS Engine distribution additionally includes utilities, samples, and documentation.

One ArcGIS Engine Runtime or ArcGIS Desktop license per computer is necessary.


ArcGIS Desktop products and ArcPad are available with a single-use license. Most products are also available with concurrent-use license, while development server licenses and other types of software licenses are available for other products.[72] Single-use products can be purchased online from the Esri Store, while all ArcGIS products are available through a sales representative or reseller. Annual software maintenance and support is also available for ArcGIS.[73] While there are alternative products available from vendors such as MapInfo, Maptitude, AutoCAD Map 3D and open-source QGIS, Esri has a dominant share of the GIS software market, estimated in 2015 at 43%.[74]


Issues with ArcGIS include perceived high prices for the products, proprietary formats, and difficulties of porting data between Esri and other GIS software.[75][76][77]

Esri's transition to the ArcGIS platform, starting with the 1999 release of ArcGIS 8.0, rendered incompatible an extensive range of user-developed and third-party add-on software and scripts. A minority user base resists migrating to ArcGIS because of changes in scripting capability, functionality, operating system (Esri developed ArcGIS Desktop software exclusively for the Microsoft Windows operating system), as well as the significantly larger system resources required by the ArcGIS software.[78][79]

See also


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