General ArcMap File Management

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his article describes how to make your map project "portable" on ArcMap.


General ArcMap File Management

There are two primary ways of making your map project "portable", or transferable to another computer.

Using Your M-drive/Data Separate From Index/Map File:

Because of very limited space (2GB), it may be impossible to load all the data and map files for your project into your M-drive. Even using impeccable file organization, a geoTIFF from a newer LandSat satellite from the USGS (common in remote sensing applications) will usually exceed 2GB when decompressed.

In this case, the M-drive must be limited to either just the .mxd document or a folder including the .mxd file and other spatial files (shp, kml, lyr, GeoJSON, etc). As you work, be sure to keep all your files adjacent to your .mxd; this file's primary job is to point to where your data and geometry files are, and should live at the root directory. The moment a file moves from its original location outside of ArcMap the .mxd will lose track of the file, and you will need to manually relink the paths later.

Under "File, Map Document Properties" you can select to use relative file paths.

If your .mxd is at the root (in the very first folder of the project, with all other files and data in subfolders next to it), all you need to do to open your project .mxd from a directory that contains the same data folder(s); an easy way to do this is keep all datasets, files, and subfolders in one folder. If this folder always ends up next to your .mxd, the index will never need to change and no file errors will occur.

To fix a file error (a "!" next to problematic map layers) click on the "!" and navigate to the file it is trying to find. This action updates the file index for the .mxd document. If there are many errors, consider organizing the data from within the ArcMap catalog in the format described here - this will automatically update the index as you work from the ArcMap software.

Use a USB flash drive or your Microsoft OneDrive to shuttle large files and data around!

Using the .mpk Package Service/Data and Index Together:

If you want to make a completely portable map file, consider exporting your map as a .mpk map package. This is convenient for smaller projects but has some caveats:

  • large projects with large raster files or many geometry files/folders will can take many hours to compile
  • large project packages often will seem unorganized (the .mpk geodatabase system is perfectly useful, but you will lose any familiar folder-based organization systems)
  • The "All data all at once" approach can make the program slow with default ArcMap environment settings

For more information, see for more info at ESRI on file paths.

Need Additional Help?

For additional training, please visit the Teaching & Learning Technologies Training site or contact the ET&S Help Desk team on your local campus.


Article ID: 2987
Fri 10/2/20 5:20 PM
Tue 2/9/21 3:55 PM
Applicable Institution(s):
Plymouth State University (PSU)