Data Interoperability

Many organizations using GIS need to integrate data from multiple sources, organizations, and formats. GIS software requires technology to support conversion from or direct access to multiple geographic data sets in multiple formats. ESRI has played an active role in building this interoperable technology into its products and actively participated in open standards development to ensure that GIS data created by our products can be openly accessed and supports open standards at all levels.

Supported Data Formats

ESRI software supports over forty data formats via data converters or via direct read. View the ArcGIS Desktop Product Sheet [PDF-863 KB] for a detailed list of supported data formats for ArcView, ArcEditor, and ArcInfo.

ESRI also supports other technology standards that allow for direct data access including simple features as SQL, OLE COM, XML, and GML.


The ArcGIS Desktop products (ArcView, ArcEditor, and ArcInfo) allow you to create, manage, and edit metadata stored in XML representation of FGDC Content for Digital Geospatial Metadata or of ISO 19115 Metadata Standard.

ArcIMS Metadata Services enable users to create a central, online metadata repository that facilitates publishing and browsing metadata over the Internet. The metadata documents stored as ArcIMS Metadata Services can then be accessed using any client that communicates using ArcXML, such as

  • ArcCatalog: ArcCatalog is the geographic and tabular data management, creation, and organization application for ArcGIS Desktop.
  • ArcIMS Metadata Explorer: A set of Java Server Pages (JSP) that can be used to build a customized, browser-based means of searching for metadata.
  • Z39.50 Clients: Z39.50 is a national standard that defines a protocol for computer-to-computer information retrieval.
  • ISO 239.50 Clients: ISO 239.50 is an international standard that defines a protocol for computer-to-computer information retrieval.

ArcGIS Data Models

The ArcGIS geodatabase architecture allows the creation of common or essential data models for specific industries and applications. ArcGIS data models provide ready-to-use nonproprietary frameworks, built on the accepted standards, for modeling and capturing the behavior of real-world objects in a geodatabase. For more information, visit ArcGIS Data Models.

Open Published Data Format

The Shapefile spatial data format is open and published by ESRI. A shapefile stores non-topological geometry and attribute information for the spatial features in a data set. Shapefiles can support point, line, and area features. This file format is growing in adoption and capability to accommodate more complex spatial data; ESRI will announce and publish changes as they are developed. ESRI encourages developers and users to create interchange capabilities to both read and create shapefiles.

The ESRI Shapefile Technical Description [PDF-123 KB] provides all the technical information necessary for writing a computer program to create shapefiles without the use of ESRI software for organizations that want to write their own data translators.


ESRI also offers a variety of data resources to support your applications, including online data sets and online data subscriptions via the Geography Network Canada, the Geography Network, and data from a variety of vendors that are ready to be used with ESRI software. The majority of ESRI's software also includes the ESRI Data & Maps CDs, a set of ready-to-use data which are regularly updated. For more information, visit ArcData.