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Remapping Spatial Data Sources in ArcGIS: The Broken Data Fight of the 21st Century

Few professionals know pain like a geographer scorn. Scorn not by their boss or colleagues, but by the data they have worked so tirelessly to wrangle as well as the ArcGIS Map Document (.mxd) in which it sits. The source of contempt? Broken data sources.


We have all been there. Worked for hours or days to compile the most spectacular of ArcGIS Map Documents to send to a client or show off in a meeting, pulled in the perfect Layers and Feature Classes to highlight that thing we want to woo the crowds with, sent it along to a coworker, and then...they open it. Instead of hearing them gasp at your excellent use of symbology or having them congratulate you on nailing that tricky layout, they come back with an, "Um so, where is the data?". Instead of those classy black check-marks to the left of each dataset in the Table of Contents, they are seeing the red exclamation of disappointment.


In most cases, the presence of broken data sources is merely an inconvenience. If it is a small amount of data, it is a matter of minutes to get things sorted out. If it is a large amount? We may need a bit more time. We may also need a remapping solution designed for heavier lifting.


In today's #MarcoMonday, I want to explore the difference between the standard remapping features in ArcGIS and the advanced remapping capabilities of Integrated Marco Desktop.


In the Left Corner, the ArcGIS Approach


When working within ArcMap, it is easy enough to repoint the data sources of broken Layers. This is accomplished by either navigating to the Layer Properties and selecting Set Data Source or by right-clicking on the Layer and choosing Repair Data Source. If the data sources that have been broken all live in the same place, it typically only takes repointing one file to do the trick.



This is the ideal scenario. We like quick fixes, and we have better things to do with our time than spend it slumped over our mouse, aggressively clicking at red marks.


In the Right Corner, the Marco Approach


What happens with this data source dilemma is not contained to just one ArcGIS Map Document, and is instead...it pains me to even think of this purely-hypothetical-but-definitely-real scenario...spread across multiple ArcGIS Map Documents, hundreds even, that contain complex data sources?


This may not be your run-of-the-mill case, but it does happen frequently when reorganizing an enterprise system, cleaning out "unhealthy" data, and even when changing machines and wanting a fresh start for your data architecture. At this point, it moves beyond the point of mere inconvenience. It is a serious issue that needs to be fixed quickly.


This is where more advanced remapping capabilities come into play. This is where Marco (and you) becomes a hero, cape not included.



The approach Integrated Marco Desktop uses to remap broken data is that of a Remap File. It is essentially an Excel spreadsheet that details the old and new paths, name changes, Layer removal, etc. As shown below, it is a handy document into which you toss the information required for redirection.


Bonus? Once successfully remapped, this document - the Remap File - may also be used as a reference to keep track of what data has been modified and what issues have been addressed.

There is more to this than just having a fancy spreadsheet lying around. No, there are no magic words. There is, however, a Repoint and Repath tool. The Founding Father of Integrated Marco Desktop, this tool runs a series of processes against the Remap File to properly repoint data, remove datasets, and un-break your broken blues.



In addition to repointing data sources, it offers a few extra features, such as:

  • Permits partial processing - Containers to be excluded may be specified so that they are skipped during processing.

  • Quickly modifies ArcGIS versions - Versions of ArcGIS with which ArcGIS Map Documents are compatible may be altered during processing.

  • Allows for backing up files prior to processing - You know, just in case you decide that you like those broken links after all.

  • Provides workspace matching - For instance, the tool will compare paths in the Remap File to determine which remapper (or the type of remap to occur) is the better option based on how much of its path matches that of the Layer or Table View data source.


Seriously, Just One for the Win?


The approach everyone takes to fix their broken data is different. For some, simply building the Remap File and then running the Repoint and Repath tool are enough to put them back on Cloud 9. For others, they may requires more information to get up and running.


To give an idea of a "Where's Waldo" approach, I want to lay out the workflow using the Integrated Marco Desktop toolkit. By "Where's Waldo", I mean that you do not know where you data is located even if you were to try and fix it. We are not going to hunt for an elusive man wearing stripes and a beanie. We are too busy sobbing over our ArcGIS Map Documents here, remember?



  1. Broken Data Source Logger - This tool identifies the files that are no longer usable, creating a Table of broken sources and their associated ArcGIS Map Documents and Layer Files.

  2. Spatial Data Sniffer - Much like your trusty bloodhound, this tool is used to find what you have lost. In this case, it is an inventory of the current paths of data sources on the network.

  3. Remap File - With the help of the sample Remap File provided by Integrated Marco Desktop as well as the output of the two previous champions, build a spreadsheet that will be used to match broken data sources to valid network data sources.

  4. Validate Remap File - Concerned something does not look quite right? This tool helps to instill peace of mind by double-checking the format and remappers of your handy-dandy spreadsheet.

  5. Repoint and Repath - Now the time has come, fix those pesky ArcGIS Map Documents and Layer Files.

  6. Rejoice, it has been a long day!


Data Source Dilemma


There are many contributing factors to broken data. Sometimes it is as unassuming as moving an ArcGIS Map Document to a different drive without storing relative paths. Other times, it is as complex as restructuring a network and the chips falling where they may. Geographic Information System (GIS) technology covers a diverse range of industries, all experiencing this same issue. It is helpful to have a solution like Integrated Marco Studio that will quickly and easily solve this problem so that you can get back to more pressing matters, like finding out who in the office took that last doughnut.



Integrated Marco Studio is a suite of applications built with the ArcGIS platform and Knowledge Management in mind. These Add-Ins and web applications help teams to better manage and maintain the Geographic Information System (GIS) spatial data that they rely upon. Software is intended for use with ArcMap and ArcGIS Pro. More information can be found at www.marcostud.io.

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Integrated Informatics Inc is a leading consultancy for Geographic Information System (GIS) implementation and development. Our teams are located throughout the United States and Canada with offices in Houston TX, Calgary AB, and St. John's NL.

Contact Integrated by email at gis@integrated-informatics.com or by phone at 832.837.9926.

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