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ArcGIS is one of the most popular software-packages available for GIS.

What are the lesser-known but useful features of the ArcGIS? Which little/hidden tricks do you known that make your experience with this software better?

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7 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Even some GIS Administrators do not know about this one.

C:\Program Files (x86)\ArcGIS\Desktop10.0\Utilities (on Windows)

Advanced ArcMap Settings tool

I need to update this http://mapperz.blogspot.com/2007/02/esri-arcgis-92-tips-and-tricks.html (just don't the have time, anyone can update - will re-post with full credit)

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here is a start for rel 10... Desktop 10 tips and tricks

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A lot of stuff in there that applies to earlier releases as well. –  zwaap Nov 9 '10 at 22:39
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In arcpy you can get access to the geoJSON representation of any geometry through the hidden __geo_interface__ method. For example:


Which nicely outputs:

{'coordinates': (5.0, 5.0), 'type': 'Point'}

*All credit to Bruce Harold at ESRI Redlands for detailing this originally.

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Is that a single precision representation of a point object? –  Dan Patterson Apr 14 '12 at 13:43
@DanPatterson As far as I can tell, yes. But I've edited the answer for less precision to avoid confusion. –  om_henners Apr 16 '12 at 3:59
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Customize window has dozens of tools that are not exposed via GP tools or as buttons on toolbars, so you have to add them manually. There are very many useful tools that many experienced Arc users are not familiar with.

Here is my top list of "hidden" tools:

  • Load Objects - this tool lets you load features into a feature class from another feature class while respecting certain mapping and geodatabase behavior rules.

  • Eye Dropper - this tool can be used to click a color in your map display and determine its RGB values.

  • Prepare window (10.1+) - this panel lets you check if there are any issues that could potentially influence the map performance (like you had in 9.3 - for Map Service Publishing toolbar). You don't have to run File > Share as > Service to activate the Prepare window. You can analyze any map for potential problems with just ArcMap.

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The in_memory workspace can help speed up geoprocessing significantly, and is rarely used by new users, nor well "advertised" by Esri.

See my post at Ways to Speed Up Python Scripts Running As ArcGIS Tools for a more detailed answer on how and why to use the in_memory workspace.

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If you're on 10.1 or higher, and have a PC that supports multithreading/multiple processes, take advantage of the parallel processing environment. The results vary from tool to tool but overall, it should give you a boost if you have any type of multicore/multithreaded computer.


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The default setting of ArcMap does not necessarily expose those buttons you have to drill down to in the context menu. It would be great to have these on the tool bars.

For example you may have created multiple selections on layers in a map document and want to clear all selections. You would typically right click on the layer in the TOC go to Selection and then Clear Selected Features (3 button clicks) or fiddle around with the layers in the list by selection panel in the TOC.

Well that button can be added to any tool bar using the customize window as Alex mentions above. You can now clear all the selections with a single click.

Another button I always add is the continuous zoom/pan button.

Finally the SWIPE button on the effects tool bar is a crowd pleaser and usually blows people away for some reason... :)

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