What exactly is an mxd file, and how is it related to a database? Can a single database have multiple mxd files?

  • 1
    See whatis.techtarget.com/fileformat/MXD-Map-file-ArcInfo. MXD is saves configuration and links etc for layer (may be from database file system etc.). Ofcourse a single db can have multiple MXDs.
    – Learner
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 15:43
  • Please ask only one question per question as per the Tour, and always include your research into trying to answer your own question before asking.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 21:52

2 Answers 2


An .mxd file specifies one particular way of rendering some data. The .mxd file references your data (by file name, by IP address, by URL, etc, depending on the data). But it does not contain the data.

In the ArcGIS world, an .mxd file is often simply called "a map". (The acronym "MXD" stands for "map document".)

And yes, you can create as many different maps (.mxd files) as you want, each of which could reference the same data (whether it's a database or something else), but display it differently. (Or display it the same.)

  • Probably ought to mention that databases don't have any MXD files, and that one MXD can reference multiple databases (just as multiple MXDs can reference the same database)
    – Vince
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 17:09
  • I don't think your understanding of the acronym is correct. It doesn't explain the "x."
    – jpmc26
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 20:53
  • True, @jpmc26, though ESRI's own documentation calls it a "map document," with no explanation of the "x". From their site (emphasis mine): "When you save a map you have created in ArcMap, it will be saved as a file on disk. This is an ArcMap document and is referred to as a map document or mxd since the file name extension (.mxd) is automatically appended to your map document name."
    – csd
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 21:12
  • @csd I wouldn't find it hard to believe that ESRI doesn't know what the X stands for. =)
    – jpmc26
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 21:50

An mxd file is simply your map.

It contains the links to your geodatabases that the current mxd is using, plus any settings that you configured in the mxd (such as symbology, extent, etc).

Multiple mxds can all access the same geodatabase without problems.

Here is a quick reference - http://wiki.gis.com/wiki/index.php/File_Format_MXD

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