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This question already has an answer here:

I am running ArcMap 10.1. I need to open a .mxd that saved using 10.3, however, I do not have access to 10.3. I tried to execute a python tool that was created using Esri's How To: Save map documents in ArcGIS 10.x to previous version of ArcGIS in batch.

The error that I got was:

Traceback (most recent call last): File "D:\GIS_data\scripts\mxd_rollback.py", line 14, in mxd.saveACopy(outloc + os.sep + base, version) File "c:\program files (x86)\arcgis\desktop10.1\arcpy\arcpy\utils.py", line 181, in fn_ return fn(*args, **kw) File "c:\program files (x86)\arcgis\desktop10.1\arcpy\arcpy_mapping.py", line 826, in saveACopy self._arc_object.saveACopy(file_name, version) AttributeError: MapDocObject: Unable to save. Check to make sure you have write access to the specified file and that there is enough space on the storage device to hold your document.

Failed to execute (ConvertMXDs).

Following is a copy of the script that I executed:

import arcpy, sys, os, string 

mxdList = string.split(arcpy.GetParameterAsText(0), ";") 
outloc = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(1)
version = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(2)

suffix = "_"+ version.replace(".", "")

for item in mxdList: 
    item = item.strip('\'') 
    mxd = arcpy.mapping.MapDocument(item) 
    base = os.path.basename(item) 
    base = os.path.splitext(base)[0] + suffix + os.path.splitext(base)[1] 
    mxd.saveACopy(outloc + os.sep + base, version)
    arcpy.AddMessage(os.path.basename(item) + " has been converted")

marked as duplicate by Midavalo Mar 16 '17 at 22:54

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    As far as I know ArcGIS 10.1 can't open 10.3 files, either in ArcMap or with arcpy. Your script will still require 10.3 to be able to re-save as 10.1 – Midavalo Sep 13 '16 at 21:02
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    Definitely, as @Midavalo said you need the ArcMap version equal to or greater than the MXD version to open/read the documents and save as equal to or lesser than the ArcGIS version of MXD. You will need to 'find a friend' that does have ArcGIS 10.3 (or more recent) to convert them to 10.1. Note that they don't need to have access to the data contained within the documents to perform this operation... when you find someone send just the MXD documents and your script (that looks fine) and they should be able to convert them for you - or upgrade to 10.3, those are your only choices. – Michael Stimson Sep 13 '16 at 23:10
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So to give this question an actual answer - as already said by @Midalvo and @Michael Miles-Stimson, NO, it's not possible to open an mxd created with a newer version of ArcGIS (except for the 10.1-10.2 backward/forward compatibility).

You're not the only one to regret this, check this ArcGIS Idea: Backward/Forward compatibility. I've just voted for it and so can you do, to bring Esri's attention to this problem.

I like the comment proposing to create a separate utility to allow for the conversion of mxds to newer versions, because even if this functionality is eventually added to the next version of ArcGIS, it still won't be available to the people who most need it, i.e. those using older versions. I clearly don't want to promote the use of deprecated versions, but this option should at least be somehow allowed for still supported versions.

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