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ArcGIS Desktop defaults the Home folder to something like C:\Users\<username>\Documents\ArcGIS - creating a folder in the My Documents or Documents folder depending on the version of Windows.

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Personally I try to keep my GIS work out of the Documents folder, and usually store all my files in a folder called D:\GIS. Primary reason for this was because my work had network stored Documents folders which had a quota of 5mb, which was much much much too small for storing any kind of GIS data. This is made worse by the fact that Esri Add-ins default to installing into this folder also.

I've been trying to find a way to make ArcGIS default to my D:\GIS folder as the Home location without first saving an MXD. I know that I can save an MXD into that folder and it will then become the Home folder for that MXD. I'd like to be able to open ArcMap and have my files/folders already accessable from that Home folder D:\GIS without having to go find it, or even having it as a Folder Connection.

The Home folder is used by default in ArcMap to save results, store new datasets, and access file-based information. It is the location that is initially used to add new layers to ArcMap and to store new datasets that are created during editing and geoprocessing.

The same is true for nonspatial data. When you export a page layout as PDF, the default location will be the map's home location (the map document's workspace folder).

Working with the Home folder

I have found several posts (mostly on Esri's Geonet) asking how to do this, but none of these posts have a solution other than the two options I mentioned above (which aren't really a default).

How can I force ArcGIS to use my own folder location as the default Home folder without having to save an MXD first?

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    I've had to get surly with several users for building map documents using their default.gdb - it not only restricts any future edits to a single workstation but to a specific username/workstation combination... and if they're not in the office when last minute changes need to be made then it causes serious problems; even though you can access the workstation any files in the user folder are inaccessible! Thanks for this guide, now I can set the default to a location that isn't hobbled by UAC. – Michael Stimson Apr 28 '17 at 2:55
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I am copying the warning/disclaimer from Esri's support page on the subject:

Warning:
The instructions below include making changes to essential parts of your operating system. It is recommended that you backup your operating system and files, including the registry, before proceeding. Consult with a qualified computer systems professional, if necessary.

Esri (and Midavalo!) cannot guarantee results from incorrect modifications while following these instructions; therefore, use caution and proceed at your own risk.

At ArcGIS 10.0 SP5 Esri introduced the ability to change your default Home folder location by adding a key and value into the Registry.

In the Windows Registry browse to Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\ESRI\Desktop10.5\ArcCatalog and Right-Click > Add > New Key and name the key DefaultHomeFolder

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In that new key, in the right-hand pane, Right-Click > New > String Value and name the string value Location

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Double-click on Location to add your desired folder as the new Home location - in my case D:\GIS

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Now when I open ArcMap and use the Catalog pane I see that my Home folder is set by default to D:\GIS, so any tools I use now (even without an MXD opened) will save to there unless I change the output folder in the tool parameters.

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This works from ArcGIS 10.5 SP5 onwards.

See Esri's support page - How To: Set the default Home folder and geodatabase location for new map documents

Unfortunately, the default location does not change where the Add-Ins are installed by default. I know there is a workaround to store them elsewhere, but this Home folder trick doesn't do it.

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