I'm looking to improve my GIS capabilities within ArcGIS for Desktop environment: I want to work with real geodatabase that is stored on a Microsoft SQL Server (SQLEXPRESS) and to have all abilities that are available when working on a File Geodatabase - that is: querying, editing, topology, relationship class and so on. Above that I want also to be able to use the Geodatabase Replication capabilities, i.e. working with a copy of the geodatabase and then syncing it in to the original geodatabase.

Is it possible to do so only having ArcGIS for Desktop Standard licence?

I've got a bit confused by ESRI documentation that mentions constantly that this ability is granted for this level of licencing but on the other hand requires a keycodes file that is granted when authorizing ArcGIS for Server Enterprise (!).

Standard licence example:

Within ArcGIS for Desktop Standard and Advanced, the ArcCatalog application provides the ability for you to fully administer and manage enterprise geodatabases using SQL Server Express. This provides full enterprise geodatabase capabilities for up to a few users at a time. You set up and manage these enterprise geodatabases within ArcCatalog or the Catalog window. No extra software or database administration expertise is required.

Contradicting ArcGIS for Server example:

To specify an Authorization File, browse to and choose the keycodes file that was created when you authorized ArcGIS for Server Enterprise.

In order to achieve my goal I've did the following steps: (1) Installing Microsoft SQL Server 2012 SP1 (64-bit). (2) Installing the latest SQL Server Management Studio. (3) Installing the SQL Server Native Client downloaded from My Esri site.

I've succeed the following steps: (1) Connecting to the database server through ArcMAP's ArcCATLOG window. (2) Connecting to a pre-self-made database in the SQL Server. (3) Creating and importing feature classes. (4) Viewing and querying those feature classes.

I haven't succeed the following: (1) Creating new geodatabase within the database server nor using ArcMAPS's GUI nor using the GP tool. (2) Enabling geodatabase in this database. (3) Editing features within those feature classes.

It would be very helpful for me if you can resolve my main question and if the answer is true to point out what I've did wrong.

  • You could look into ArcSDE Personal but I'm not sure of its status and functionality.
    – PolyGeo
    Jun 23, 2017 at 11:27
  • 2
    Replication requires a Server license (Enterprise geodatabase). SQL Server Express is hardly a fully capable database. If you want a fully capable free RDBMS you'd need to install PostgreSQL.
    – Vince
    Jun 23, 2017 at 12:46
  • @PolyGeo "ArcSDE Personal" has been rebranded as "Desktop Database Server". It is included in the ArcGIS installation media. It does not support replication.
    – Vince
    Jun 26, 2017 at 12:59

1 Answer 1


The two highlighted passages do not contradict each other, they're merely referring to different capabilities.

  • The first passage explains that Standard or Advanced seats of ArcGIS Desktop can administer and/or manage the data in geodatabases.
  • The second passage explains that an ArcGIS Server license is needed to create an enterprise geodatabase.

You are not able to create an enterprise geodatabase in a Microsoft SQL Server instance without a license to do so (and you must use either a Standard or Advanced seat of Desktop, or the 64-bit Python of an ArcGIS Server installation to complete the task).

While it is possible to create an Desktop or Workgroup geodatabase in SQL Server EXPRESS and administer it from Desktop (using Database Servers), it is important to remember that EXPRESS is not a fully functional SQL Server instance -- It's limited on the RAM, storage, and number of threads it can use -- and only an Enterprise (not Desktop or Workgroup) geodatabase can manage replication.

Note that it is possible to create an enterprise geodatabase in an EXPRESS database, BUT: You'd need a Server license to do so, and the functionality available in the database is extremely limited compared to the cost of the ArcGIS Server seat needed to do so. PostgreSQL has the same administration costs, but no software cost, so it is extremely competitive with the "free" commercial database packages. In addition, effective with Desktop 10.4, PostgreSQL databases are read-write, even without an enterprise geodatabase installation (read-write, but without geodatabase functionality).

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