There are multiple shapefiles which belong together and should be provided in a single file with predefined symbology (see figure). Is there an option to do so? Currently, the shapefiles are bundled in a geodatabase file (red box in figure). However, it seems to be impossible to define a symbology in a geodatabase file. Another option is to produce a layer file (.lyr) which then holds a link between the shapefiles and the desired symbology. The drawback then is, that many files (shapefiles, layer file) have to be kept together.

Example of multiple shapefiles bundled in a geodatabase file (red box) and predefined symbology (green box)

  • 1
    Have you tried a layer package? desktop.arcgis.com/en/arcmap/10.3/map/working-with-layers/…
    – SMiller
    Nov 29, 2018 at 16:32
  • If you look at a "geodatabase file" in Windows Explorer you will see it is really a folder of many files, almost all of which have arcane names. You could put all your shapefiles in a folder if you wanted to keep them together. The layer file can be kept anywhere; it points to either those shapefiles or the geodatabase feature classes, as well as supplying the symbology.
    – John
    Nov 29, 2018 at 17:44
  • @smiller: please write your comment as a full answer so I can mark it as best answer.
    – stonebe
    Nov 30, 2018 at 7:17

2 Answers 2


Create a layer package to share the data and symbolization.

Per Esri documentation:

A layer can be saved with its data as a layer package (.lpk). A layer package includes both the layer properties and the dataset referenced by the layer. With a layer package, you can save and share everything about the layer—its symbolization, labeling, field properties, and the data.

Other users will be able to add layer packages directly into their maps without having to know how to access the database or classify the data. Layer packages can be created in ArcMap, ArcGlobe, and ArcScene and can be shared between these applications, including ArcGIS Explorer. When using ArcGlobe or ArcScene, 3D properties can be added to a map layer and included in a layer package.

While a layer package will be larger in size than a layer file (because it includes the data), your users will not need to worry about access to your same data sources.

To start the process, Right-click the layer and select Create Layer Package. The Layer Package dialog box will appear.


You can save your symbology within the geodatbase using representation. This way you can also have many different styles for the same layer without handling many .lyr files or layer packages. Just right click your layer (in table of contents) with your symbology and hit "convert symbology to representation" - and then choose a name. You can later on switch the styles from your symbology-tab. Only works in databases and it will not work with basic license level.

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