When I try to use the define projection tool to change the projection of a layer it will not work for some reason. I am not sure what to do about this. I am trying to change it do GCS_WGS_84enter image description here

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Removing the dash in the layer name did not help, here is the full error message:

Executing: DefineProjection CULT_ARE GEOGCS['GCS_WGS_1984',DATUM['D_WGS_1984',6378137.0,298.257223563]],PRIMEM['Greenwich',0.0],UNIT['Degree',0.0174532925199433]]

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    Shapefiles can't have dashes in the name, change it to an underscore and try again... then when you're done change it back to a dash if you need to. The dash/space restriction only seems to apply to geoprocessing and not to the functionality of the data. You will find a similar problem if you try to create a shapefile with a dash in it; some tools have workarounds, for example should you export (feature class to feature class multiple) geodatabase feature classes with dashes the tool will automatically change the dashes to underscores while exporting. Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 4:59
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    Please always provide errors as text rather than pictures.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 5:47
  • Are you trying to Define or Reproject the source? The most common error here is confusing these two. If you Define to change the coordinate reference, you corrupt the dataset.
    – Vince
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 6:20
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    From the duplicate's answer: "The problem is with the dash (-) in the shapefile name." Renaming the shapefile to remove the hyphen should quickly verify or refute that.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 6:31
  • @PolyGeo removing the dash did not help and I get the same error Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 6:08

2 Answers 2


Something is preventing Define Projection from writing the projection file correctly in this case. That's almost certainly a lock issue (e.g., some other program blocking access while using the file, or the OS denying you write privileges), or a syntax or definition problem with your coordinate definition.

For a shapefile, instead of using Define Projection, you can simply create a .prj file with the same name in the same folder as the .shp file - PRJ files are just text files with coordinate information. That of course assumes you have write-access to the folder. For WGS84, the text of that file would be:


Source: .PRJ link at http://spatialreference.org/ref/epsg/4326/


I encountered the same problem and for my case i think it had to do with special characters in the path name in ArcCatalog (swedish "ö"). When I changed the catalog name it functioned :-)

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