Through my frustration of not finding the post-installation wizard with ArcSDE 10.1 and being unsuccessful with the command line tool to start an SDE service on our SDE databases, I found I was able to access the databases and copy/past/add features/delete features/etc. all through direct connections to our SQL Server 2012 machine. This was WITHOUT ArcSDE running.

So... The question is, why do I need to go through the trouble of trying to get the SDE services to run if I can manage our databases through the Desktop tools? I was even able to create an enterprise geodatabase and verified that all of the necessary business tables were created. I have even recreated all our map services in ArcGIS Server 10.1 with direct connect and the web editing is perfectly working.

Perhaps I'm missing something...


As indicated in the What's New for Geodatabases topic:

"The recommended method to access enterprise geodatabases is to connect directly from ArcGIS clients. If you only use direct connections to your geodatabase, you do not have to install the ArcSDE application server."

If you need to edit settings in the ArcSDE system tables, though, you should still install the command line tools included with the application server. I don't think editing system tables directly through SQL is supported technically.

  • 2
    This is nothing new. An ArcSDE Service is only necessary when using application server (or "three-tiered") connections.
    – blah238
    Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 10:52
  • 2
    @blah238 this is something new - before 10.1 you couldn't configure an enterprise geodatabase without first installing ArcSDE as a separate component.
    – tomfumb
    Commented Oct 24, 2012 at 0:11
  • I am running arcmap 10.1 and it won't let me use SDE connection because it says I don't have the licence to do it. I using 10.1 standard.
    – user48092
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 18:16

5 Answers 5


A very good discussion of whether to use ArcSDE or not can be found here.

At 10.1 there is no need to install the ArcSDE software unless you need to run an ArcSDE service. If all of your users are making Direct Connections to the geodatabase then the ArcSDE installation is not necessary. As well, most of the functionality offered by ArcSDE commands is now available in ArcGIS Desktop & through GP tools.

To make a long story short, the vast majority of ArcGIS 10.1 users no longer need ArcSDE to connect to an enterprise geodatabase. Direct Connection is now the default connection method.

  • Perfectly, so if I register as versioned a featureClass and expose it as a feature service with ArcGIS Server it's ok? It's the ags server that manager the concurrency right?
    – Luke
    Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 12:29
  • 1
    Sounds about right.
    – Rayner
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 11:19

There are some very good reasons to use a ArcSDE Server Engine, the first being the load. When you utilize a ArcSDE Server Service you are taking the bulk of that data load off the database server and queuing it versus relying on just your local machine to store all that temp data.

One thing you will see especially with a MSSQL server when you make your initial database connection in a MXD is that ArcGIS does a 'SELECT *' (as seen in your query analyzer and logs on your DB Server) against that table/feature-class. Now, this can be a huge impact if you have very large datasets; the ArcSDE Service/Process helps in this by aiding in the request of the appropriate data scope.

Now as we have all gotten bigger machines, with more RAM its much easier to just load everything into the current session and run with it; but don't just discount the idea of using the service just because the ArcGIS docs say you 'don't need it' anymore, versus when you probably could/should use it.

  • 1
    if you have a single server ArcGIS Server license but need ArcSDE running on a separate database server this can massively increase licensing costs, as ArcSDE is only licensed as part of ArcGIS Server. You might get a brand new server with beefier hardware for less than an additional AGS license.
    – tomfumb
    Commented Oct 24, 2012 at 0:13
  • 1
    Actually tomfumb ESRI does allow you to run your ArcSDE/RDBMS on a seperate machine, but only one per license. It doesn't make sense to require the user to run the entire ArcGIS Server engine on the RDBMS server; so you can properly size your ArcSDE/DB server against your needs for ArcGIS Server processing.
    – D.E.Wright
    Commented Oct 24, 2012 at 0:48

Using ArcSDE services can also be useful if you have a user community that may not have the required database client software. For example, Oracle clients tend to present problems for installations in certain scenarios. While direct connect requires the Oracle client, SDE services do not.

  • 1
    Completely correct. Your connection in three tiered mode would be ArcGIS Desktop <----[through ArcSDE client libs]---->ArcSDE Service<---[through Oracle client libs]---->Oracle Server. Thus, you would only need the Oracle client libraries in the machine running the ArcSDE service. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 21:31
  • This is something that we struggle with -- no one seems to know how to install Oracle clients properly.
    – blah238
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 2:14

This might be an old thread but I just recently came across it. Pictometry will connect directly to SDE databases, but you have to do it correctly. The following is for MS SQL: Make sure you download the correct native client for your SQL version: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/sqlserver/ff658533.aspx

Once that is installed you will have to connect using SDE Direct Connect syntax: In Pictometry you need the following Display Name: Server: Leave Blank Instance: sde:sqlserver: Data Base: User Name: User Password:

and connect. This worked on ArcGIS up to 10.1. I'm trying with 10.2.....enter image description here

  • useful information. thanks for sharing!(should be separate question and answer though) Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 5:57

The fact that Pictometry doesn't work with direct connections is the only reason we have for setting up ArcSDE services.

  • 2
    Can you elaborate on this answer please? Feel free to include links which have more info. Im interested...
    – jakc
    Commented Oct 24, 2012 at 9:44
  • We discovered this when switching to direct connect for ArcGIS 9.3.1. Pictometry Electronic Field Study (EFS) requires ArcSDE services for GIS data. I don't have any links - the information came from speaking with Pictometry support staff.
    – cwb
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 11:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.