We work on ArcMap 10.6, and have MXDs using database connections (.sde files) that point to the C:\ of a user that no longer exists (e.g. C:\users\alpha\test.sde) and certainly, that path doesn’t exist on the PC from which the MXD is being loaded, but the MXD loads without error.

We were playing with connection neutral SD files for publishing, with the original MXD pointing to our development database. However, when we publish to our Pre-Production environment, it is still pointing to the Development environment despite no data store existing on the server for that connection. I would expect that publishing to fail or throw an error but it worked fine, how is this possible?

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    You might need to be a bit more specific regarding what you mean by phrases such as "point to". SDE files don't point to files (eg, on a C: drive) in any meaningful way that I can think of. SDE files point to database services, not to files. Or perhaps you mean that the SDE files itself is being "pointed to" by a layer in the MXD. In any case, please provide more specific meaning for "point to". Eg, in the layer's properties, in the "Source" tab, is this layer referencing the connection specified in the SDE file? Dec 3, 2020 at 22:34
  • I think he means when you right click > Properties, the 'Name' of the database connection is sometimes saved to a folder path string.
    – nr_aus
    Dec 4, 2020 at 2:06

1 Answer 1


Ok im using 10.3, so there might be some differences here. When you create a new Database Connection - the sde file itself is saved in AppData folder by default. When you right click > Properties on the Connection in ArcMap, the 'Name' of the connection is by default set to where the SDE file is saved (which in my opinion is a bit rubbish).

The MXD does not save the connection references that appear in your Catalog view. These are stored in AppData folders.

HOWEVER. If you have a layer in the MXD from the database to which your SDE file is pointing to - and you open the MXD without having the connection file in your project or the connection configured, the layer still works. This suggests that the connection settings are saved in the MXD, but NOT the SDE file.

This makes sense, because you can save a .lyr file which points to a layer in a database, and not have the .SDE configured in your project.

When publishing, the MXD and publishing tools will probably use what is configured in the lyr file, (or just the layer).

Conclusion - Check the layers and their configuration properties. If they are wrong, update them accordingly and see what happens.

  • thank you!!, this does makes me understand. I will go ahead and check the suggested workflow. Also, Is there any supporting document that I can refer to? Dec 4, 2020 at 14:19
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    unfortunately what I have typed above is just from my own knowledge and experience - personally, giving you a link to the ESRI documentation is probably more of a disservice and insult, rather than actually helping haha. If I find something useful ill post - or maybe ill put together some screen captures for reference.
    – nr_aus
    Dec 7, 2020 at 7:46
  • Thank you :) yityk Dec 7, 2020 at 15:00

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