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Usually when doing GIS projects, especially when working as a freelancer, you're just provided with a bunch of shapefiles and you have to figure out yourself what all the table attributes mean. Because shapefiles have a *.dbf limited character number for naming attribute fields, the names are usually abbreviations. Is there a way to add a description of the attribute field names when creating them, or how do you add attribute field metadata. What do you do when you don't understand the abbreviations of a shapefile attribute table metadata that has been created by someone else?

  • possible duplicate of How to bypass 10 character limit of field name in ShapeFiles? – PolyGeo Nov 16 '13 at 11:06
  • @PolyGeo It's not that I disagree with the 10 character limit, nor I am looking forward to bypass it. I need to know more generic solutions in regard to an efficient communication between the shapefile producer and the shapefile user. – multigoodverse Nov 16 '13 at 11:13
  • Have you already investigated what you can do with writing field descriptions into a shapefile's metadata ( *.xml) ? – PolyGeo Nov 16 '13 at 11:43
  • @PolyGeo Ok, I jsut looked up the XML file, and I found some information such as how the field values were calculated. No one had mentioned that you can find metadata in the XML file from the answers of the question you pretend to be a duplicate. I think you should add your last comment as an answer and reopen my question. – multigoodverse Nov 16 '13 at 11:56
  • Closure of your question would need four more votes and should be easy to avoid if you edit it to make it clear that its focus is not on having field aliases implemented on shapefiles and is instead about how to associate metadata with a shapefile to describe things like what its fields represent. – PolyGeo Nov 16 '13 at 12:16
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I just did a quick test of creating a shapefile and then used ArcMap 10.2 to access the Metadata tab of Customize | ArcMap Options where I set the Metadata Style to ISO 19139 Metadata Implementation Specification (but the other choices are likely to behave similarly).

In the Catalog window I accessed the Item Description of the shapefile and clicked Edit to start editing its metadata. In the Resource section in the lefthand panel I found Fields and when I opened one of the fields in the righthand panel I found a Definition type-in area that looks like what you are after.

When the shapefile provider Saves the metadata it gets written to an XML file called .shp.xml that gets copied with the remainder of the shapefile so you should be able to open it up in Item Description.

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  • Can you get these through the rest services? – Argiropoulos Stavros Feb 29 '16 at 10:50
  • @ArgiropoulosStavros it's not something that I have done so if you try and have problems I think you should ask a new question. – PolyGeo Feb 29 '16 at 11:37

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