I know there was ArcInfo Workstation, and its earlier name of ARC/INFO which was used prior to the release of ArcGIS 8.0, but how did "Arc" come into the name?

I suspect because of the arc which is a geometric element representing a vector feature.


3 Answers 3


In the beginning, there was INFO (a standalone relational file manager, available on minicomputers like Prime, VAX, and DG) made by Henco. Then ESRI (now Esri) added geometry processing from its initial PIOS (Polygon Information Overlay System) product , paired with attributes within INFO, and called the result ARC/INFO ("arc" files supported line types, both linear features and the edges of polygons). The name mutated to Arc/Info sometime after ArcView was released, and eventually became the legacy ArcInfo Workstation product.

The "Arc" part has been retained across time, and the current Esri product line ups the ante to "ArcGIS" in most of the core products.

There had been a more complete timeline on the Esri web site, but it's now 404. This is as close as I can get to what was present when originally answered. There's also a history of GIS that mentions ArcInfo's origin on the esri.com site currently.


My understanding is that in the beginning of GIS on mainframes and continuing into the minicomputer and then personal computer age, different programs were used for vector and raster processing — memory was at a premium and programs needed to remain small and focused. ArcInfo was originally designed for vectors, other programs like Idrisi were designed for rasters. Since every vector feature can be represented by a series of arcs (though effectively flat ones here), “Arc” was a simple way to signify the vector focus of the software.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ArcInfo , raster processing in the form of the GRID subsystem was added in Arc/Info 6 and then added to ArcView 3, which must have been sometime in the late ’90s.


Just completed attending an Esri Technical session at their 2023 Esri User Conference and the tech stated ARC means; Always Right Click!

  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 18:01
  • That was a joke. Right clicking didn't even exist in research labs when ARC/INFO was created.
    – Vince
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 18:49

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