What Is Data Structure in ArcGIS?


Larry Thompson

What Is Data Structure in ArcGIS?

Data structure is an essential concept in ArcGIS, a powerful geographic information system (GIS) software developed by Esri. It refers to the arrangement and organization of data within the software, allowing users to efficiently store, manage, and analyze spatial and attribute information.

Why Is Data Structure Important?

Proper data structure is crucial for effective GIS analysis. It enables users to access, manipulate, and visualize their geospatial data in a meaningful way. With a well-structured data model, you can accurately represent real-world objects such as roads, buildings, rivers, or land parcels in a GIS environment.

ArcGIS Geodatabase:

In ArcGIS, the geodatabase is the core data structure that allows you to store various types of geographic datasets. It offers flexibility in managing spatial and attribute data through different feature classes, tables, relationship classes, topologies, and more.

Feature Classes:

A feature class is one of the primary components of a geodatabase. It represents geographic features such as points, lines, or polygons. Each feature class consists of both spatial and attribute information related to specific real-world phenomena.

Types of Feature Classes:

  • Point: Represents discrete locations on the Earth’s surface.
  • Polyline: Depicts connected line segments that can represent roads, rivers, or boundaries.
  • Polygon: Encloses an area defined by a set of boundary lines; used for representing land parcels or administrative boundaries.


In addition to the spatial component, feature classes also include attribute data. Attributes are non-spatial information associated with each geographic feature. For example, a point feature class representing cities might have attributes such as name, population, and elevation.


Tables in ArcGIS store additional attribute information that cannot be easily represented by feature classes. They can be linked to feature classes via a common key field and contain related tabular data like demographic information or environmental measurements.

ArcGIS Data Model:

The ArcGIS data model provides a framework for organizing various datasets within a geodatabase. It allows you to establish relationships between different data components and enforce data integrity rules.

Relationship Classes:

Relationship classes define associations between two or more feature classes or tables based on common attributes. They enable you to establish one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many relationships in your GIS database.

Types of Relationship Classes:

  • Simple Relationship: Connects two tables based on a common attribute field.
  • Composite Relationship: Connects multiple tables using multiple attribute fields.
  • Referential Integrity: Enforces deletion rules to maintain the integrity of relationships between connected tables.

ArcCatalog and ArcMap:

In ArcGIS, you can use ArcCatalog and ArcMap to manage and work with your data structure effectively. ArcCatalog allows you to create and manage geodatabases, feature classes, tables, relationship classes, and other elements of the GIS data model. On the other hand, ArcMap provides tools for visualizing and analyzing spatial data stored within the geodatabase.


Data structure is a fundamental aspect of ArcGIS that facilitates efficient organization and management of geospatial data. By understanding the various components such as geodatabases, feature classes, tables, and relationship classes, you can create a well-structured GIS database that enables effective analysis and visualization.

So, dive into ArcGIS, explore the data structure, and unlock the full potential of your geospatial data!

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