Working with geoprocessing in ArcCatalog

There are three key concepts to geoprocessing in ArcGIS:

  1. There is a large set of geoprocessing operators (called tools).These are organized and managed in ArcToolbox.
  2. Individual tools can be chained together into a sequence most often called a process. This ability to create your own processes is one of the most interesting uses of ArcGIS. You can program your own ideas quickly and efficiently.
  3. You can use Python scripting and the ModelBuilder window to create geoprocessing models and scripts.

ArcCatalog supports the ArcGIS geoprocessing framework as described here:

Working with ArcToolbox

ArcGIS includes a collection of geoprocessing tools that are organized into ArcToolbox. You can create your own tools by writing a script or building a model and organize these in the ArcToolbox.

ArcCatalog provides a number of ways to find the right tool.

Using search to find and open tools

You can use search in ArcGIS to find tools. Use the Search window and click the Tools keyword.

  1. Click the Search Window button Search to open the ArcGIS search panel.
  2. Click Tools to focus your search criteria.
  3. Enter a text string for the tools you want to search. You can use * as a wild card when searching.
  4. Hit <CR> or the Search button (Search tool) to find and display search results.
    Using search to find tools
    In this example, the phrase dem is used with a wildcard (*).
  5. Use the results to get more information about a tool, locate it in ArcToolbox, and execute the tool. You can also drag and drop your tools results into ModelBuilder or the Python window.

Navigating the ArcToolbox node in the Catalog Tree

ArcToolbox contains a series of folders used to organize all the tools delivered with ArcGIS as well as any new tools that you create or add.

You can navigate ArcToolbox to open and work with geoprocessing tools by expanding the Toolboxes node Toolboxes Folder in the Catalog Tree.

You can also create your own custom toolboxes by expanding the Toolboxes node, right-clicking My Toolboxes, then selecting New.

Adding a new toolbox

Once you find the desired tool in ArcToolbox, you can drag and drop tools into ModelBuilder or the Python window.

Using ModelBuilder for geoprocessing

ModelBuilder is a geoprocessing application in which you graphically create, edit, and manage models. Models are assembled as a logical sequence of tools where the outputs of one tool are fed into subsequent operations (i.e., tools) to produce a result.


You can drag and drop tools from ArcCatalog into ModelBuilder.

To start ModelBuilder in ArcCatalog, click the ModelBuilder button ModelBuilder on the Standard toolbar.

Using the Python window for geoprocessing

Python is a scripting (or interpretive) language that is included as part of ArcGIS. All geoprocessing tools, as well as a wide variety of useful functions for interrogating GIS data, are available in the ArcPy installation in ArcGIS.

You can drag and drop tools from ArcCatalog into ModelBuilder. Using Python and ArcPy, you can develop an array of useful scripts and models.

For more information on geoprocessing

See What is geoprocessing? to learn more.