A quick tour of setting up and using database servers

Anyone who has an Advanced or Standard license of ArcGIS for Desktop, ArcGIS Engine with the Geodatabase Update option, or ArcGIS for Server at the Workgroup level can set up and use an instance of SQL Server Express (a database server) to store geodatabases.

You can set up a database server to use yourself, or you can add other users to the database server to allow them to access geodatabases on the database server. In most cases, the person who sets up the database server is the server administrator. That person is responsible for access to and maintenance of the database server.


A tutorial is provided to get you started with using database servers and their geodatabases.

Set up

To set up a database server, install SQL Server Express and enable it to store geodatabases, add a connection to the SQL Server instance under the Database Servers node in the Catalog, and create geodatabases.

Setting up the SQL Server Express instance

Use the SQL Server Express installation file provided with ArcGIS for Desktop, ArcGIS Engine, or ArcGIS for Server Workgroup to install SQL Server Express and enable it to store geodatabases.


You must be an administrator on your Windows computer to install software. If you are not, request that an administrator at your organization install and enable SQL Server Express for you. Be sure the person installing SQL Server Express adds you as an administrator to the instance.

Setting up the SQL Server Native Client

You must install the SQL Server Native Client on the computer where ArcGIS for Desktop is installed. This lets you connect to the SQL Server Express instance. See Setting up a connection to SQL Server and the Microsoft documentation for the SQL Server Native Client for instructions.

Connecting to create geodatabases

Once SQL Server Express and the SQL Server Native Client are set up, open ArcMap and the Catalog window or the stand-alone ArcCatalog application to add a connection to the database server. At this point, you are connected to the server, but no geodatabases exist. Therefore, you will create one or more geodatabases on the database server.

If other users need to access the new geodatabases, you must add them to the database server.

Adding users

As the server administrator, you add to the database server the Windows logins of all users who must access the geodatabases on the database server. See Adding users or groups to a database server for instructions. The server administrator is also responsible for assigning user permissions to the geodatabases and their contents. See A quick tour of permissions for database servers and its related topics for more information.

Adding data

You and any user who has read/write permission in the geodatabase can create or import data to a geodatabase on the database server. For information on populating your geodatabases with data, see the topics in the section "Adding datasets and other geodatabase elements". To get started, see An overview of adding datasets to the geodatabase.

Making connections

There are two ways to access the geodatabases on a database server from ArcGIS for Desktop: through the Database Server node in the Catalog window or through the Database Connections node.

Server and geodatabase administrators must create connections under the Database Servers node when they want to perform administrative tasks such as creating a backup of a geodatabase or altering user permissions. You already added a database server connection to create geodatabases and add any logins needed. Therefore, when you restart ArcMap or ArcCatalog, your database server connection is already there. To reconnect to it, follow the steps in Connecting to a database server.

Users who only need to create, edit, or read data from the geodatabases can make a connection under the Database Connections node to a specific geodatabase. This is also necessary when running many geoprocessing tools or if you will be publishing services. The server administrator should provide these users with the information they need to create a database connection or create a connection file for them to use. See Preconfiguring connection files for more information.

Maintenance tasks

In addition to creating geodatabases, adding users, and controlling user permissions, server administrators are responsible for the maintenance of the database server and its geodatabases. See A quick tour of maintaining database servers and their geodatabases for information on these tasks.

Some of this maintenance can be done by geodatabase administrators. See A quick tour of permissions for database servers for a description of geodatabase administrators.

Using geodatabase data

Once the database server and its geodatabases are set up, users with read/write permission on the data in the geodatabase can edit existing data. To get started with editing, see A quick tour of editing.

The data will also likely be used in maps. See the "Mapping and visualization" section of the help for topics related to map making in ArcGIS.

Geodatabase data can also be accessed through ArcGIS Services. See Preparing resources for publishing as services for information on what you must do to access database servers with ArcGIS for Server.