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Overview of joins and relates

Through a common field, known as a key, you can associate records in one table with records in another table. For example, you could associate a table of parcel ownership information with the parcels layer, because they share a parcel identification field. You can make these associations in several ways, including by joining or relating tables temporarily in your map or by creating relationship classes in your geodatabase that maintain more permanent associations. Joins can also be based on spatial location.

Joins and related information is stored in the layer's properties. To access this information, double-click the layer to open Layer Properties, and select Joins or Relates.

Join the attributes from a table

Suppose you have obtained data that describes the percentage change in population by county, and you want to generate some population growth maps based on this information. As long as the population data is stored in a table in your database and shares a common field with your layer, you can join it to your geographic features and use any of the additional fields to symbolize, label, query, or analyze the layer's features.

Typically, you'll join a table of data to a layer based on the value of a field that can be found in both tables. The name of the field does not have to be the same, but the data type must be the same; you join numbers to numbers, strings to strings, and so on. You can perform a join by using the Add Join geoprocessing tool.

Join data by location (spatially)

When the layers on your map don't share a common attribute field, you can join them using the Spatial Join geoprocessing tool, which joins the attributes of two layers based on the location of the features in the layers.

With a spatial join, you can complete any of the following common workflows:

Join by location, or spatial join, uses spatial associations between the layers involved to append fields from one layer to another. Depending on the type of association, you can append the attributes or an aggregate (minimum, maximum, mean, and so on) of numeric attributes, from a matched feature to the target features.

Spatial joins by default are different from attribute-driven joins, relates, and relationship classes, in that they are not dynamic and require the results to be saved to a new output layer. If you use the Spatial Join tool within a script or model, you can get performance improvement by using an in-memory workspace, instead of creating new output. For example, to write to an in-memory workspace, the output path of the tool would include the workspace and the name of the output like this: in_memory/outputFeature.

Relate the attributes in one table to another

Relates can help you discover specific information within your data. For example, if you select a building, you can find all the tenants that occupy that building. Similarly, if you select a tenant, you can find what building it resides in (or several buildings, in the case of a chain of stores in multiple shopping centers—a many-to-many relationship).

Unlike joining tables, relating tables simply defines a relationship between two tables. The associated data isn't appended to the layer's attribute table like it is with a join. Instead, you can access the related data through selected features or records in your layer or table. You can create a relate by using the Add Relate geoprocessing tool.

Relates that are added to a layer or table in a map are essentially the same as simple relationship classes defined in a geodatabase, except that they are saved with the map instead of in a geodatabase. A relationship class stores information about associations among features and records in a geodatabase and can help ensure your data's integrity. To create a new relationship class, use the Create Relationship Class tool or right-click the geodatabase in the Catalog pane, point to New, and click Relationship.

If a feature class in a geodatabase already participates in a relationship class, you don't need to create a new relate for the tables. It will already be available for use and listed in the Related Data menu that you can use to view related data. Note that the many-to-many relationship is defined differently when your data is stored in a geodatabase.

Remove a relate

To remove a particular relate, use one of the previously mentioned methods of accessing the Relates menu items, and open the Remove Relate tool. You can use the menu on an open attribute table, the Data tab for a layer or stand-alone table selected in the Contents pane, or the Joins and Relates context menu.

From the Relates menu, you can also choose to remove all relates. This command will ask you to confirm the action because you cannot undo removing all.