Inline variable substitution

In ModelBuilder, you can substitute the value or dataset path of a variable for another variable by enclosing the substituting variable name in percent signs (%VariableName%). Substituting variables in this manner is called inline variable substitution.

For example, if you have a variable Name with a value of Wilson, you can construct a dataset path as C:\Data\Output.gdb\Clipped_%Name% and the path will be resolved as C:\Data\Output.gdb\Clipped_Wilson.

ModelBuilder supports inline variable substitution in the following formats:

  • Model variables—You can use any variable in a model.
  • System variables—You can use variable %n% in an iteration workflow as an iteration counter in the model. The variable %t% refers to the time when the output is generated in the format of YYYYMMDDHHMMSS.
  • Workspace environments—You can use four workspace environments (%scratchGDB%, %scratchFolder%, %workspace%, and %scratchWorkspace%) in ModelBuilder to simplify model data management.

Model variable substitution

In the model illustrated below, a workspace variable, Data Workspace, has a value of C:\Data.gdb. This workspace location is substituted as an inline variable in the Project tool parameters by enclosing the variable name in percent symbols. At run time, the actual variable value, C:\Data.gdb, is substituted for %Data Workspace%.

Use a model variable as inline variable.

Use with iterator

The use of model variable substitution is especially important when working with ModelBuilder iterators. When the iterator Iterate Feature Classes runs, it creates an output variable for both the path and name of each feature class in a workspace. You can use the value in the Name variable to construct the path to the output Projected Feature Class. When the tool executes, %Name% is replaced with the name of the feature class.

Use iterator output as the inline variable.

User input to a model tool

Model variable substitution can help you pass values entered by a user directly into a tool inside your model. For example, in the model illustrated below, Suffix is a model parameter that is specified when the model tool is run from the Geoprocessing pane. This variable is used in the Expression parameter of the Select Layer By Attribute tool as RoadLabel LIKE '%\%Suffix\%' ESCAPE '\'. When the tool runs, the expression works the same as RoadLabel LIKE '%ST' where the inline variable Suffix is replaced with the value ST, and only roads with label ending with ST are selected.

Use the inline variable in the Select Layer By Attribute tool.
The Parcel ID variable in this example is a string. You must enclose inline variables that are strings within quotation marks ('%string variable%') in an expression. Inline variables that are numbers do not require quotation marks.

In a second example, variable substitution is used to pass values to the parameters of the Calculate Field tool. The model illustrated below contains two variables, Class Field and Value. Class Field with the value of Class is used as the Field Name parameter. The Value variable with the value of Forest is used as the Expression parameter. When the Calculate Field tool runs, the Class field gets the value of Forest that saves in the Value variable.

Use the inline variable in Calculate Field tool.

Use with Calculate Value

Calculate Value is a ModelBuilder utility that allows you to calculate a value based on a Python expression and use that value in your model. You can use model variable substitution to pass values from model variables into the Calculate Value Python expression or use the output variable name that stores the calculated value in another tool in your model.

The model below contains two numeric variables: Number of Residents and Waste Per Person Per Year. You can use these variables in the Calculate Value tool expression by enclosing them in percent symbols. When the Calculate Value tool runs, the variable names will be substituted with their values and multiplied together to calculate Total Waste Per Year.

Use the inline variable in the Calculate Value tool.

Variable substitution with file extensions

If a variable points to a file with an extension, for example, elevation.tif, and this variable needs to be included in the output path of another tool using inline substitution, the output erroneously includes the .tif extension in the output name. In such cases, you can use the Parse Path tool to get only the file name: elevation. You can then use the Parse Path tool's output Name variable as inline substitution into the next tool.

System variable substitution

ModelBuilder provides system variables that you can use in a model to represent the current model iteration (%n%) and time (%t%).

The variable %n% refers to the current model iteration (the first iteration is zero) when a model contains an iterator. For example, the For iterator is used to iterate a model four times. The output of the Buffer tool is used as feedback into the tool as input. The model iterates and creates an output at each iteration. %n% is used in the output name of Buffer to give the output of each iteration a new name.

Example of inline variable %n%

The variable %t% refers to the time when tool output is created. For example, if a model is scheduled to run daily for data backup, using the variable %t% creates an output with a time stamp to indicate the backup date.

Example of inline variable %t%


The variable %i% works the same as %n%. It is designed for ArcMap and is not recommended for use in ArcGIS Pro.

Workspace environments

You can use four workspace environments in ModelBuilder to simplify data management within a model. You can use workspace environments in model parameters and run models from the Geoprocessing pane.

EnvironmentUsageLocationRecommend usage

Scratch GDB


Project Folder\scratch.gdb

Intermediate outputs

Scratch Folder


Project Folder\scratch

File-based intermediate outputs

Current Workspace


Current Workspace environment setting

Geoprocessing tool inputs and outputs

Scratch Workspace


Scratch Workspace environment setting

Intermediate outputs

For example, if a tool output is specified as %scratchGDB%\CopyToScratchGDB, a scratch.gdb geodatabase is created, if it doesn't already exist, and the output CopyToScratchGDB is created in the Scratch GDB environment geodatabase.

Example of inline variable %scratchGDB%

In the example below, if a tool output is specified as %workspace%\CopyToWorkspace, the output CopyToWorkspace is created in the Current Workspace environment location.

Example of inline variable %workspace%