Projects in ArcGIS Pro

ArcGIS Pro organizes your work into projects. A project is a collection of related items—maps, layouts, tables, charts, data connections, and more—that contribute to a common purpose. The purpose may be to analyze a problem, to visualize a state of affairs, to maintain or update a data model of infrastructure, or something else. A project may also serve more than one purpose. The scope of a project is not defined or limited by any rules—it can be as broad or narrow, as large or small, as you want.

You may create a project for reasons such as the following:

  • To model topological and information relationships of infrastructure, such as streets or land parcels
  • To identify a suitable site for a business or suitable habitat for an animal
  • To track the progress of a natural event such as a storm or wildfire
  • To build realistic 3D views of neighborhoods or planned developments
  • To assess landscape change through satellite imagery analysis

To see examples of real-world projects, visit the Learn ArcGIS site.

Project architecture

Projects embody four main design principles:

  • Projects are self-contained

    By default, a project and its associated files are stored together in one system folder. This makes projects easy to find. It also means that project resources don't become detached from the project and lost.

  • Projects are streamlined

    A project contains only the items and data connections required for your work.

  • Projects components are reusable

    The items that make up a project, such as maps, scenes, layers, and layouts, can be copied or exported to other projects.

  • Projects are integrated into the ArcGIS platform

    Projects and their components can be shared to web portals and to ArcGIS applications for the field, the office, and the community.

Project contents

A project contains two types of items. One type is all the things that you make in ArcGIS Pro, such as maps, scenes, layouts, charts, and reports. The other type is connections to folders, databases, servers, and other data repositories that you use to build your maps and scenes.

Diagram of the two kinds of items in a project
A project contains items such as maps, layouts, charts, and reports. It also contains connections to folders, databases, servers, and online portals.

An ArcGIS Pro project gives you a comprehensive view of the items it contains.

Project items listed in the Contents pane
A list of items in a typical project.

Project files and their associated files

A project is stored on your computer as a project file. The project file is closely associated with these additional files: a default geodatabase, a default toolbox, an index, and an import log.

Project files in Windows Explorer
A Windows Explorer view of a project file named MyProject.aprx and its associated files.

Project file

When you start ArcGIS Pro and create a project, a project file (with the file extension .aprx) is created. The project file contains items you create as you work with the project—maps, scenes, layouts, charts, reports, and so on. It also contains connections to data and other resources.

The following connections are present by default in every project:

You can add connections to other resources, such as databases and servers, as needed.

Default geodatabase

Every project has a default geodatabase (with the extension .gdb). When you run geoprocessing tools in your project, the output data is stored in this geodatabase unless otherwise specified. When a project is created, a default geodatabase is also created in the project's home folder. The default geodatabase has the same name as the project (for example, MyProject.aprx is associated with MyProject.gdb).

Typically, the default geodatabase is unique to the project. This is not necessary, however. Two or more projects can have the same default geodatabase. In addition, you can change a project's default geodatabase at any time.

The default geodatabase is a convenient repository for data created in your project. It helps to keep your project resources organized. However, you can store output data in a geodatabase other than the default geodatabase.

Illustration of projects with unique default geodatabases and a shared default geodatabase
Left: Typically, each project is associated with its own default geodatabase. Right: It is possible for multiple projects to use the same default geodatabase.

Default toolbox

Every project also has a default toolbox (with the extension .tbx). When you create geoprocessing models or Python scripts in a project, they are stored in this toolbox unless otherwise specified. When a project is created, a new default toolbox is also created in the project's home folder. The default toolbox has the same name as the project (for example, MyProject.aprx and MyProject.tbx).

As with the default geodatabase, it is typical, but not essential, that the default toolbox be unique to the project. You can change a project's default toolbox at any time.

Index folder

By default, every project has an associated index folder. This folder contains two additional folders: one with the name of the project (for example, MyProject) and one named Thumbnail.

The folder with the project name stores the index of the maps, scenes, layouts, and other items that are saved in the project file. The index makes these items searchable from within ArcGIS Pro. The thumbnail folder stores images representing the indexed project items. These thumbnails allow you to recognize items in your search results by their appearance. The contents of the project's connections to folders and databases are also indexed. This index is stored in a separate location.

Learn more about ArcGIS Pro indexes.

ImportLog folder

A folder named ImportLog is created the first time a map is created or imported into a project. This folder contains an XML file for every map, scene, layout, and report in the project. The XML file records any problems with the creation or import of maps, scenes, and other items.

Project name and location

You can give a project any name you want. The default naming convention is MyProject, MyProject1, MyProject2, and so on.

By default, new projects and their associated files are stored in a new system folder with the same name as the project. For example, a project named MyProject is stored in a system folder that is also named MyProject. You don't need to create a project in a new system folder—you can create a project in an existing folder on your computer. However, storing a project in its own system folder helps keep the project and its associated files organized. The system folder in which the project is stored is called the project's home folder.

By default, new projects are stored in this location: C:\Users\<username>\Documents\ArcGIS\Projects. When you create a project, you can choose to store it in another location on your computer, a network drive, or a shared local drive. You can also change the default location for storing new projects.

Learn more about changing project settings.


Cloud storage services, such as Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive, are not supported unless stated otherwise in the documentation about specific tools and functionality. Learn more about ArcGIS Pro and cloud storage services.

Create and open projects

By default, the ArcGIS Pro application opens to a start page. (As with other aspects of ArcGIS Pro, this behavior is configurable.) The start page presents options for opening projects that you have created previously and for starting new projects.

ArcGIS Pro start page


Sign in or out of your active portal.


Open an existing project. ArcGIS Pro keeps a list of projects you have used recently.


Create a project from a default ArcGIS Pro template.


Access learning resources, including tutorials, courses, community support, blogs, and documentation.


Create a project from a custom template. ArcGIS Pro keeps a list of templates you have used recently.


Access project and application settings.

ArcGIS Pro start page elements

Use projects to collaborate

GIS users often have overlapping roles. To some degree or other, you may be a cartographer, an analyst, an editor, a data processor, a manager, a planner, or an automation specialist.

Your role, and the way your organization works, affects the way you collaborate on projects. You may work alone; you may share maps, data, or entire projects with your colleagues; or you may work with colleagues on the same projects.

Generally, there are four approaches to working with projects. They aren't mutually exclusive; you may work in all these ways at different times or blend the approaches. They can be distinguished conceptually, however.

  • You work mainly alone. You create and save projects on your own computer.
  • You work with others on the same projects that are stored on a network drive.
  • You and your colleagues work on different projects, but you use the same starting project configuration.
  • You share maps, layers, and other project items with colleagues. You may also share entire projects.

Diagram of four models for working on projects
Upper left: A user mainly works alone on projects. Upper right: Many users work together on the same project. Lower left: Users work on projects based on a standard template. Lower right: Users exchange maps, layers, and projects through online portals and file sharing.

Scenario 1: create and work on projects by yourself

If you work mostly by yourself, the default method of project creation—in which each new project has its own default geodatabase and toolbox—is usually best. You can add folder connections to your project by browsing to folders that reference your computer's drive letters. (This is problematic only if you access your projects from multiple machines.)

If you are a mapmaker or analyst, you may create projects from the Map, Local Scene, or Global Scene template. You can add new maps and scenes as needed.

If you manage data, you may create projects from the Catalog template. In your work, you run geoprocessing tools and perform various file operations, but you don't normally need to create maps and layouts, or save multiple projects. You can open the same project whenever you start the application. Alternatively, you can start without a project template. In this case, you start the application, do your work, and close the application without saving a project at all.

If many of your projects use the same resources, such as the contents of your C:\MyData\Redlands folder, you can add these connections as project favorites. Favorites can be readily added to new projects or set to be added automatically.

Scenario 2: collaborate on projects stored in a shared location

A project that two or more people need to access, such as OurProject.aprx, may be stored on a network drive or shared local drive. A project stored on a network drive can be opened by anyone with ArcGIS Pro and access to the location. However, only one person at a time can make changes to the project file.

Diagram of users accessing a network project
Several people can access a project stored on a network. Only one person at a time can open the project in a writable state.

If one person has a project open, others can open it in a read-only state. You can make changes to a read-only project , but these changes must be saved as a new project. You can also perform operations that don't change the project file (.aprx) itself. For example, you can edit spatial data or run geoprocessing tools while working in a read-only project.

If a project is stored on a network or shared drive, folder and database connections should be added as UNC paths to avoid problems accessing paths that contain drive letters. To add connections with UNC paths, you must type the path in the browse dialog box. (If you browse to the location, the connection automatically references a drive letter.)

In the examples below, UNC connections that are suitable for a shared project have green check marks. Connections made with drive letters are marked with red x's.

\\<computer name>\Data\SanBernardinoCounty

Check mark



\\<computer name>\c$\MyData\Redlands

Check mark



Working with projects stored on a network is slower than working with local projects.

Scenario 3: create projects that conform to a standard template

The blank templates on the ArcGIS Pro start page, such as Map, Global Scene, and Local Scene, are generic starting configurations for a project. If your team or workgroup follows specific patterns for new projects, you can create a project template and start new projects from this template.

A project template (a file with the extension .aptx) allows you to define a robust initial configuration for projects. Any project you create can be saved as a template. A project template may contain items such as the following:

  • Maps and scenes containing symbolized data layers
  • Layouts containing map frames and map surrounds
  • Toolboxes containing geoprocessing models and scripts
  • Connections to folders, databases, and servers

Data sources referenced by map layers are copied into the template file and then copied from the template file into projects created from the template. This means that if a map layer in a template references a data source such as C:\MyData\Roads, a user who creates a project from the template doesn't need to have the roads data themselves. (On the user's computer, the path to the Roads dataset is changed to the default location for their saved projects.)

Connections to folders and databases can be saved in a template, but they only work in projects created from the template if they reference accessible paths. As with projects shared on a network, this is another context in which establishing connections with UNC paths is a good practice.

The default geodatabase and toolbox from the template, along with their contents, are copied into every project created from the template.

Project templates can be stored on a local or network drive or shared through your active portal.

Scenario 4: share projects and project items

Projects and project items, such as maps and map layers, can be shared with colleagues through your active portal or through traditional file sharing methods. There are three sharing strategies: packages, web items, and files.


A package is a compressed file that may contain an entire project, a map, a layer, or another type of project item. Packages contain all the resources associated with the packaged item. For example, when you open a project package, it's similar to opening the original project—you have all the maps, layers, and connections of the original project, along with the default geodatabase and toolbox.

The package is a copy of the original project—it is not the original project itself.

Diagram of a package shared through a portal
A package can be shared to a portal or by traditional file sharing methods. For example, you can save a package to a network drive or email it to a colleague.

Because packages are copies, they tend to work better for distributing resources than for collaboration, although they can be used to collaborate as well. For example, if you unpack a project package or map package shared from a portal and use it locally, you are notified of any updates to the package whenever you open the project or map.

Packages are also effective for archiving projects and can be used to store snapshots of a project as it changes over time.

Web items

Maps, scenes, layers, and tables can be shared as web items to your active portal or an ArcGIS server.

While a package is essentially a copy of a project, map, or layer, a web item is a different type of resource. In a web map or web layer, data sources are converted to web services that are hosted by your ArcGIS portal or server. (The story is more nuanced, but that's the basic idea.)

For example, suppose a map layer of roads in your ArcGIS Pro project references a local dataset, such as C:\MyData\Roads. When you share the layer as a web layer Feature layer, and someone adds it to a map in their own project, the layer references a web service with a REST endpoint. The URL is similar to this:

By comparison, if you share the same layer as a layer package Layer Package, users who add the layer to their own maps have a local copy of the dataset.

Diagram of a layer shared to the web and accessed by other users
A web map or web layer can be added to a project by anyone with whom the item is shared.

Web items are an efficient tool for collaboration. They can be overwritten or replaced by the item owner if updates need to be made. If the item owner enables editing, users of web layers and tables can edit these items. If editing is not enabled, users can still modify the properties of a layer in their own map or project without changing the web item itself.


Maps, layers, and layouts can be saved as stand-alone files and shared through a portal or through standard file sharing methods. A map file (.mapx) saves all the properties of a map (for example, its name, bookmarks, and coordinate system), along with its layers and their properties (for example, symbology, scale ranges, and label settings).

A map file does not include the data referenced by the map's layers—if you share a map file with a colleague, your colleague must have their own copy of the data or have access to the data. Similarly, layer files (.lyrx) and layout files (.pagx) save the properties of those items without saving the datasets they reference.

If you add a map file from a portal to your ArcGIS Pro project, you are notified of any updates to the map file whenever you open it. (Update notifications are not provided for layout or layer files.)

For teams or workgroups that have common access to data resources, map files, layer files, and layout files are a convenient way to share an item's configuration without duplicating datasets unnecessarily.

Manage projects and project items

Projects can't be copied, moved, renamed, or deleted from within ArcGIS Pro. To copy, move, or rename a project, share it as a project package or use the Save As command. Using file system commands for these operations isn't supported and risks corrupting the project.

You must delete projects with file system commands. In most cases, you should delete the project file and any other files uniquely associated with the project file. However, don't delete a default geodatabase or toolbox that is used by multiple projects. If the project home folder exclusively contains files related to the project, you can delete the home folder.

Copying, moving, renaming, and deleting items that are stored in the project file can be done from ArcGIS Pro. Use caution before deleting items that store data. Some project items, such as geodatabases, can be either removed or deleted. When an item is removed, it is no longer a project resource, but it is not otherwise affected. When an item is deleted, it is permanently destroyed.

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