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What is a geodatabase?

At its most basic level, an ArcGIS geodatabase is a collection of geographic datasets of various types held in a common file system folder, or a multiuser relational database management system (DBMS) such as Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, or IBM DB2. Geodatabases come in many sizes; have varying numbers of users; and can scale from small, single-user databases built on files up to larger workgroup, department, and enterprise geodatabases accessed by many users.

But a geodatabase is more than a collection of datasets. The term geodatabase has the following meanings in ArcGIS:

  • The geodatabase is the native data structure for ArcGIS and is the primary data format used for editing and data management. While ArcGIS works with geographic information in numerous geographic information system (GIS) file formats, it is designed to work with and leverage the capabilities of the geodatabase.
  • It is the physical store of geographic information, primarily using a DBMS or file system. You can access and work with this physical instance of your collection of datasets either through ArcGIS or through a database management system using SQL.
  • Geodatabases have a comprehensive information model for representing and managing geographic information. This information model is implemented as a series of tables holding feature classes and attributes. In addition, advanced GIS data objects add real world behavior; rules for managing spatial integrity; and tools for working with spatial relationships of the core features and attributes.
  • Geodatabase software logic provides the common application logic used throughout ArcGIS for accessing and working with all geographic data in a variety of files and formats. This supports working with the geodatabase, and it includes working with shapefiles, computer-aided drafting (CAD) files, triangulated irregular networks (TINs), grids, imagery, Geography Markup Language (GML) files, and numerous other GIS data sources.
  • Geodatabases have a transaction model for managing GIS data workflows.

Each of these aspects of the geodatabase is described in more detail in the other topics in this section of the help.