What is a multifile feature connection?

A multifile feature connection (MFC) allows you to quickly connect to data sources to visualize and analyze large datasets. A MFC provides functionality and flexibility to work with your data and its formatting.

A MFC references a folder of one or more datasets. Datasets in a MFC are used as input feature data (points, polylines, polygons, and tabular data) to geoprocessing tools. When you create a MFC, a .mfc file is created. This file points to a directory of datasets that outlines the datasets and their schema in the MFC, including geometry and time information. You can browse for MFC datasets in geoprocessing tools and view MFC datasets on the map. The following are examples of when a MFC is appropriate:

  • You have multiple shapefiles representing a large area. Each shapefile represents a subset of the area, and you want to use all of the shapefiles together.
  • You receive a new .csv file daily with temperature measurements. You want to include the new .csv file as part of a dataset with your existing .csv files.
  • You use data that has multiple fields representing the time of an event. You want to use all the fields to represent the time.
  • You have parquet files to use.

The following are reasons to use a MFC as input to geoprocessing tools:

  • You can represent multiple datasets of the same schema and file type as a single dataset.
  • A MFC accesses the data when the analysis is run, so you can continue to add data to an existing dataset in your MFC without reregistering or publishing your data.
  • You can modify the MFC to remove, add, or update which datasets are visible.
  • MFCs are flexible in how time and geometry can be defined and allow for multiple time formats on a single dataset.

Supported data formats

Multifile feature connections support the following datasets:

  • Delimited files (such as .csv, .tsv, and .txt)
  • Shapefiles (.shp)
  • Parquet files (.parquet)

    Only unencrypted parquet files are supported.

  • ORC files (.orc)

If you are using a MFC in GeoAnalytics Desktop tools, all input formats are supported. If you are using MFC datasets in any other geoprocessing tool, delimited files, shapefiles, and parquet files are supported.

Learn more about analysis with MFC files

Multifile feature connection terminology

The following table lists common terms for working with MFCs:


Multifile feature connection

The item representing the MFC file. This MFC can be expanded to view datasets and browsed to for use in geoprocessing tools. This connection file is the ArcGIS Pro interface for your MFC file.

Multifile feature connection file

The file (.mfc) that is created and stored when you create a MFC using the Create Multifile Feature Connection tool. The file contains information about contained datasets and schemas, as well as geometry and time properties. When you view this file in ArcGIS Pro, it is a MFC item.

Learn more about multifile feature connection files

Multifile feature connection dataset

A dataset in your MFC. You can add this dataset to a map or use it as input to geoprocessing tools.

Source location

The folder location registered as a MFC. This location contains one or more folders representing MFC datasets. Multifile feature connection tools do not modify this folder.

Source data

The datasets registered in the MFC. When you use a MFC, the source data is not modified. Multifile feature connection tools do not modify this data.

Structure your input data

To use your datasets as inputs in a MFC, the data must be correctly structured. To prepare your data for a MFC, format your datasets as subfolders under a single source folder that you register. In this source folder, the names of the subfolders represent the dataset names.

One source folder with three dataset subfolders
A source folder that contains three subfolders, each representing a dataset, is shown.

The image above represents the correct structure of a MFC. The source folder is registered, and each subfolder in the source folder represents a dataset. In this example, you would register the source folder, and three datasets would be included in the MFC: Dataset-1, Dataset-2, and Dataset-3.

In the dataset subfolders, you can structure your data as desired. If your subfolders contain multiple folders or files, all of the contents of the subfolders are read as a single dataset, and they must share the same schema and file type.


All files in a dataset folder have the same schema. If a file has a different schema, it will not be used correctly in visualization and analysis.

The following image shows three datasets with different structures and file contents:

Example source folder and contents
Example registrations with a source folder, three dataset folders, and their contents are shown.

In this example, the same three dataset folders have different content. Each dataset is described below:

  • Dataset-1—This dataset is composed of a single file: D1-1. When Dataset-1 is used for visualization or analysis, a single shapefile will be used.
  • Dataset-2—This dataset is composed of two text files: D2-1 and D2-2. When Dataset-2 is used for visualization or analysis, both text files will be used.
  • Dataset-3—This dataset is composed of two folders: D3-Folder-1 and D3-Folder-2, each containing a single dataset, D3-1 and D3-2. When Dataset-3 is used for visualization or analysis, both D3-1 and D3-2 will be used.

These are examples of how you can structure your data. The number of files or folders doesn't change how the data is used for visualization or analysis. There is no advantage to adding a subfolder to or removing subfolders from each dataset folder; structuring the folders at that level is optional.

To start using multifile feature connections, see Use multifile feature connections.

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