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Formatting an Excel table for use in ArcGIS

By Aileen Buckley, Esri Cartographer

Excel to ArcMap thumbnailTo use an Excel table in ArcGIS, it should first be formatted correctly so that ArcGIS can read the table without errors. This blog entry contains links to a table with guidelines for how to format your Excel table, as well as a couple of other useful related resources.

If you don’t format the Excel table correctly, you might run into problems when using tables from Excel when you:

The first two of these three cases were tested and are reported on here.

View the table with the guidelines.

The guidelines include references to special characters you cannot use when naming fields in ArcGIS and reserved words you cannot use when naming fields in Excel.

The guidelines are for the use of geodatabases and feature classes, not shapefiles. When using shapefiles, additional dbase-based restrictions will apply, such as limiting field names to 10 characters.

View the list of Special Characters in ArcGIS.

View the list of Excel Reserved Words.

Note that the Excel reserved words were extracted from the driver via ArcObjects. We have a function that returns the Keywords for a data source. In the case of Excel, it gets the list from the driver itself.

Excel Tables and ArcGIS Tables

This is an overview of the relationship between Excel tables and ArcGIS tables:

These are a few things to note about using Excel tables in ArcGIS:

To learn more:

Thanks to Veronica Rojas for helping me to test the various issues. Thanks to Lance Shipman and Colin Zwicker, Projects Engineers on the ArcMap Team, who helped in the review of this article. Any errors, however, are solely the responsibility of the author.

About the author

Dr. Aileen Buckley has been making maps since she was an undergraduate student. She has a Bachelors in Geography and Spanish from Valparaiso University, a Masters in Geography from Indiana University, and a Ph.D. in Geography from Oregon State University. She is a senior product engineer on the Living Atlas team, and her work focuses on determining and sharing best practices for mapping and analysis with modern GIS. She publishes and presents world-wide on many aspects of mapping and GIS. She is a co-author of Map Use: Reading, Analysis, Interpretation, and she is a co-editor for the Atlas of Oregon. Aileen is a former president of CaGIS (the U.S. cartographic association) and is actively involved with the International Cartographic Association in which she is the lead delegate for the United States.

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