ArcView 3.2 File Management

Stefan’s recommended methodology for saving ArcView projects

(and being able to find and re-open them later…)


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Starting a New Project

Opening an Existing Project

Summary of Creating-Saving-Opening Projects

Why use this method

Why not use your U: drive or zip disc

"Why won't my project open?" ("Where is..." messages)

Backing up Projects

Notes on Naming Files and Folders

Copying/Moving/Renaming/Deleting Shape Files

How to Upgrade an old Project to this Strategy

Notes on Using Windows Explorer

    Creating a new folder

    Copying a folder

Starting a New Project

  1. Before opening ArcView, start Windows Explorer
  2. In Windows Explorer, open the C:/Temp folder
  3. Create a new folder within the C:/temp folder – something like ‘GIS-proj’ (or ‘exercise2’ or ‘bellingham-map’ or ‘GISjan21’…) - (NO SPACES in the names!)
  4. Open ArcView, and begin building your new project
  5. Save/Name this project file (.apr) in the newly created C:/temp/GIS-proj folder
  6. Optional (recommended): From the File menu in any Arcview View window, choose Set Working Directory. Set the Working Directory to C:/temp/GIS-proj and hit OK. This will help ArcView know where you want to save data later…
  7. As you work, save ANY AND ALL new data (copied themes, re-projected data, .avl files, new tables, graphics, etc) to this same C:/temp/GIS-proj folder
  8. Remember to save your .apr often, using Save Project from the Edit menu or the Save Project icon (this will continue to save your .apr to the same location, i.e., your C:/temp/GIS-proj folder)
  9. At the end of the work session, save your .apr once more and close ArcView.
  10. Start/open Windows Explorer again
  11. Optional: open the C:/temp/GIS-proj folder to double check that everything you created is there (all data files, your .apr, any .avls you created, etc.)
  12. Copy the entire C:/temp/GIS-proj folder to your U:/ drive or to a zip disk (if an earlier version of your GIS-proj folder already exists you can either copy over it, or rename the older version to save it as an archive)
  13. Optional: delete the C:/temp/GIS-proj folder.


Opening an Existing Project:

  1. Before opening ArcView, start Windows Explorer
  2. Copy your ‘GIS-proj’ folder from your U:/ drive or zip disk to the C:/temp folder (re-creating a C:/temp/GIS-proj folder)
  3. Open the C:/temp/GIS-proj folder and double click on the .apr file to open your project. (Or open ArcView and direct it to open an existing project, i.e., your .apr file which is located in the C:/temp/GIS-proj folder)
  4. Continue building your project, continuing to save the .apr to the C:/temp/GIS-proj folder, continuing to save ANY AND ALL new data to the C:/temp/GIS-proj folder
  5. At the end of the day, once again save the .apr and close ArcView
  6. Copy the entire C:/temp/GIS-proj folder to your U:/ drive or to a zip disk
  7. You can now delete the C:/temp/GIS-proj folder if you wish, leaving a cleaner workspace for the next student…


To Summarize:

    • Create a working folder in C:/temp
    • Save your .apr file and all data to your individual folder inside of the C:/temp folder (i.e., C:/temp/GIS-proj)
    • Save your project frequently (basic Window operating procedure…)
    • Start and end each work session with Window Explorer (not ArcView) making copies of your C:/temp/GIS-proj folder
    • When starting a different project, create a new folder to use in C:/temp just for that project/exercise (i.e., C:/temp/Hawaii-map)


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  1. Putting everything in a single folder makes it easy to find and copy all of the various pieces that ArcView needs to reopen your .apr (remember that an ArcView .apr file does not contain any data, only pointers to the data files which must be save in addition to the .apr).
  1. Working off of the C:/temp directory (as opposed to your U:/drive or a zip disk) is faster since you are working locally rather than across the network or from an auxiliary storage device.
  2. Making a backup (archive) copy of your .apr and data is easy at any point (simply make a copy of your GIS-proj folder on a zip disk for storage.



Why not just save everything to my U:/drive (or zip disk) and work from there?

Well, this method does work, but there are a number of problems with this strategy:

  1. Since you aren’t working locally, every time you redraw your view or layout (each time you pan, zoom, add or remove layers, etc.) it will take longer
  2. If something goes wrong with your .apr while your working on it (which can definitely happen), you are working on your one and only copy (i.e., no backup)
  3. You are unable to share you .apr with other students or you instructor. For instance, if your instructor asked that you turn in a copy of your .apr for a project, he/she would be unable to open it since it would require access to your U:/drive for the data locations
  4. Using a zip of a floppy disc as your working drive will cause the disc to wear out faster (they are intended as portable storage devices, not hard drive substitutes).


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“Why Won’t My Project Open if I Do Things a Little Differently?…”

  1. If you attempt to open your project and rather than opening properly you get the dreaded series of “Where is…” error messages, you’ve probably done something wrong in one of the steps for creating, archiving or restoring your .apr file and/or data. Things to Check:
    1. Are you SURE you save ALL of your data AND your .apr to your C:/temp/GIS-proj working folder?
    2. Did you move the ENTIRE GIS-proj folder (NOT just the contents) from C:/temp to your U: drive or zip disc, and then back to C:temp?
    3. Make sure you didn’t rename or delete any files from you GIS-proj folder using Windows Explorer (all ArcView file management should be done using the ArcView Source Manager).
  2. What’s going on:
    1. An ArcView project file (.apr) is simple a text file. It does NOT contain any of your data, it only creates a list of ‘pointers’ to the data needed to create that project. Instead of making a copy of a GIS layer, it simply remembers where that layer is stored so that it can go get it when needed… So, inside the .apr will be a line something like:

Path:            "c:/temp/GIS-proj/roads.shp"

telling ArcView that the shape file “roads” is located in a folder named C:/temp/GIS-proj. If for some reason the roads shape file isn’t in C:/temp/GIS-proj (for instance you renamed your working folder to C:/temp/GIS_project) ArcView simply can’t find what it needs to open your project, and you get an error message...

  1. If you do get into a situation of having to deal with the “Where is…” messages, you have two options:
    1. Make a note of what ArcView is asking (i.e., where does it think your data ought to be) and compare that to where your data actually is using Windows Explorer. Often by taking careful notes of the error messages you can then exit ArcView (without Saving) and correct the problem from within Windows Explorer.
    2. Manually locate and identify each missing data piece asked for by the ArcView dialog boxes. If you have a small project, this may a fairly simple process. With large projects this can become extremely tedious.


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Backing up projects:

At the end of a project it is a good idea to make a backup (typically on a zip disk) for future reference. Even if you will be continuing on with the same .apr (further developing the layout, etc) it is a good idea to save a backup of the work to date. This can be done by simply saving a copy of your GIS-proj folder to a disk (possibly inside of a new folder with a date or proper title (i.e., on my zip I might create a folder called Whatcom_archive_01-10-24 and in this folder I would save a copy of my GIS-proj folder with all of the data and the .apr inside it.)


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Notes on Naming Files and Folders:

  • ArcView doesn’t like spaces in the names of shape files, projects or file folders:
    • Good:  C:/temp/exercise2/My_Project.apr
    • BAD:   C:/temp/exercise 2/My Project.apr (space in file name)
    • BAD:            C:/My Documents/My_Project.apr (space if directory folder name)
  • Once you have created and named a new folder (like GIS-proj) and saved your apr and data to this location, DO NOT rename the folder. Doing so will cause your .apr to not be able to open, since the data paths will no longer be accurate.


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Copying/Moving/Deleting/Renaming Shape files:

An ArcView shape file is composed of multiple files necessary to open the shape file in ArcView. Thus, when copying, moving, renaming or deleting you have to make sure that you perform your desired operation on all of the separate files. The preferred method for doing such operations is to use the ArcView Source Manager:

  1. From the File Menu of a View Window, choose Manage Data Sources
  2. Browse to the location of the shape file you wish to modify
  3. Select the shape file in the left hand section of the window
  4. Choose the operation you wish to perform (Copy, Rename, Delete) – note that Rename can be used to move a shape file by renaming it the same name as before but in a new location.
  5. Select the new location/name for Copy or Rename operations
  6. Choose Cancel to exit the Source Manager

Note that when using the Source Manger ArcView will treat the various files that make up a shape file as one entity, saving you the trouble of tracking down all the pieces yourself.

Note that if a shape file is being used by a currently open ArcView project (has been added to a View or has had its Attribute table opened) you will not be able to Delete or Rename it (since the file is being used, Windows will prohibit any attempt at modification). To modify these files you must delete them from your project (both from any view and any Attribute Tables), save your project, then modify the shape file using the Source Manager.

Note that ‘deleting’ a theme from a view, or a table from the project window, removes the file from the project but does not actually delete the file on the computer.


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What if I’ve already begun a project and want to adopt this strategy now?

It is very difficult to “relocate” data and .apr files once they are begun (which is why it is important to do it right from the very beginning). However, it is fairly easy to duplicate an .apr in a new location (rebuilding it, but using your original project as a model):

  1. Open Window Explorer and create your new working folder (see above)
  2. Copy (not move) all data files used in the project from whatever location you currently have them in (C:/temp, your U:/ drive, zip disks, whatever) to your new C:/temp/GIS-proj folder.
  3. Open your old .apr with ArcView
  4. Open a second, blank ArcView project
  5. Using the old .apr as a reference, re-create the views, layouts, etc necessary in your new .apr, always using the newly copied data from your C:/temp/GIS-proj folder
  6. When done, you can delete your old .apr and scattered data files

Even though this sounds like a hassle, it may very well save you considerable time in the long run to have your file management process in better shape.


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Footnotes on Using Windows Explorer:

1) How to create a new folder in Windows Explorer

  1. Open Window Explorer by either:
    1. clicking the yellow folder icon in the task bar
    2. clicking the yellow folder icon in the Applications Shortcuts folder (on the desktop)
    3. right-clicking the My Computer icon on the desktop and choosing Explore
  2. On the left hand section of the window, select the C:/temp folder
  3. In the right hand section of the window add a new folder by either:
    1. right-click and choose New and choose Folder
    2. from the File menu, choose New and choose Folder
  4. While the new folder is highlighted (selected) enter a new name for the folder to replace the generic ‘New Folder’ – getting rid of the space within the name in the process.
  5. To rename an existing folder later, click on the folder name once, then either:
    1. pause, then click on it a second time to select/highlight it for renaming
    2. go to the File menu and choose Rename


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2) How to Copy a folder in Windows Explorer

  1. Open Window Explorer using either the yellow folder icon in the task bar, or the icon in the Applications Shortcuts folder (on the desktop) or by right-clicking the My Computer icon on the desktop and choosing Explore
  2. On the left hand section of the window, open the folder that contains the folder you wish to copy (i.e., if you want to copy C:/temp/GIS-proj you would go to the C:/temp folder).
  3. In the right hand section of the window, select the folder you wish to copy by clicking it once.
  4. Copy the folder by either:
    1. Right-clicking on the folder and choosing Copy
    2. Choosing Copy from the Edit Menu
  5. In the left hand section of the window, browse to the location you wish to copy the folder to, then click once in the right hand side (i.e. in your U:/drive folder or on the d:/ drive for zips)
  6. Paste the new copy of the folder into the desired location by either:
    1. Right-clicking in the new location and choosing Paste
    2. Choosing Paste from the Edit Menu


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