Using attachments to manage associated feature content

Attachments are new in ArcGIS 10 and provide a flexible way to manage additional information that is related to features. Attachments are similar to hyperlinks but multiple files can be associated with a feature, attached files are stored in the geodatabase, and files can be accessed in several different ways. Recently, I was working with some water utility data and decided to use attachments to add photographs, documents, videos, and other files to the city’s utility infrastructure and asset features. This post describes how I utilized the new attachment functionality to include this content with the features.

Because ArcGIS uses a relationship class to maintain the link between the features and the file attachments, an ArcEditor or ArcInfo license is required to add and edit attachments. ArcView users can read and open attachments.

Enabling a feature class to store attachments
To add the external files to my water utility layers, I first need to enable attachments on each feature class in the Catalog window or ArcCatalog. To do this, I right-click the feature class, point to Attachments, and click Create Attachments. This automatically creates a new table to contain the attachment files and a new relationship class to relate the features to the attached files. I want to use attachments with the hydrants, water meters, and sewer manholes feature classes in the utility geodatabase.

My geodatabase was created in ArcGIS 10, but an existing geodatabase from ArcGIS 9 needs to be upgraded to ArcGIS 10 before attachments can be enabled on the feature classes.

Adding attachments to features
Now that my feature classes support attachments, I can add the files to the features during an edit session. The first feature I want to attach files to is a point representing a fire hydrant. I have a .jpg photograph taken by a field crew and a PDF containing a log of records regarding the installation and maintenance work that has been performed on it. I select the hydrant on the map and open the Attributes window (I could also use the attribute table).

Since attachments are enabled on the feature class, a section for attachments is shown in the middle of the Attributes window. The value in parentheses indicates the number of files; in this case there are zero (0) attached items because I have not added any files yet. To add the files, I click Open Attachment Manager, click Add on the dialog box, and browse to the files on disk. I need to repeat the process of opening the Attachment Manager and browsing to the files for each feature. For example, I have a water meter feature to which I want to attach a Microsoft Word document, PDF, and several photographs.

Once a file is attached, the attachment is stored in a geodatabase table and no longer has a linkage to the original source file. If I update the source file, I would need to re-add the attachment.

Viewing attachments
When I finish adding the attachments, I can open the files from several different windows in ArcMap. I can use the Identify window and attribute table, or when editing, I can also use the Attributes window. ArcView users can open attachments only from the Identify window or the attribute table. Similar to the Attributes window, the Identify window also contains a section for attachments when they are enabled on the feature class. Now, there are two (2) attached files, which are listed in the drop-down menu next to the paper clip.

To open an attachment, I can either click it in the list or use the Attachment Manager, where I can also add, remove, or export it to a new file on disk. The attachment opens in the Windows default application for that type of file. For example, the .jpg photograph of the hydrant opens in the Windows Photo Viewer and the PDF opens in Adobe Reader. If no default application has been specified on my machine for a certain file type, I would be prompted to choose the application to use to open it.

Attachments can additionally be accessed through HTML pop-ups. Using HTML pop-ups to open attachments is useful because I can quickly get to the attached files and keep multiple pop-ups open for different features at the same time. Through HTML pop-ups, the attachments can also be opened in Web applications, ArcGIS Explorer, or ArcReader. Since I included images of the water meter (left pop-up) and the fire hydrant (right pop-up) as attachments to these features, they are automatically shown at the top of the HTML pop-up window. Any other attachments appear as links that I can click to open the files.

Attachments make it very easy for me to manage all these files. If I had used traditional ArcGIS hyperlinks, I could link a feature to just one item and access the file only through the Hyperlink tool, rather than through various windows. With hyperlinks, I also must make sure to add the file and the correct path to it if I move the data or send the geodatabase to a colleague. However, since attachments are stored inside the geodatabase, I can share a geodatabase or make a layer or map package and all the attached files are included with the data automatically.

The data I used in the examples is modified from the Water Network Utilities Template by Esri and Fort Pierce, Florida.

Post content from Rhonda (Editing Team)

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  1. gwalters says:

    Sounds great, however is there any way of batch loading through a GP Tool?

  2. pfaffrm says:

    At the moment, there is not a way to use geoprocessing like this (unless you have the Data Interoperability extension), but Esri is looking into it for future releases. Here’s a forum thread with some discussion on this:

    Also, please add your support for this functionality and suggestions for how you think it should work on the ArcGIS Ideas site.

  3. Tim Cook says:

    Great idea, but how about option to store a shortcut / hyperlink to the file, rather than saving the file into the GeoDB?

    See additioanl detail posted at

    Would be much appreciated thanks!

  4. nathan.l.hopper says:

    I know this is an older posting but I have a quick question about Attachments. Can you update the base feature class when attachments are enabled? I have over 500 points with many rasters that need to be attached but I’m getting new points and rasters weekly that need to be added to the base feature class….. And yest a script to do this would be creatly appreciated…. Thanks

  5. pfaffrm says:

    You can make changes to the features while you have attachments enabled, such as moving or reshaping existing features or creating new features. However, if you delete a feature that has attachments, the attachments are removed as well.

    For the next major release of ArcGIS, we are planning new geoprocessing tools that will allow you to add, remove, and manage many attachments at once. In the meantime, it is possible that a user has written scripts to do bulk updates in ArcGIS 10.

  6. mandbit says:

    Are the attachments available to view using ArcReader?

  7. kdiabate64 says:

    Is it possible to use these attachment in Flex Viewer

  8. ejuser says:

    I have an Editor License and Create Attachments is not enabled when I attempt to select it. It’s a versioned polygon feature class that I want to add attachments to.

  9. pfaffrm says:

    This scenario should work. Make sure the geodatabase has been upgraded to ArcGIS 10. It won’t be enabled for older geodatabases.

  10. npereira says:

    How is metadata for each attachment managed and accessed? For example, with what device was the hydrant photograph captured and who took it?

  11. mschonlau says:

    Can I move rasters currently stored in a raster type field into the attachments table on my feature class?

  12. yzyu says:

    Hi, I have a question about feature attachment. Can multiple features share the same attachment file? In other word, can I attach a file to multiple features?

    An example is if I have one pdf file that I want to associate with 100 parcels, is there a way to attach the file to these 100 parcels once, so all the parcels reference the same attachment record in the parcel_ATTACH table? It just does not make sense if I have to attach the same file 100 times to each pacrel and create 100 records in the parcel_ATTACH table.

  13. JulianaCR says:

    I have the exact same question as the previous post. We need the ability to add one or multiple attachments to multiple features without having to go one by one.
    Is this possible?

  14. cdclifton says:

    I would also like to know if the possibility of attaching one attachment to multiple features is/or will be available.

    I also wanted to see what the effect on performance of the geodatabase is if a whole utility system has attachments to each feature.


  15. rmglennon says:

    ArcGIS 10.1, which is currently in beta, provides the ability to use geoprocessing tools to add and remove attachments in bulk. If you want to try out the tools, you can apply for the ArcGIS beta program at

  16. cdclifton says:

    Thank you for the response. Can you touch base on two questions previously posted?

    How is metadata for each attachment handled? The example listed previously in the blog applies to my current situation.

    Are the attachments able to be used in our Flex Viewer? If so any other details would be great.

    I appreciate the help!

  17. Matt1981 says:


    Is it possible to attach one video ? What must be the format (.mov, .avi, .flv,…) ?
    Si no, is there an extension to put one video with one entity ?

    Thanks a lot


  18. jeremyweber1 says:

    Can feature attachments be used via ArcGIS for Mobile 10 or do I have to use raster fields for image storage?