I’ve been working on a client project recently that’s required setting up, licensing, and connecting to a number of different types of geodatabases. One of the things that I’ve discovered is that there’s not a complete and concise guide to help ArcGIS users to choose the type of geodatabase they need and then set it up. In this post, I’ve put together a concise guide to the various types of geodatabases at ArcGIS 10.5.1.

Geodatabase Types

At ArcGIS 10.5.1, you can work with the following types of geodatabases:

  • Personal geodatabase: a geodatabase stored in an Access database.
  • File geodatabase: a geodatabase stored in Esri’s file- and folder-based geodatabase storage schema.
  • Desktop geodatabase: a geodatabase stored in SQL Server Express, licensed via ArcGIS Desktop.
  • Workgroup geodatabase: a geodatabase stored in SQL Server Express, licensed via ArcGIS Enterprise Workgroup.
  • Enterprise geodatabase: a geodatabase stored in one of DB2, Informix, Oracle, PostgreSQL, or SQL Server.

At ArcGIS 10.5.1, there are two ways to connect to enterprise geodatabases: for all supported enterprise geodatabase releases (10.1 through 10.5.1), an ArcGIS client can connect to the geodatabase via “direct connect” (this is Esri’s recommended method); for enterprise geodatabase releases 10.1 through 10.2.x, an ArcGIS client can also connect to the geodatabase via the ArcSDE application server.

A Brief History of ArcSDE

ArcSDE is a server-side application that enables spatial data storage in DB2, Informix, Oracle, PostgreSQL, and SQL Server (I’ll refer to these in this article as “enterprise RDBMS”). Initially, ArcSDE was a standalone product and, in ArcGIS 8.0, the only way to work with a geodatabase in an enterprise RDBMS was through the ArcSDE application server.

At ArcGIS 8.1, Esri began adding direct connect support to ArcGIS, meaning that the client connected to the enterprise geodatabase using client-side components, not through the ArcSDE application server. Esri recommends using direct connect as the method to connect to enterprise geodatabases. 

At ArcGIS 9.2, ArcSDE ceased to be a standalone product, and was integrated into ArcGIS Desktop and ArcGIS Server (in fact, the direct connect technology used by ArcGIS Desktop is ArcSDE technology). At this point, Esri began referring to ArcSDE as a “technology”, rather than as a “product”.

The final release of the ArcSDE application server was in ArcGIS 10.2.2. Esri plans to retire ArcGIS 10.2.2 on July 1, 2019. After this date, direct connect will be the only supported way to connect to an enterprise geodatabase.

Despite the gradual deprecation of ArcSDE, there are still many instances in the ArcGIS documentation of the terms “SDE” and “ArcSDE” being used to refer to desktop, workgroup, and enterprise geodatabases. In fact, even Esri employees still sometimes use this terminology. Old habits die hard, but the lack of clarity in terminology often leads to confusion among Esri customers. In communications with our clients, I’m trying to be more disciplined in using the term “ArcSDE” only in reference to the ArcSDE application server, and the terms “desktop”, “workgroup”, and “enterprise” geodatabase as defined above.

This post generated some good discussion on GeoNet. Thanks to Joshua Bixby, Asrujit SenGupta, and Tina Morgan for their input.

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