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Esri-10GlobeLogo sRGB .png
Developer(s) Esri
Stable release 10.0 / June 2010
Operating system Windows Unix
Type GIS
License Proprietary
Website ArcInfo Product Page

ArcInfo (formerly called ARC/INFO) is a full-featured geographic information system produced by Esri, and is the highest level of licensing (and therefore functionality) in the ArcGIS Desktop product line. It was originally a command line based system. The command-line processing abilities are now available through the GUI of the ArcGIS Desktop product.



The first version of ARC/INFO was launched in 1982 on minicomputers, as Esri claims, the very first modern GIS. As computing shifted to Unix and Windows, Esri followed launching ARC/INFO on both platforms. (A subset of ARC/INFO functionality was released as PC ARC/INFO for DOS in 1987 (see ad in PE&RS April 1988, p. 455) and released later for Windows). The original architecture is still supported as ArcInfo Workstation.

As well as offering a suite of GIS tools and techniques, ARC/INFO came with its own macro language — ARC Macro Language (AML). This allows users to string together longer sections of code, allowing the construction of complex modeling tools and automation.

The name ARC/INFO was based on the combination of geographic processing tools ("ARC") with a commercial database management software ("INFO", a product of Henco, Inc.). The name of the software helped popularize the concept of GIS as the marriage of computer graphics and RDBMS technology to solve geospatial problems.

Command line heritage

Due to its history of being a command line based product, and following the introduction of Esri's first GUI-based GIS (ArcView GIS) in 1992, there is often a distinct age split for command line users of the ArcInfo tools. Many users who were "brought up" on the command line version still make use of it for its speed and large tool-set, using it in conjunction with the GUI offered by ArcGIS. Many of the younger users, however, have never seen it or even realise it is there. In addition, some users (especially before Python was adopted as the scripting language in ArcGIS 9.x) that the AML interface provided a much easier-to-user scripting environment. Some tasks and functions that take advantage of stored coverage topology (for example DISSOLVE) will execute much faster than their equivalents in ArcGIS. ArcGIS's access to many data formats and GUI interface, added an additional "load" on the user interface that encouraged some experienced GIS users to continue to use older software system.

ArcGIS 9.x included a command-line interface to geoprocessing tools. In ArcGIS 10.x this command-line interface was replaced by an interactive Python command line. (The new Python interface allowed use of operating system command-line calls and map algebra very much reminiscent of the original ArcInfo Workstation command line.)

As new and greater capabilities are added to ArcGIS mapping and geoprocessing functionality, and the geodatabase, ArcInfo Workstation's user base has predictably shrunk over time.

ArcGIS and ArcInfo

With ARC/INFO version 7, Esri underwent a major change in its GIS product family when it released ArcGIS version 8.0 late in 1999. With this, the main ARC/INFO product line was discontinued as a standalone product, and was renamed to ArcInfo. Esri aimed to develop a single framework to host basic to advanced GIS in a single desktop user and development framework, ArcGIS Desktop. The rich set of tools included in ArcInfo Workstation took years to implement in the ArcGIS environment, with the last few pieces (batch mapping and a complete, robust, scripting environment) completed with the release of ArcGIS 10.0.

ArcInfo Workstation extension licenses and functionality map from ArcInfo Workstation to ArcGIS Desktop as follows. (The Workstation names are still used in the ArcGIS license feature names in license provisioning files.)

ArcInfo Workstation ArcGIS
Grid Spatial Analyst
TIN 3D Analyst
Network Network Analyst
COGO Survey Analyst*
  • Survey Analyst is an expanded, new product in ArcGIS - licensed separately from COGO.

The ArcInfo Workstation subsystems were renamed as well. (This terminology is sometimes seen in Esri documentation or marketing literature.)

ArcInfo Workstation name ArcInfo Desktop name
GRID ArcGrid
ArcPlot 3D Analyst
TABLES ArcTables

Because of the many legacy users and the gradual implementation of some ArcInfo Workstation functionality, ArcInfo Workstation was maintained on the Windows platform (and a short list of Unix platforms) until 2012. ArcInfo Workstation was shipped and licensed as part of ArcInfo Desktop. The title ArcInfo continued to be used to describe the level of functionality and licensing within the ArcGIS suite. An ArcInfo license allowed users the most flexibility and control in "all aspects of data building, modeling, analysis, and map display"[1].

An ArcGIS Desktop ArcInfo license included increased capability in the areas of spatial analysis, geoprocessing, data management, and others. Most of the additional capability was exposed in ArcGIS by activating editing and geoprocessing tools that are not available at other license levels.

A "Coverage" toolbox is exposed in ArcGIS ArcInfo that includes geoprocessing tools for access to the ArcInfo Workstation command line through COM wrappers to ArcInfo command-line systems (Arc, GRID, ARCPLOT, including BUILD, CLEAN, CLIP, and EXPORT. Most of these tools provide the ability to do limited processing of coverage datasets from within the ArcGIS Desktop interface.

Deprecation of ArcInfo

ArcInfo Workstation software has been deprecated on all platforms. ArcGIS 10.0 was the final release on Windows and Unix platforms. [2]

The term ArcInfo will be deprecated as well in ArcGIS 10.1. [3] New terminology for ArcGIS license levels will be used instead:

ArcGIS 10.0 ArcGIS 10.1
ArcView ArcGIS for Desktop Basic
ArcEditor ArcGIS for Desktop Standard
ArcInfo ArcGIS for Desktop Advanced

Although the older terms are deprecated in ArcGIS 10.1, they are still used in some areas of the software (for example the arcpy.ProductInfo() method) for compatibility reasons.

See also


  • Esri, 1999. Understanding GIS—The ARC/INFO method. Environmental System Research Institute, Inc., 602 p. ISBN 978-1879102019

External links