Data Frame

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In Esri ArcGIS Desktop, a data frame is an element of the ArcMap user interface that displays a collection of layers drawn in a particular order for a specific map extent and map projection. Map layers, typically representing similar or related geographic information, are contained in a data frame much like files in a folder. The table of contents on the left side of the ArcMap user interface shows the list of layers in the data frame. What is called "data frame" by Esri, some map and cartography experts have historically referred to as "map body".

Each layer in a data frame is used to display information from a dataset (such as a feature class or an image file) and can be toggled on or off.

In a data frame, you work with features, rasters, and layers in specified units (using feet, meters, etc.). When you create a map, it contains a default data frame listed in the table of contents as "Layers", which can be renamed.

In the data view mode, the display window is the data frame showing the map layers of the active data frame drawn according to their order in the table of contents. Only one map can be displayed at a time in data view, however in layout view, all of the map's data frames are displayed.


The data frame controls many critical properties of a map including projection and coordinate system information, map extent, reference scale, feature caching, size and position, and annotation groups. Additionally, the data frame controls frame attributes such as border, background, drop shadow options, and illumination features.

Multiple data frames can be used in a single map, however only one data frame can be 'active' in ArcMap at a given time. The use of multiple data frames has the advantage of organizing GIS layers and data into logical groups, for instance, all layers that have the same coordinate system and projection, and cover the same geographic topic or area are logical items to include within the same data frame.

Access and Modify Data Frame Properties

To access the Data Frame Properties window, simply right-click on the data frame title in the Table of Contents and select Properties.

In the Data Frame Properties window, you can modify many of the properties of a map by making selections from the tabbed areas.

See also