Using variables

When entering parameter values in a command line, the parameter value can either be a text string (such as a pathname or a number) or a variable. A variable is just a short name that's associated with a parameter's text string. A variable is created using the parameter's user interface control (see Tool dialog basics for more information on parameter controls). Variables can be reused in subsequent commands and can be saved to the geoprocessing settings.

Learn more about geoprocessing settings

The main reasons for using variables are:

Example of creating and using variables

Consider the Project command, which takes an input dataset, an output dataset, and a definition of the coordinate system to apply to the output dataset. Typing the path names of the input and output datasets is easy (although you could use a variable for these as well), but the coordinate system parameter is another matter. Following is the text string you'd have to enter to define an Eckert IV coordinate system:


It would be ridiculous to try to enter such a complex string at the command line. Rather, you want to create a variable and use the user interface control to define the coordinate system.

In this example, the first step is to enter the two required parameters to the Project command, followed by a space, which will bring you to the output coordinate system parameter. You then right-click and click Insert Variable, as shown below.

Inserting a variable

Once you click Insert Variable, the coordinate system parameter control will open. With this control, you can select the desired coordinate system, in this case, the Eckert IV projection.

Creating a coordinate system variable

After clicking OK, the command line will contain the auto-generated name of the variable you just created (such as out_coor_system1). When you execute the command, the variable will be replaced with the real parameter text—the coordinate system text string that was shown above.

Reusing a variable

Once you have created a variable, it will display in a drop-down list the next time you encounter the same kind of parameter when typing a command. Variables are distinguished by their icons in the drop-down list (Variable icon).

Creating variables

There are two ways to create variables:

  1. You can create a variable as you type parameter values. When you come across a parameter for which you want to create a variable, right-click then click Insert Variable. A variable with a default name will automatically be added as the parameter value. The default name is just the parameter name with a unique number appended.
  2. You can also press the F8 key.

  3. If you know the type of variable you want to create, such as a feature class or coordinate system, you can use the Variable Manager to create the variable. Right-click anywhere in the command line section and then click Variables. In the Variable Manager, click Add to add a new variable.

Creating a variable with the Variable Manager

To open the Variable Manager, right-click anywhere in the command line section and click Variables.

To create a new variable, click the Add button and a new entry will be added to the list of variables. A name is chosen for you, such as Variable0. You can rename the variable at anytime by simply clicking on the cell.

The next step is to choose a Data Type for the variable. Click the Data Type cell and choose the data type from the drop-down list.

Learn more about determining data types

Adding a new variable

Finally, click the Value cell, and then click the Properties button that appears to the right of the cell, as shown below. The parameter control will then open, allowing you to enter the value.

Opening the parameter control to enter a value

Managing variables

You can add, delete, and rename variables as well as change their data type and values. These actions are done in the Variable Manager window. To open the Variable Manager window, right-click in the command line section, then click Variables.

Adding a variable

Click Add to add a new variable with the default name.


Click the cell containing the name you want to change and type a new name.


Click any cell of the variable you want to delete and click Delete.

Changing data type

Click the cell of the data type you want to change and select a new data type.

Changing the value

Click the cell of the value you want to change, then click the Properties button that appears on the right of the cell.

Saving variables

When variables are created in ArcCatalog, they are saved to the default geoprocessing settings when ArcCatalog is closed or when the settings are saved as the default. All applications, when started, use the default geoprocessing settings.

When you are switching between different applications or you are working on a certain project, you may want to save the variables you have specified to a file, so you can quickly load them when they are needed. Alternatively, you may save settings as the default, so all other applications will use them.

The way you save variables is by saving the geoprocessing settings. Along with variables, you'll also save the state of the ArcToolbox window and the state of the Environment Settings dialog box.

Learn more about geoprocessing settings

If you are working in ArcMap and you save the map document, all created variables will be saved with the map document, so you do not need to save settings in this case.

See Also