Troubleshooting for common problems

Below you will find hints for troubleshooting some of the most common problems GIS students encounter. Remember to address all GIS problems with a heuristic approach. Think through the problem, maybe jot down a couple of possible solutions, and then try them one at a time.

If you need instructions for common GIS tasks, click here.

Which of the following best applies to you? Use the links below to get help with common GIS problems.

I want to avoid problems.

ArcMap isn't responding, has crashed, or has generated an error.

My map is blank or some layers are missing and I DO have red exclamation points in my Table of Contents.

My map is blank or some layers are missing and I DO NOT have red exclamation points in my Table of Contents.

My map takes forever to refresh or redraw.

My problem isn't listed here.

How to avoid problems:

  • Shut down and restart your workstation before you begin working.
  • Save your project every few minutes. You can easily save by pressing ctrl+s.
  • Save a new version of your project every hour or two. One way to do this is to include a time or date in the name of the new file.
  • Be patient! Clicking too often can cause the software to crash. Give the machine time to respond to your clicks to avoid bogging down the machine. If the software seems to be frozen, walk away for a few minutes before giving up and restarting. Often, the machine simply needs time to process your last request and will respond again after a few minutes.
  • When editing layers, be sure to click Editor>Save Edits often.
  • Try turning off layers like basemaps, web services or aerials that take a long time to refresh or clipping layers that cover an unnecessarily large extent.
  • Keep your data folders organized, and remove unneeded files.
  • Make a new folder for every project, and save all your maps and data in that folder. Use the source tab in your map to check that all your data is in an appropriate place.

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If ArcMap or ArcCatalog stops responding, generates an error, or simply crashes:

  • Remember that your data layers are most likely unaffected by the crash. Most often the map document is the only file corrupted by a crash.
  • If possible, do not use the same ArcMap document (.mxd) again. Often, an .mxd document is corrupted by a crash and will continue to cause problems if you use it again. If possible, revert to an earlier version of the document or rebuild it from scratch. If reverting or rebuilding are not possible, save your .mxd document with a new name as soon as possible and you may be able to avert additional crashes by proceeding slowly.
  • If you continue to have problems with the program, ask for help in troubleshooting.

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If you open your map and it is missing data layers and has small red exclamation points next to a layer in the table of contents:

If you open a map document where links to data are broken, your layers will not draw in your map and the layers will have small red exclamation points next to them in the Table of Contents. You can repair the map IF you still have the data layers available. Here are the steps you should take.

1. Copy all the data to the proper folder using Windows Explorer, ArcCatalog, or the export data function in ArcMap. Remember, most GIS layers consist of multiple files!

2. In your broken ArcMap document, click on the red exclamation point next to the missing layer in the Table of Contents.

3. Browse to the layer in the project folder, click on it, and choose add.

4. The red exclamation mark should disappear. If the layer fails to draw, try clicking the refresh button to redraw the map.

5. Save relative path names: In ArcMap, choose File> Map Document Properties> Data Source Options. In the Data Source Options window, choose Store relative path names. Click OK.

5. Save your map in your project folder.

6. Now you can move the map by moving the entire project folder.

7. Click here to learn how to avoid this problem in the future.

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If the map takes a very long time to refresh/ redraw:

There are two common reasons that maps take an inordinate amount of time to redraw: too many features or working with network layers such as basemaps or map services.

Most often a map redraws slowly when there is at least one layer with a large number of features or lots of detail in your map or when there are too many layers in your map. To solve this problem, you can...

* remove any unnecessary layers from your map, or
* turn off large layers, basemaps or web map services while you work on your map, or
* clip layers that cover an unnecessarily large extent.

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If your map is blank or some or all of your layers do not appear:

There are several reasons why your map window may be blank or some layers will not appear on your map, even if the layers are listed in the Table of Contents. The following steps will determine what the problem is and help you fix it:

1. You may simply need to refresh your map. Click the refresh button the refresh button is in the lower left corner of the map window, third button from the left on the bottom left corner of your map window to see if this is the case. If this doesn't solve your problem, go to the next step...

2. Your data layers may not be turned on or are covering each other. Make sure the check boxes next to the layers in the Table of Contents are on. If necessary drag layers to the top of the Table of Contents to make sure they are not being obscured by other layers. If this doesn't solve your problem, go to the next step...

3. You may be zoomed way in or out and are therefore unable to see the features in your map. Or your layers may have no features in the current extent. To fix this problem, if you are in data view click the full extent button Full extent button on the main tool bar. If you are in layout view click the whole page button Zoom to full page button is on the layout toolbar. If this doesn't solve your problem, go to the next step...

4. If you are in Layout View and only your data frame outlines appear with no layers present, you may be in Draft Mode, which allows you to move data frames around in your layout without waiting for the data frames to refresh after each move. If you are in Layout View, to determine if this is the problem, click on the Toggle Draft Mode button Draft mode button is on the far right end of the layout toolbar on the Layout Tools toolbar. Your map should appear. If this doesn't solve your problem or you are not in Layout View, go to the next step...

5. Links to your data layers may be broken. To determine if this is the problem, look for red exclamation points in your Table of Contents. If you have red exclamation points, click here to learn how to fix this problem. If you don't have red exclamation points, go to the next step...

6. The data layers in your map may be drawing in different projections or coordinate systems and cannot be viewed together. To determine if this is your problem, first click on the full extent button Full extent is on the main toolbar with the zoom tools. If your map still seems to be blank, right click on one of the layers in your Table of Contents and choose Zoom to Layer. If this layer appears in your map, you probably have a problem with projections or coordinate systems. To solve this problem, ask for help from your instructor. If projections or coordinate systems are not your problem, go to the next step...

7. The layers in your map may be set to disappear at certain scales. To determine if this is your problem, right click on a missing layer in the Table of Contents and choose Properties. Click on the General tab. Under Scale Range, make sure that Show Layer at All Scales is selected and click OK. If this doesn't solve your problem, go to the next step...

8. If none of the above has addressed your problem, you are most likely the victim of one of ArcMap's mysterious behaviors in which, for no apparent reason, your layers stop appearing in your map or refuse to appear at a particular scale range regardless of the settings in the layer properties. To solve this problem, you may want to ask your instructor for help, but if you want to soldier on alone you can try...

a. Avoiding the scale range in question, if possible,
b. Reverting to an earlier version of your map, if available, or
c. Rebuilding your map from scratch.

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If your problem isn't listed here:

There are a couple of places to look for help with many problems you may have with ArcMap.

First, try looking up the operation or process you are looking for in ArcMap's Help Menu. In ArcMap, click Help>ArcGIS Desktop Help. You can browse the contents or index for the appropriate category, or use the search tab to enter key terms.

If that doesn't help, try looking in your textbook. You can use the table of contents to find the appropriate chapter, or you can look up key words in the index.

Also, if we have covered the operation in question in class, you may find a video on Moodle.

Finally, you can ask your instructor, service center staff, or your classmates for help. If you are working off campus, you can call the lab at 255-1214.

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