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3 ways to make fields ‘mandatory’ in ArcMap

“When performing data entry, how do I make sure editors are filling in all/specific fields?” - This is a common question we get in Tech Support. This blog covers three options in ArcMap to remind your editors to fill in fields, preventing editing errors right at the source!

One of the most time-consuming tasks in GIS is data quality control. You may waste a lot of time inspecting datasets for missing values in fields that are important to your dataset and also tracking down editors to re-enter data.

You might find yourself asking - “Is there a way to remind editors to fill in attribute values?”

There are several strategies to ensure data quality in ArcMap. This blog covers three potential ways in ArcMap to prompt editors to fill in important fields—using any of the strategies would help minimize editing errors right at the source.

Before mentioning the three strategies, I will first clarify some features in ArcMap that appear to make fields “mandatory”, but they don’t actually force users to input data.

“Required” Fields

When adding a new field, you may see an option to set a field as “required”. This option means that the field itself is required and can’t be deleted; it has no influence on attribute values. In this case, attribute values in the field can be empty.

“Allow NULL Values”

In the Field Properties, the option to “Allow NULL Values” does not actively force the editor to enter a value. Instead, it’s meant to be used with the “Default Values” property. When you set a field to not allow null values, if a default value isn’t specified (i.e. the value is 0 or blank), then when you create a feature, ArcMap it will automatically populate the field with a “default value” of blank or 0. It doesn’t force the editor to enter a specific value.

As promised, below are three options in ArcMap to remind editors to fill in attribute values.


The simplest method is to set your symbology to symbolize on any “NULL” values in the field that you want the editor to fill in. The feature symbology should be bright and a little obnoxious to catch the editor’s eye.

Symbology method: use bright colours and large sizes to catch the editor’s eye and remind them that something is missing.

Attribute Window Pop-Up

This second method opens the attribute window whenever the editor creates a new feature. This is a quick and easy way to actively remind editors to fill in attributes as they’re editing specific layers. In the Editor Toolbar Options—in the Attributes tab —you may choose to show the attribute window to open for all layers, or specific layers, when a feature is created.

Attribute Window Method: The Attribute window pop up can be set to appear in the Editor Options dialog box. You can choose to open the attribute window for all layers edited or just specific layers.

Attribute Assistant Add-In

The Attribute Assistant Add-In Toolbar (or Attribute Assistant) has a feature to prompt users to edit an attribute and has more customization options than the above method. The Attribute Assistant is included when you download any templates listed on the following Web page (it is not available as a stand-alone download).

Attribute Assistant Method:  The numbers correspond to each step (below) to set up the attribute assistant to prompt users to enter a value.

  1. Once you download a template package, find the “AttributeAssistant.esriAddin” file and double-click on the “Add-In” to install the Attribute Assistant. Once installed, add the toolbar to ArcMap (Customize > Toolbars > Attribute Assistant).
  2. In the template data downloaded, find and save the “DynamicValue” table in your own workspace and add it to the ArcMap document you’ll be editing in. The “DynamicValue” table is where you’ll create and manage editing rules (referred to as “Value Methods”).
  3. Start an editing session to edit the “DynamicValue” table.
  4. Create a new rule where the “Value Method” is set to PROMPT - this will prompt your user to fill in a specific attribute as they edit. You can configure this rule to run on specific layers and specific fields.

You can find more information about the Attribute Assistant here.

The above workarounds should help reduce the time and effort spent on inspecting data quality by enforcing data completeness during live edit sessions. If the above tricks don’t suit your workflows and you’d like to see a more robust out-of-the-box solution, head over to the ArcGIS Ideas Web site and vote for the following idea: Force a Validate before saving your edits.

ArcGIS Pro

The workarounds mentioned in this blog are specific to ArcMap—if you are looking for a solution in ArcGIS Pro, I highly recommend checking out Tasks, which allow you to set a specific workflow for the editor(s) to follow.

About the Author

Agatha Kung is an Associate GIS Analyst for Esri Canada. In her position, she is exploring the possibilities of various GIS roles at Esri Canada. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Geography from Simon Fraser University and an Advanced Diploma in GIS from British Columbia Institute of Technology. Agatha is passionate about GIS because it is applicable in a wide range of industries and is a powerful tool for effectively communicating complex issues. She has a particular interest in Web mapping - from the back-end design to the front-end map– because Web maps are a fun and interactive way to communicate information and engage audiences.

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