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Licensed File Geodatabases: A secure way to share your data

We’re used to sharing our data through Map Packages and Tile Packages, but have you wanted to add more security to ensure your data is protected? Newly introduced in ArcGIS for Desktop 10.3, the Licensed File Geodatabase is a great alternative for sharing your data, with the added benefits of adding expiration dates and preventing the exportation of your data.

There often comes a time when you need to send your data and you need to add access restrictions. The Licensed File Geodatabase—a new capability introduced with ArcGIS for Desktop 10.3—is a perfect alternative to Map Packages and Tile Packages as a means of sending your data. The Licensed File Geodatabase is just like any other file geodatabase you‘re familiar working with; however, it has the added capabilities of specifying  an expiration date to your data, as well as preventing users to export your data.

The Licensed File Geodatabase is an awesome way of reinforcing use agreements. Use agreements outline how long someone can use the data before they must remove it from their computers. You can reinforce the use agreement by specifically setting the expiration date of the data, ensuring the user will be prevented from using the data after the specified date. Here are some other scenarios where this new capability can be beneficial:

Taking Out Data from the Library

While in school, I remember signing contracts to ensure I would no longer use the data I signed out after completing my projects. The contract detailed the data I would have to remove from my external storage devices to ensure I would stop using it after a specified date. Now, using the Licensed File Geodatabase, a librarian can just set an expiration date to ensure future students, or any user who signs out data, will no longer have access to the data after the library due date.

Data Validity

You may come across a situation where the data you’re sending will no longer be valid after a certain number of months or years. For example, let’s use the idea that certain logging roads within a temporary road network file will no longer be valid after three years. When I send the user my road network in the Licensed File Geodatabase, I can set a three-year expiration date to remind the user that the data they‘re using is no longer valid and they should contact me to request an updated version.

Working with Sensitive Data

There may come a time when you’re working on a project and you would prefer your  sensitive data is used for viewing purposes only. The Licensed File Geodatabase allows you to specify if the user has the ability to export your data, so you can limit users to viewing your data only. In this scenario, users will be able to view the geodatabase’s feature class attributes. This differs from Tile Packages , which  are essentially just snapshots of your data.

So How Do I Create a Licensed File Geodatabase?

The process of creating and configuring a Licensed File Geodatabase is straightforward. Everything you need can be found within  ArcToolbox in ArcGIS for Desktop.  

Snapshot of the File Geodatabase toolkit within the Data Mangement Tools toolbox.

You begin by first using the Generate Licensed File Geodatabase tool. This tool will create a license definition file that will define and restrict access to the contents within your File Geodatabase, as well as a Licensed File Geodatabase—essentially a modified copy of your  File Geodatabase.

Snapshot of the Generate Licensed File Geodatabase tool dialog box with inputs and outputs ready to run.

Snapshot of the ArcCatalog window displaying the original File Geodatabase, Zion.gdb and the newly Licensed File Geodatabase, Zion_Protected.gdb.

After the protected geodatabase is created, you won’t be able access any feature classes within the geodatabase. If you try to import a feature class, you’ll receive the following error message:

Snapshot of error message when importing protected data to ArcMap.

Using the Generate File Geodatabase License tool, the license file needed to gain access to the protected contents is now created. Within this tool’s dialog box, you can set restrictions to deny the export of your features, as well as an expiration date.

Snapshot of the Generate File Geodatabase License tool dialog box.

Once the license file is generated, close ArcGIS for Desktop and add the license using the ArcGIS Administrator. Once the data license is added, the Licensed File Geodatabase is ready to use!  You can refer to this guide if you're unfamiliar with adding and removing data licenses with ArcGIS Administrator.

You can imagine how the process of creating the Licensed File Geodatabase works by comparing it to accessing a treasure chest. We start protecting the treasure chest by adding a lock to it (Generate Licensed File Geodatabase). Once the lock is on the chest, the only way anyone can get in is by using the right key (the License). You create a key to allow access to the treasure inside (Generate File Geodatabase License).  

Before you start exploring this new capability, there are some considerations you should note:

  • You can't create a Licensed File Geodatabase on any geodatabase created earlier than version 10.1.
  • You're unable to edit data within the Licensed File Geodatabase, so this is best used for any data that's at its final stage, and will not require further editing.
  • Once the geodatabase is licensed, you can't revert it back to its unlicensed format.

Try it out and take sharing your data to another level!

Further Reading

This post was modifed on Feb. 8, 2016.

About the Author

Jasmine Sohal is a GIS Analyst for Esri Canada, holding an Honours Bachelor of Science degree from McMaster University and a post-graduate GIS Applications Specialist certificate from Sir Sandford Fleming College. As a kid, Jasmine refrained from going to new places until she drew a map of how she would get from Point A to Point B. After taking her first Introduction to GIS course at McMaster University, Jasmine knew right away where her passion lay. Now, as a self-proclaimed Geogeek, she is always inspired to visualize situations spatially and applies GIS anywhere she can. In her spare time, Jasmine is a discoverer; for good hiking trails and restaurants, that is. She is always going out to discover beautiful landscapes during her hiking adventures around the province. Off the trails, you can find her discovering new restaurants to dine at. With her open mind and willingness to adapt and learn, Jasmine is excited to see what her future in GIS holds for her.

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