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Mapping out the perfect journey with ArcGIS Network Analyst

Learn how to get from point A to point B with ArcGIS Network Analyst route solver.

Are you tired of struggling to send deliveries across the country, wasting valuable time and money on inefficient routes? Or are you looking to plan a road trip and want to ensure that you take the most scenic and efficient path possible? Look no further! With the powerful tools of ArcGIS Network Analyst, you can easily tackle even the most complex routing problems and plan your travels like a true pro. 

But what is ArcGIS Network Analyst? It's a powerful ArcGIS Pro extension that allows you to create network datasets of interconnected features, such as roads, railways, or even air travel routes. By using Network Analyst's route solver, you can quickly generate the best routes based on your needs. 

So, let's take a closer look at how Network Analyst's route solver can help you plan your next adventure! We'll use the example of a flight route between Flin Flon in Manitoba and Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador. Do not worry, there is no need for a pilot's license! We'll show you how to create a flight route that meets your needs, using ArcGIS Network Analyst's powerful tools. 

You can download the data used and follow along.  

Data preprocessing: 

Are you ready to embark on a journey with our data? Buckle up, because the first step is to gather all the necessary information! For this analysis, we're going to use Canadian airports and the flight paths between them. The network dataset is the foundation of our journey, so it's crucial to make sure it's accurate and complete. 

To achieve this, we'll use topology, a set of rules that define how geographic features are related to each other. By performing topological checks on our data, we can avoid issues such as disconnected or overlapping features, gaps in coverage, and other errors that could throw off our routing results. 

Since we're flying between known airport locations, we need to ensure that every flight path ends at an airport. Using the topology rule "Endpoint Must Be Covered By" will check if every route line is covered by an airport at each end. This check will result in a point validation layer that highlights the endpoints that are not connected to airports: 

(1) a diagram showing three linear routes connecting plane icons representing airports. One of the routes is complete in that there is an airport at the end of the line while two are incomplete with only one end covered by an airport.   (2) the same diagram is shown with the three routes and plane icons. Now there is red circle covering the ends that were missing airports previously, showing topology errors.

Once validated the topology rule “Endpoint Must Be Covered” will show any route lines not connected to an airport as an error.  

Tip: If you are running into issues creating topology make sure your data is in a Feature Dataset

By editing any error features and repairing connectivity issues in our data, we can be confident that there are no broken paths along our route. So, let's get to it and make sure our data is ready for takeoff! 

More of a visual learner? Don't worry, you can see how this is in the following video: 

VIDEO: Topology in ArcGIS Pro

Building a Network: 

Creating a network dataset may sound intimidating, but it's a breeze! Since we've already gathered and cleaned our data, we simply need to add a new network dataset to our geodatabase. 

To do this, right-click on the feature dataset and select "Add New Network Dataset." Give it a name, select your layers, and voila! We're ready to start building. 

Screen recording of right clicking on the feature dataset in the catalog pane and selecting the option “Add new Network Dataset.” 

Create network datasets in your feature dataset.  

Once we've created our new network dataset, we can quickly and easily build it by right-clicking on it in the table of contents and selecting Build. Now we have our very own flight network dataset, primed and ready for analysis. 

Solving the route: 

It's time to put our data to work and solve the route! Start by selecting the Network Analyst dropdown in the Workflows section of the Analysis ribbon. Set the data source to the network dataset we created earlier and select the Route option. 

To tell the route solver where we're starting and ending, we need to import stops. In our case, we'll filter the data to only include the Flin Flon and Goose Bay airports using a definition query on the Canadian airports layer. Then, we can easily select these two locations as our stops. You could also create a new feature layer containing only these two points.  

A screen capture of the Add Locations tool UI (User Interface) in ArcGIS Pro showing the Canadian Airports layer selected as the Input Locations value. Beneath the input locations, there is a notification warning the user that “The input has a filter. Records to be processed: 2.”

When there is a definition query applied to the layer only those features displayed on the map will be included as a part of the input features.  


Our stops are in and automatically ordered for us, with Flin Flon as our starting point (labeled 1) and Goose Bay as our destination (labeled 2). If you need to change the order of your stops, you can easily do this in the sequence field of the stops attribute table. 

A screen capture of ArcGIS Pro showing the Stops feature that has been populated by the import stops tool. The stops are labels 1 (Flin Flon Airport) and 2 (Goose Bay Airport) showing their order in the route sequence. The attribute table is opened for the feature.

The stops are automatically assigned a sequence value that can be changed in the attribute table.  

Next, we'll apply our travel settings. Since we'll be traversing across time zones, we'll set our sequence to preserve first stop. You can learn more about other sequence options, as well as settings not used in this analysis, including barriers, in the tool documentation

With all our pre-flight checks complete, we're ready for liftoff! Hit the Run button and watch as the final route is generated. 

Screen capture of the completed route in ArcGIS Pro showing a continuous path from Flin Flon airport on the far west to Winnipeg/James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, then Montreal/ Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, next to Wabush Airport (in Labrador City), and finally completing the route in Goose Bay Airport. 

The final route is completed and highlighted on the map. 

Congratulations, after departing Flin Flon flying through Winnipeg, Montreal and Labrador City we finally landed at Goose Bay airport! In just a few minutes, we were able to build an accurate network dataset and create a route across the nation. I'm excited to see how you'll use these tools to map your own journeys. 

To review and follow along with the route building workflow check out this GeoSnap: 

VIDEO: Finding Routes with Network Analyst in ArcGIS Pro 

About the Author

Maggie Samson is a Technical Solutions Specialist at Esri Canada. She focuses on sharing the endless possibilities with Esri technology by creating demonstration resources. Maggie discovered her love of maps after getting lost on family road trips a few too many times. While at the University of Guelph studying geography, she was introduced to Esri's ArcGIS Desktop products and the world of digital mapping. This led her to Fleming College for a postgraduate diploma in GIS. In her free time, she likes to go on an adventure with her dog—and they do not get lost.

Profile Photo of Maggie Samson