This post covers some of the basics of the Tools toolbar on the ArcMap window, an unsung heros of using the application.

The GIS Blog has focused on a lot of technical uses of GIS, but sometimes just making your way around in ArcMap can be a challenge.  So in this post we’ll look at some of the basic tools available on the Tools toolbar.  When you start up ArcMap you usually see this in the upper left-hand corner:


Here you’ll find the basic tools for moving around and carrying out common tasks.  There are two toolbars displayed above – the Standard toolbar and the Tools toolbar – and the Menus across the top.  We’ll focus on the Tools toolbar in this post.


The first six tools (from the left) are about moving around on your map.  The zoom tools, Zoom, allow you to draw a box around an area you want to zoom into or out of.  (You can also use the wheel of your mouse to zoom in and out.)   For instance, if you wanted to zoom in to a portion of your map, left-click and hold on one of the corners and draw a box with your mouse.  When you release, the view will zoom in to that area.

To pan around, click the pan tool, Pan, click and hold somewhere on the map and then drag it to where you want to be.

Zoom to Full Extent, FullExtent, will zoom out to the point where you can see the extent of all your data.  If you’ve lost track of where you are, or zoomed in so far that you can’t see anything, this button is a bit of a safety line that gets you back to somewhere familiar.

The fixed zoom in/out tools, FixedZoom, will zoom in or out by a fixed amount – how much it does depends on how extensive your data layers are.

The Go To Extents buttons, Extent, let you return to previous or next extents, so if you’ve zoomed in on an area and want to go back out to where you just were, click the left Go To Previous Extent button and back you’ll go.  These can be quite handy if you doing a lot of zooming in or out a lot, say when you’re georeferencing an image.

Next up is the Select Feature button, Select, which, as the name implies, allows you to select (vector) features on your map.  By default, this works by just clicking on a feature, but if you expand the drop-d0wn menu you’ll see you have some more options to select: by rectangle, polygon, lasso, circle or line.  The only tricky bit about this one is that if you got other layers in the same place they may also get selected, making for a messy map.  There is a work around though – at the top of the Table of Contents, click the List by Selection button, ListBySelection, right-click on the layer you want to only select, and choose “Make this the only selectable layer”.

Once you’ve selected features the Clear Selected Features button, ClearSelected, becomes active.  When you click on this ALL the selected features on the map will be unselected.  Often a handy thing to do before you run a tool (if you’ve got any features selected before you run a geoprocessing tools, it will only work with those features – sometimes you want to do this, other times you’re just creating problems for yourself).

Select Elements, SelectElements, is next.  More often than not I use this button to turn other buttons off, like Zoom or Pan.  When you’re editing, this tool can be used to select things on the map to be edited (vertices, line segments).

The Identify tool, Identify, can actually be quite handy.  If you click on a feature using this tool,  you get a sneak peak at the attribute table just for that feature.  Below I’ve clicked on a zoning layer for Christchurch and what you’re seeing are the attribute values just for the feature I clicked on, so it saves you the trouble of selecting by attribute and then opening up the table.


I’ll admit to not using the next tools very much, Hyperlinks.  The first, Hyperlink, allows you to create a link on your map and when a user clicks on it, they are taken to a website in a browser.  With the second, HTML Popup,  you can set up some formatting in your attribute table and then when a feature is clicked, the HTML content pops up in a window of its own.

The measure tool, Measure, is very handy.  Measure distances or areas using this one by drawing lines or polygons on top of your map.  Or click on a feature and get its area and perimeter.  Note also that you can use different measurement types.  These are temporary measurements that disappear when you close the Measure window.

Find, Find, lets you search for different features in your (vector) layers.

Find Routes, Routes, will let you do some routing if you’ve got some line layers on your map.  This is network analysis and really deserves more discussion.  If you’re in a hurry, I’d use the Directions feature of Google Maps.

If you want to find a particular location by using its coordinates, use the Go To XY tool, GoToXY.  You could use Latitude and Longitude or Eastings and Northings.  Open the window and add in your X and Y coordinates and you’ll be taken to that point on the map:


Once there you can click the Add Point and it will leave a permanent mark there.  The dropdown mean in the centre allows you to set different measurement systems.

The Time Slider tool, TimeSlider, works if you got “time-aware” data, i.e. data that has a timestamp.  Take, for example, points in a layer that showed the location of a tropical cyclone over time.  With a time attribute you could turn on the time slider and animate how the cyclone has moved.

Last and certainly not least, the Create Viewer Window tool, CreateViewerWindow, creates a mini map window within your map window that you can zoom in and out or pan around in:


Note that if you click the black right area, it switches to a mini-magnifying glass that you can move around your map.  Note the scale window where you can specifically set the scale of the data in the window, either be selecting from a set of pre-set scales or by typing in your own scale directly into the window.

So that’s the Tools toolbar.  In another post we’ll look at the Standard toolbar and the Menus.