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Esri Subtypes 101

October 1, 2015 — Brian Higgins

This post is a long distance dedication that goes all the way from Philadelphia, PA to Jacksonville, FL.  On August 11, 2015, Keith writes:

“Good stuff Brian. It appears that you now have domain over Esri domains. It may be beneficial to next discuss Esri subtypes as a subtype of subjects on data integrity. Someone stop me…please.”

So, Keith, here is your long distance dedication……

A subtype is the segregation of a feature class or related object based upon a single field.  Subtypes may offer a productivity enhancement by providing different default values and/or domains based upon the specified subtype.  This limits the amount of data entry required (or what may be entered) which reduces error and maximizes consistency.

It should be noted that subtypes do not need to be created to produce unique symbology.  I have seen clients create subtypes for this sole purpose which is not justification enough.   OOTB ArcMap symbol functionality is easily conducted and described in a previous blog post.

So….How does one create a subtype?


  • Within ArcCatalog, go to ArcGIS Properties of a feature class (or object), and either create or verify the availability on an integer (short or long) field (Figure 1).  In this example, we have a pole layer that was created for ArcGIS Online field collection with an acceptable Material field.

Figure 1.  Verification of Acceptable Integer Field

  • Switch to the Subtypes tab (Figure 2), and choose the desired integer field (i.e. Material).

Figure 2. Subtype Creation

  • Enter subtype values.  Specify unique integers (i.e. 1-3) for the Code and applicable descriptions (i.e. Wood, Metal, and Concrete) for each subtype row.
  • Choose a default subtype.
  • As much as feasible, specify a subtype-specific default value(s) and/or domains.
  • Click the Apply button.
Thanks, Keith, for the suggestion!

In case one was born after the 80’s, this post is a bad imitation of the late, great Casey Kasem (1932-2014).  I thoroughly enjoyed his radio show American Top 40 and the cartoon Scooby-Doo (he was the voice of Shaggy).

“Now on with the count down.”

Figure 4.  Casey Kasem

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Brian Higgins

Brian Higgins is a Senior Consultant at the Utility & Telecommunications GIS consulting company SSP Innovations in Centennial, Colorado.  He is a certified Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) with 22 years of experience in the design and development of GIS systems for the management of municipal infrastructure.


    • Thanks, Brandon!

      I know we were moving fast in the subtyping of your Copper Cable feature class into types: CoAxial, Unshielded Twisted Pair, and Shielded Twisted Pair. We did this for the sole purpose using the same field and pulling from different domains. Just an efficient way to work.

      Glad this provided some background. Thanks again for your comment!

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