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ArcGIS Pro

Spatial Join in ArcGIS Pro

A Step-by-Step Guide to Performing a Spatial Join in ArcGIS Pro

Spatial joins are a powerful tool in the world of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). They allow users to combine data from two different spatial datasets based on their spatial relationship, rather than a common attribute. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of performing a spatial join in ArcGIS Pro.

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What is a Spatial Join?

A spatial join merges data from two sources based on their spatial relationship. It’s similar to an attribute join, but instead of using a common field, it uses a spatial relationship like “within,” “contains,” or “intersects.”


  • ArcGIS Pro software installed.
  • Two spatial datasets: one you wish to append data to (target) and one you wish to take data from (join).

Step-by-Step Guide:

Prepare Your Data:

  • Open ArcGIS Pro and load your two datasets.
  • Ensure both datasets are in the same coordinate system. If not, you may need to project one or both datasets.

Access the Spatial Join Tool:

  • Navigate to the ‘Analysis’ tab.
  • Click on ‘Tools’ to open the Geoprocessing pane.
  • In the search bar, type “Spatial Join” and select the tool when it appears.

Configure the Spatial Join:

  • Target Features: Select the dataset you want to append data to.
  • Join Features: Select the dataset you want to take data from.
  • Output Feature Class: Provide a name for the new dataset that will be created.
  • Join Operation: Choose between “One to One” or “One to Many.”
    • “One to One” joins one row from the target with one row from the join dataset.
    • “One to Many” creates multiple rows in the output for each matching join feature.
  • Match Option: This defines the spatial relationship. Options include:
    • Within: The target feature is entirely contained within the join feature.
    • Contains: The target feature entirely contains the join feature.
    • Intersect: The target feature shares any portion of its geometry with the join feature.
    • (And many more, depending on your specific needs.)

Run the Tool:

  • Once you’ve configured the spatial join, click ‘Run.’
  • After processing, a new layer will appear in your Contents pane. This is the result of the spatial join.

Review the Results:

  • Open the attribute table of the new layer.
  • You should see attributes from both the target and join datasets. If you chose “One to Many,” there might be duplicate entries for features with multiple matches.

Save Your Work:

  • Right-click on the new layer in the Contents pane.
  • Choose ‘Data’ and then ‘Export Features’ to save the spatial join results as a new feature class or shapefile.


Spatial joins are an essential tool for GIS professionals, allowing for the combination of datasets based on spatial relationships. With ArcGIS Pro, the process is streamlined and intuitive. Whether you’re analyzing environmental impacts, urban planning, or any other spatially relevant topic, mastering spatial joins will significantly enhance your GIS toolkit.

Frequently Asked Questions about Performing a Spatial Join in ArcGIS Pro

Basics and Understanding:

  1. What is the difference between a spatial join and an attribute join?
  • An attribute join combines datasets based on a common attribute or field in their tables. A spatial join, on the other hand, merges datasets based on their spatial relationships, such as overlap, proximity, or containment.
  1. Why would I need to perform a spatial join instead of a regular join?
  • A spatial join is necessary when the relationship between datasets is based on their geographic or spatial relationship rather than a shared attribute. For instance, if you want to know which city a particular set of coordinates falls into, a spatial join would be appropriate.

Data Preparation:

  1. How do I ensure that both datasets are in the same coordinate system?
  • In ArcGIS Pro, you can check the coordinate system of a dataset by right-clicking on the layer, selecting ‘Properties’, and then navigating to the ‘Source’ tab. If datasets have different coordinate systems, you can use the “Project” tool to change one dataset to match the other.
  1. What should I do if my datasets are in different coordinate systems?
  • If datasets are in different coordinate systems, they should be projected into a common system before performing a spatial join. Use the “Project” tool in ArcGIS Pro to achieve this.

Configuration and Settings:

  1. What are the different “Match Options” available, and how do I decide which one to use?
  • Match options define the spatial relationship for the join. Common options include “Within” (target is entirely within join feature), “Contains” (target completely contains join feature), and “Intersect” (target shares any part with join feature). The choice depends on the specific spatial relationship you’re interested in.
  1. How does the “One to Many” join operation differ in results from the “One to One” operation?
  • “One to One” joins a single row from the target to a single row from the join dataset. “One to Many” creates multiple rows in the output for each matching join feature. For instance, if one city contains multiple parks, a “One to Many” join would list that city multiple times, once for each park.
  1. Can I perform a spatial join on datasets of different geometry types, like points and polygons?
  • Yes, you can. For instance, you can join point data (like locations of trees) to polygon data (like city boundaries) to determine which city each tree is located in.

Output and Results:

  1. Why are there duplicate rows in my output after performing a “One to Many” join?
  • Duplicate rows appear because, for each feature in the target dataset, there are multiple matching features in the join dataset. Each match results in a separate row in the output.
  1. How can I filter or clean up the results to only show relevant data?
  • You can use the “Select By Attributes” tool to filter rows based on specific criteria. After filtering, the “Export Features” tool can be used to create a new, cleaned-up dataset.
  1. What should I do if the spatial join doesn’t produce the expected results?
  • Double-check the match option you’ve chosen and ensure datasets are in the same coordinate system. Also, inspect the datasets for errors or anomalies that might affect the join.

Performance and Troubleshooting:

  1. Why is the spatial join process taking so long?
  • The duration can be influenced by the size and complexity of the datasets, the specific match option chosen, and the computer’s processing power. Simplifying geometries or reducing dataset size can speed up the process.
  1. I received an error while trying to perform the spatial join. How can I resolve it?
  • Ensure datasets are in the same coordinate system, check for data corruption, and ensure you have sufficient memory and storage. If issues persist, consult ArcGIS documentation or forums for specific error codes.
  1. Are there any limitations to the size or complexity of datasets I can use for a spatial join in ArcGIS Pro?
  • While ArcGIS Pro can handle large datasets, performance might be impacted by the computer’s RAM, storage, and processing power. Extremely large or complex datasets might require more advanced hardware or optimization techniques.

Applications and Use Cases:

  1. In what scenarios or projects would a spatial join be particularly useful?
  • Spatial joins are useful in urban planning, environmental studies, transportation analysis, and any scenario where spatial relationships between datasets need to be analyzed.
  1. Can I use spatial joins to calculate distances or proximities between features?
  • While spatial joins can determine relationships like “within” or “contains,” for distance calculations, you’d typically use tools like “Near” or “Generate Near Table.”

Further Exploration:

  1. Are there advanced settings or configurations I can tweak for more complex spatial joins?
  • Yes, ArcGIS Pro offers advanced settings like field mapping, where you can control how attributes from join features are appended to target features.
  1. How can I automate the spatial join process if I need to do it frequently?
  • You can use ArcPy, ArcGIS Pro’s Python scripting library, to automate repetitive tasks, including spatial joins.
  1. Are there other tools or software outside of ArcGIS Pro that can perform spatial joins?
  • Yes, other GIS software like QGIS, GRASS GIS, and even some databases with spatial extensions (like PostGIS) can perform spatial joins.

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About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.

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