Using Python to close an ArcMap map document down

This article isn’t particularly mainstream but at the recent Esri UK user conference I was asked the following question:

How do I close down an open ArcMap map document through a Python script? If I have a number of map documents open I just want a particular map document to close and leave all of the other ones open….

“Hmmmmm – good question. Email me and I will see what I can think of…”

Well the customer emailed earlier this week asking the same question. How am I going to solve this?

Normally I might have a look in the excellent ArcGIS for Desktop help for ArcPy but there was nothing there as this is really not an ArcPy problem.

An internet search found that there were a number of others who had asked the same question but did not really receive a satisfactory reply.

For example:

Use the os.system(“TASKKILL /F /IM ArcMap.exe”)

Which was suggested in this thread

Or use the Python library psutil to get a list of processes and if the name of a process (Arcmap.exe) is found then stop it using the terminate() method which was suggested on this thread

There are countless others asking pretty much the same sort of thing (not necessarily to do with a map document) on

As you can imagine both options will close all open instances of ArcMap.

But what is you wanted to be a little more choosy about which instance of ArcMap you wanted to close down? What about if you wanted to close ArcMap down based upon the name of its open map document?


Using the psutil Python module

The answer to this is to use the Python module psutil. This module is used to obtain information from running processes – basically anything you have running in Task Manager can be obtained using this module, and a whole lot more.

It is not part of Python’s Standard Library which means you will need to download it and install it onto your machine which you want to run the script on. Thankfully it is incredibly easy to do this as it is part of the Python Package Index (PyPI) repository and modules found here can be installed easily as long as you have an internet connection.

Let’s go and install the psutil

1: Open up a command line prompt

2: At the command prompt, Change Directory (CD) into your Python \Scripts directory, for example:

cd C:\Python27\ArcGISx6410.3\Scripts

Inside this folder are a number of python utility scripts – the one we want to use is pip.exe as this will install the named module within the PyPI repository.

3: At the command prompt type in:

pip.exe install psutil

and press <return>

This will start to install psutil into your Python \Site-Packages folder. As it installs you will see messages along the lines of:

Downloading psutil-4.3.0-cp27-none-win_amd64.whl (169kB)

100% |################################| 172kB 1.9MB/s

Installing collected packages: psutil

Successfully installed psutil-4.3.0

And that is all you have to do to install it! You can now import the module into your script and take advantage of its functionality.

Information about psutil can be found here:

It is well documented and the nice thing about such an unfamiliar (to me) module is that it contains many ‘easy to follow’ samples. If only all Python modules were as well documented….


Let’s consider this problem….

I have a number of ArcMap map documents open and part of my workflow is to close a particular map document (Editing.mxd) once I have made some changes to using ArcPy functionality.

Inspecting the Task Manager shows that a number of ArcMap applications are open and each application has its own process ID (View menu > Select Columns and tick PID (Process Identifier) )


But which one is the Editing.mxd process? Task Manager can not provide that level of information.

This is where the psutil module comes in handy. This can be used to close down the Editing.mxd map document.

Let’s write some code to do this:

1: Import psutil and get a list of process IDs

mxdName = "Editing.mxd"
import psutil
pidList = psutil.pids()

2: Process the PID list to obtain the corresponding operating system process and get its name

for pidID in pidList:
  process = psutil.Process(pidID)
  pidName =

3: Find the ArcMap processes and get their memory maps.

  if (pidName == "ArcMap.exe"):
    tMemMaps = process.memory_maps()

The memory_maps() method retrieves information about the processes (ArcMap.exe) as a Python list of tuples.

The information contained in the list of tuples can be inspected using a for .. in loop and one of the items contained within it is the name (and location) of the current ArcMap object which is being processed, for example,  Editing.mxd.


4: Parse each memory map, obtain path information and see if the desired mxd is present

      for eachMemMap in tMemMaps:
        mxdPresent = eachMemMap[0].find(mxdName)

The find() method belongs on the string object and returns the index number at which the value contained in mxdName (i.e. Editing.mxd) is found.

5: If the index number is greater than -1 kill the process

        if mxdPresent > -1:
          process.kill()   # Close the desired ArcMap

If the string is not found then a value of -1 is returned from the find() method. If the number is greater than -1 then the map document name is the one we want to close, so let’s kill the process. The break statement is there as it is assumed there is only one instance of the map document called Editing.mxd open so there is no point processing any other process’ memory maps.

The finished script is displayed below:

mxdName = "Editing.mxd"
import psutil
pidList = psutil.pids()

for pidID in pidList:
    process = psutil.Process(pidID)
    pidName =
    if (pidName == "ArcMap.exe"):   # Process only the
                                    # ArcMap.exe
        #Get the process memory map
        tMemMaps = process.memory_maps() # A list of
                                         # tuples
        for eachMemMap in tMemMaps:
            mxdPresent = eachMemMap[0].find(mxdName)
            if mxdPresent > -1:
                process.kill()      # Close the desired
                                    # ArcMap process
print(mxdName + " has been closed down")

It is available in GitHub at:


Let’s go Pro!

Saying that though, this script will not work with ArcGIS Pro – it’s a bit of a Misfire.

Yes – there is an ArcGISPro.exe process which can be seen in Task Manager and the process does have a memory map but within the memory map there is no reference to the currently opened map project (.aprx file).

This isn’t the end of the world though as you can only ever have one instance of ArcGIS Pro running. If you try and launch another ArcGIS Pro project while one is already open then this is the message which will be displayed:


In which case you can use the solution as suggested in one of the GeoNet posts, with a very slight amendment:

import os
os.system(“TASKKILL /F /IM ArcGISPro.exe”)

And there you have it! The Python module psutil is a pretty useful module if you want to see what is associated with a particular process. I am thinking of this module as the Python equivalent of Sysinternals very handy “Process Explorer” application.

I think I have only really scratched the surface of this module and it is one I suspect I will use more in the future.

Useful links
Python Standard Library

Python Package Index (PyPI) repository

psutil module homepage

Sysinternals Process Explorer

Working with script templates in PyScripter

In a previous post I went over some PyScripter configuration which the attendees to the “Introduction to Geoprocessing Scripts using Python” course carry out. These things include adding line numbers to a script and making sure full code completion was available for the ArcPy site package.

This article will explain how to create script templates – scripts with ready to go code. This is another nice feature of PyScripter.

Script templates can be used to provide a new script with code already stubbed out such as:

  • Add frequent comments.
  • Import commonly used modules / site packages.
  • Provide a structure for runtime error handling and log file generation.

An example of a script template is shown below:

Default Script Template

This default code appears when you press the New Python Module button NewButton or if you go to the File menu and then choose New > New Python Module.

So how do you change this code template?

By default you are provided with the following code (plus comments):


This can be easily changed by:

1: Select from the Tools menu > Options > File Templates menu item which will display the File Templates dialog box.

This dialog contains a number of different types of templates which you can use in case if you ever need to create an XML or HTML document within PyScripter.

2: Under Name, choose Python Script.

3: In the File Template section locate the Template area.


This is where you can add your template code which will appear when you create a new script module.

You might want to include the following:

  • Comments
  • import statements
  • Error handling and logging

**NB** Please be aware that when you update this template there is no way of regaining the original code so it might be a good idea to copy the code into a file just in case….

For example:

# Name:        $[ActiveDoc-Name]
# Purpose:
# Author:      $[UserName]
# Created:     $[DateTime-'DD/MM/YYYY'-DateFormat]
import arcpy, os, sys
    # Add implementation here
    arcpy.env.workspace = &amp;amp;quot;&amp;amp;quot;
except arcpy.ExecuteError():
    # Capture GP error
    print (arcpy.GetMessages(2))
except Exception as e:
    # Capture general Python error
    print (e)

Notice that in the comments part of the template code there are a number of $[variable] entries, for example $[UserName]. You can probably guess that these custom parameters are similar to inline variables – you can find more information about these parameters via Help > PyScripter > Parameters help documentation.

4: Press the Update UpdateButton button to save your updated code back to the template.

5: Press the OK button


When you press the New NewButton button your new module will have your updated template code.

Can I create multiple script templates?

Yes! You can choose from a list of code templates which you have created.

So “How do I create these other templates?

Creating a new script template is pretty easy. It is all achieved, once again, via the File Template dialog – the same dialog which you used a moment ago to change the default code template.


1: From the Tools menu select Options > File Templates menu item.

This will display the File Templates dialog box.

2: Click on Python Script in the Name section to display the template code for a new Python module.


This is the code which is displayed when you create a new module via the New NewButton button or File menu > New > New Python Module menu item.

3: In the Name text box type in a new name for your new template, for example GPScriptTemplate.

Note that your name can not have any spaces within it.

4: Press the Add AddButton button

This will add your new template to the bottom of the template list.

5: Add your template code by amending what is already there or by writing your own code.

6: Once you have added your code press the Update UpdateButton button to save your changes to the template.

7: Press the Up UpButton button to move your template up the template list so all the all the Python scripts are grouped together.

8: Press the OK button to commit your changes and close the dialog.


To choose from a list of code templates you have created you should:

1: Go to the File menu choose New > New File. This will display the New File dialog box.

2: Under Categories, choose Python and you will see your named template, for example GPScriptTemplate


3: Press the Create button and your code contained in the template will be added to your newly created script module.


So, if you use PyScripter, this could be Heaven for Everyone – it’s worth giving them a go. Script templates can make writing your code just that little bit quicker, especially if you tend to write the same code over and over again.

How do I specify optional arguments in a geoprocessing tool?

Here is another common question I get asked quite a bit within the “Introduction to geoprocessing scripts using Python” course:

When I am calling a geoprocessing tool from within arcpy how can I specify an optional argument?

So, when running a geoprocessing tool within your script you must supply all mandatory arguments, at the very least for the tool to run. You can also supply additional optional arguments if you need to. Traditionally you had to make sure that these optional arguments were supplied in a strict order as stipulated by the tool’s syntax.

Let’s have a look at the Make Feature Layer tool found in the Data Management Toolbox. This is a useful tool that allows you to create a feature layer which can then be used in further geoprocessing tools such as Select Layer By Location. It also has a few optional arguments which you can specify.

Looking at the help for the tool you can see that it is made up of mandatory arguments (arguments which must be specified at the very least for the tool to begin execution), and optional arguments, specified by curly brace brackets {}.


MakeFeatureLayer_management (in_features, out_layer, {where_clause}, {workspace}, {field_info})

There are times when I would like to use the field_info optional parameter as I might wish to rename an attribute field found in my input layer to a new attribute field in my resulting feature layer. As you can see from looking at the tool’s syntax, the field_info parameter is the fifth argument in the tool’s parameter list and the third optional parameter.

So how do you make sure that the optional field_info parameter is passed into the tool at its correct position?

There are two main ways in achieving this:

1: Maintain order

The first way of specifying that I wish to use the field_info parameter is by creating placeholders for the previous unrequired optional arguments. The placeholders can be one of the following: an empty set of quotation marks (“”), a hash sign inside of a string (“#”) or by using the None type.

For example:

fldInfo = arcpy.FldInfo()
fldInfo.AddField("PC", "PostCode", "VISIBLE", "NONE")

The disadvantages of this approach is that additional code is required to display these placeholders and in a tool which has many optional parameters (for example Topo to Raster in the Spatial Analyst toolbox) it is quite easy to lose one’s position within the argument list.

2: Use keyword arguments

A much neater way of overcoming the specifying of the placeholders is to only include the optional arguments you want by fully qualifying the optional argument with its parameter name, for example:

field_info = fldInfo

The syntax for the Make Feature Layer tool would now read:

                                  field_info = fldInfo)

The advantages of this approach are that:

1: You are only including the optional arguments within the tool’s argument list

2: It is easier to see what arguments are included in the argument list

3: Your code is much more readable

Please note that this notation can only be used if you are an ArcGIS for Desktop 10.1 user, or above. If you are working with ArcGIS for Desktop 10.0 then you will have to use the notation in which you specify placeholders.

and there you have it!

** EDIT ** Many thanks to Jason Scheirer ( @jasonscheirer ) for pointing out a previous mistake in this post.

Working with distance (linear) units in a geoprocessing script

In this article I will answer another common question I am often asked in class:

“When, for example, I want to perform a buffer what linear units are available and where can I get a definitive list of them?

There are many geoprocessing tools which allow to specify some kind of distance unit as an input into the tool. These distance units are usually associated with the linear unit data type. Examples of these tools include Buffer, Generate Near Table, Grid Index Features, to name but a few. In fact the more you look the more you realise that this tool input is really quite common.

Using distance (linear) units in a geoprocessing tool is straight-forwards. Let’s use the trusty Buffer tool as an example:


In the above example we are buffering the Roads layer to a distance of 100. But is this 100 metres? 100 feet? Or 100 miles? It all depends upon the linear unit of the input dataset’s coordinate system. In the United Kingdom the coordinate system tends to be British National Grid whose unit of measurement is the metre so the Roads layer will be buffered to 100 metres.

A common question I get asked is:

“What about if I wanted to buffer the roads to 100 feet? How would I do that?”

In the Buffer tool dialog this pretty easy as I can select my units from a drop down list:


How would I do this in my Python script?

It is relatively straight-forwards. All you have to do is make the buffer distance into a string and include the distance units of choice inside of the string:

                      “100 feet”)

If your distance (linear) units are composed of more than one word, such as “Decimal Degrees” then the two words should be combined into one i.e. “DecimalDegrees

The follow-up question invariably is:

“How do I know what distance units are available to me?”

Well, you could look in the drop down list on the dialog for the tool concerned. Or you could look in the ArcGIS for Desktop Help and find the well-hidden help page which lists the linear units. The page is found at this link.

If you do not have an internet connection then you can find the relevant help document here:

Desktop >

Geoprocessing >

Tool errors and warnings >

Tool errors 1 – 10000 >

Tool errors and warnings: 801 – 900 >

000817 : Invalid linear unit type

In the next blog I will have a look another common question: “What is the best way to specify optional arguments for a geoprocessing tool?”

How can I check to see if an attribute field exists using ArcPy?

Something I get asked in virtually every “Introduction to geoprocessing scripts using Python” course is:

Using Python and ArcPy, how do I know if an attribute field exists?”.

This is an important question to ask if you are data-loading into an existing dataset using an Update Cursor or writing to a brand new dataset using an Insert Cursor because you may need to make sure that, at the very least, a particular attribute field exists or you may need to make a new one to support some data loading of attribute data.

In the ArcPy site package there is no “FieldExists()” function.…. so how do you determine whether an attribute field exists in a dataset?

Possibly the best way is to use a combination of the arcpy.ListFields() function, and count the length of the resulting list.

When you inspect the documentation for the arcpy.ListFields() function, you will see that it returns a Python list of field objects. You will also see that it has an optional wildcard argument. This allows you to find all those attribute fields beginning with or containing the specified search string.

To see if an attribute field exists you should add the full name of the field as the wildcard. If the resulting list has exactly one item inside it then you know the field is present within your table or feature class. If the list is empty then the wild card has not found the attribute field in the dataset which means the field does not exist.

Let’s see how this works in a code sample. I want to find out if the ST_NAME field exists in the Address feature layer as presented below:


If the field does not exist then create a new field using the Add Field geoprocessing tool. If it does exist then great! The script can continue to execute.

# Check to see if the ST_NAME attribute field exists
import arcpy
arcpy.env.workspace = r”C:\Student\PYTH\Database\corvallis.gdb”
fields = arcpy.ListFields(“Address”, “ST_NAME”)
if len(fields) != 1:
    arcpy.AddField_management(“Address”, “ST_NAME”, “TEXT”)

# Perform rest of script workflow once field is present…

And there you have it…!