What is an ArcPad AXF?
Prior to ArcPad 7.1, shapefiles were ArcPad’s most common spatial file format for features. Shapefiles are great for many applications, but shapefiles lack the capabilities to support more sophisticated relational database requirments that exist in the ArcGIS Geodatabase. So ArcPad 7.1 introduced the AXF format, which we like to refer to as a "lightweight geodatabase".
Not a new File Format
Now before you groan "Oh no not another spatial file format", like the ArcGIS Geodatabase, AXF is not actually a new file format but rather it is built on top of existing proven database technology. In this case, AXF is built on top of Microsoft's SQL Server Compact Edition (SQLCE).
So how do AXF files work?
A cool thing to note at this point, that where a customised collection of shapefiles might end as quite a few files, a collection of layers in an AXF remains a single file. This makes it much easier to move data around without the worry that one of the shapefile components gets lost which is of particular benefit in mobile environments where field users are sending back data files via email and only have to worry about a single file.
The ArcPad Data Manager and ArcPad Geoprocessing tools, automatically translate ArcGIS’s Geodatabase rules into AXF. This can result in significant benefits as you can design your rules in the Geodatabase and “just have them work” in the field with ArcPad, with almost no special customisation required.
If you want to customise your AXF further with forms and scripts, you can do so with ArcPad Studio in almost the same way as you can do it for shapefiles. You can create forms and scripts, all of which get ‘imbedded’ in the AXF along with the spatial data.
The tight coupling of the AXF “lightweight geodatabase” with the ArcGIS Geodatabase has been designed to improve the whole enterprise --> field --> enterprise workflow cycle.
As your organisation builds rules in the enterprise geodatabase, these rules automatically become part of the field workflow with ArcPad, leading to higher quality data capture and maintenance in the field. Domains and subtypes automatically become ‘drop down’ menus for efficient and less error prone data input. This then in turn leads to less data maintenance effort when checking field data back into the enterprise geodatabase.
Further reading and information
At the DevSummit this year in Palm Springs, we covered some more detail and you can see/listen to this online. http://edn.esri.com/index.cfm?fa=media.detail&media=122
There is a recent podcast covering a little on AXF.
At the forthcoming User Conference in San Diego, we will be presenting information in many more scenario contexts ranging from the more simple benefits, ArcGIS Geodatabase integration, workflow improvements and leveraging more through further customisation and the power of the SQLCE engine.
We will also expand on how ArcPad is going forward with AXF and integrating ArcPad field workflows directly with ArcGIS Server.