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FAQ: Does ArcGIS Desktop support Unicode?

Question

Does ArcGIS Desktop support Unicode?

Answer

ArcGIS Desktop applications, such as ArcMap, are Unicode based, so they support Unicode to a certain level. The level of Unicode support depends on the data format.

Currently personal geodatabases and file geodatabases are the only data format that supports Unicode by default. It is even possible to store and display characters of multiple languages in a single personal or file geodatabase. If the characters are not displayed correctly, verify that the font is set to Unicode font, such as Tahoma.

Shapefiles also support Unicode, but not by default. To enable Unicode support in shapefiles, a registry key needs to be modified.
<a href='http://support.esri.com/en/knowledgebase/techarticles/detail/21106' target='_blank'>How To: Read and write shapefile and dBASE files encoded in various code pages</a>

ArcSDE geodatabases have limited support for Unicode.
<a href='http://support.esri.com/en/knowledgebase/techarticles/detail/27341' target='_blank'>FAQ: Does ArcSDE support Unicode?</a>

Coverage and other legacy data formats do not support Unicode. Use geodatabases for these formats to store and display Unicode data.