Convert ArcInfo coverage data to a shapefile using ArcInfo Workstation

Last Published: April 25, 2020


The following describes some considerations when converting region, polygon, arc, node and point feature classes to shapefiles.


Newer versions of ArcGIS Desktop or ArcGIS Pro no longer read ArcInfo coverage data. Coverage data can still be converted to shapefile though, using the process outlined below.


An ArcInfo coverage can contain the following features, and all of those feature types can be converted to shapefiles, except the annotation.

  • regions
  • polygons
  • arcs (lines)
  • nodes
  • points (but not in the same coverage as polygons)
  • annotation

It is very useful to have the ArcInfo Workstation Help installed.  To start Help, if it is installed, type "help", without quotes, at the Arc: prompt.  If a Microstation error is received, that is because the Workstation Help cannot run on a 64-bit system.  Microsoft has a patch that allows the Help to work. Click the link to install the patch.

To change directories to get into the location where the coverages are stored, the command is WORKSPACE, not CD.  CD is a DOS command and this is not a DOS program.  The WORKSPACE command can be abbreviated to use the letter "W", lower case, without quotes.

ArcInfo Workstation commands are not case-sensitive, so everything typed at the command line should be in lower case letters.  I am using upper case letters for the command names to make them stand out from the rest of the text.

To convert a specific feature type to a shapefile, use the ARCSHAPE command.  The command is typed in at Arc: prompt.  Here is the syntax:

Arc: arcshape <in_cover> <in_feature_class> <out_shapefile> {DEFAULT|DEFINE}
  • The angle brackets <> are required arguments, the curly brackets {} are for optional arguments.
  • There is no extension on the coverage name. 
  • The in_feature_class will be region.<region_name> OR polygon OR arc OR node OR point.
  • The output shapefile name will include the .shp extension.

The feature class to be exported to shapefile must be built first, with the BUILD command or the export will not work. The BUILD command is described as follows.

Field names in a shapefile can only be 10 characters long, but in a coverage field names can be up to 13 characters.  If there is more than one attribute for which the first 10 characters of the name are identical, the second field will be dropped.  If data is needed from a field, in which the first 10 characters of the name are identical to another field name, they will use the DEFINE option in the ARCSHAPE command to tell the software to convert the 13 character name to a shorter name in the exported shapefile.
The BUILD command is also executed at the Arc: prompt.  Here is the syntax. 
Arc: build <coverage_name> <feature class>

To export more than one feature class from a single coverage to shapefile, use the syntax below to BUILD multiple feature types from the same coverage at the same time.  The software builds all three feature types at once, instead of the user having to type in BUILD <coverage_name> three times.  This is an example though - if you do NOT need multiple feature types from one coverage exported, you can just BUILD for the feature type needed.

Arc: build <coverage_name> (!arc node poly!)
There is no option in ArcInfo Workstation to export data to file geodatabase.  There is however a Customize utility in ArcMap, Convert Coverage Annotation, which can export annotation from a coverage, or a CAD file, to geodatabase.  The annotation feature class must already exist in the geodatabase.


Article ID:000020014

  • ArcMap
  • ArcGIS Pro

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