ArcGIS environment settings - precedence and persistence

ArcGIS geoprocessing environment settings are set as follows, and are applied in the following order.

order applied set by how saved in saved when applies to
1 ArcCatalog Geoprocessing→Environments... (ArcGIS defaults) immediately everything
2 ArcMap Geoprocessing→Environments... map document (.mxd file) map is saved all models and tools
run by this map
3 ModelBuilder (model)→Properties...→Environments model model is saved all tools
run by this model
4 (tool in model) (model)→Edit..., then
model model is saved this tool only,
run by this model
NOTE: These environment settings behaviors are what we've observed—they're not fully and correctly documented in the ArcGIS online help.

Given how confusing this all is, we recommend:

  1. Use ArcCatalog environment settings for stuff (e.g., workspaces) that will be the same for all projects.
  2. Use ArcMap environment settings for stuff specific to the project that the map belongs to.
  3. Use ModelBuilder environment settings for stuff specific to the model (but that might change for different models in the same project.)
  4. Don't set environment settings for individual tools.

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