Dox is a GIS-centric approach to storing and retrieving documents.

Dox is a GIS-centric approach to storing and retrieving documents.  At its essence, Dox is just files in folders on a network (like PDF, JPG, HTML, DOC, and DWG files), organized by street address for viewing from a GIS.  Dox is designed to be easily integrated with Encompass, Esri, and other GIS platforms.


Interim to Ubiquitous

Dox started off as an interim application at the City of Palo Alto (CA).  It was originally intended as a temporary holding place for scanned Building Department documents from an aging optical disk system while the city acquired a full-blown document management system.  But Dox was immediately appreciated and well used - probably because of its simplicity and ubiquitous presence through the GIS - and was quickly adopted by other departments including Planning, Public Works, and Fire.

Dox now organizes millions of documents of many types at Palo Alto and is used at varying levels at other agencies including the City of Mountain View (CA), NASA/Ames (CA), the Kenai Peninsula Borough (AK), and Cochise County (AZ).  Palo Alto is now in the process of converting its large and long-standing micro-fiche library to Dox.

Explicit and Implicit GIS Relationships

Dox allows documents to be linked to a GIS explicitly and implicitly.  Explicit linkages are made when a GIS user manually relates a document to one or more GIS features.  Explicitly linked documents can reside anywhere - even as pages on the web or files on the internet - and are typically linked when the user drags the document onto a feature in the GIS.  Explicitly linked documents appear in the list of attributes for a GIS feature under the "Related Documents" grouping.


Implicit linkages are made by copying or moving a document (like a PDF file or a JPG image) into a Windows folder tree of street addresses.  The folder tree typically has a root folder named "Streets", a folder under that for each street like "Hamilton Av", folders under each of those for block ranges like "00200 Block", folders under each of those for individual street address like "250 Hamilton Av", and optional folders below that for unit or suite numbers or project-by-project groupings.  Documents can be placed at any level of the address hierarchy.  Once copied or moved into place, these implicitly linked documents appear as related documents for all GIS features with an associated street address - like parcels and buildings.  The documents can also appear as searchable and selectable dots on the GIS map.

Dox Parts

Dox is primarily a set of on-disk folders on a server as explained above.  Given this simple and non-proprietary storage technique, documents can be accessed using nothing more than a file explorer.  But we have added automation to extend and speed the use of Dox.

  • InDox (in the screen-shot near the top of this page) is a stand-alone application used to speed the scanning and organization of documents into the street folder trees.  A stack of documents can be placed on a scanner (often just a multi-function printer) and scanned en-mass into loose TIF or PDF files.  InDox then assists in the process of visually proofing the scans, joining images into multi-page document files, and placing each file into an appropriate place in the street address folder trees.
  • DoxView is a small GIS plug-in that lists documents implicitly or explicitly associated with a selected GIS feature.  For example, when a GIS user clicks on a parcel, they will see an organized list of documents (like the one on the right) and display an individual document by clicking on its description in the list.
  • DoxSearch is a Windows service that makes use of PDF keywords and infers keywords from folder and file names.  It allows for Google-like keyword document searches and retrieval independent of the GIS.  DoxSearch is typically implemented after Dox has been in place at an agency for a while.

Dox Limitations

Please bear in mind that Dox may not be a full document management system when compared to a classical, large DMS.  Dox has...

  • only one folder tree per document set.  This limitation seems be turning out to be a convenient and time-saving simplification over bigger systems.
  • no explicit approach for active document management.  Dox has no check-out / check-in system - it is mostly intended as an electronic document archival and retrieval system in that regard.
  • no explicit system for document versioning.  However, use of document file naming conventions may fulfill this need.

Dox Presentation

Dox was presented at CalGIS 2007 by Geodesy and the City of Palo Alto.  Click here to download the PowerPoint presentation.

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