Inside the Civil 3D Data Shortcut Powers

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There’s a sophisticated simplicity to Data Shortcut and Data Reference (DREF) functionality inside AutoCAD Civil 3D. To achieve a more powerful Managed Dynamic Model inside Civil 3D long ago Autodesk built a simple XML-based website to manage and control the interactivity of the data behind for many Civil 3D Features as shared Data References.

We can call it a website because each Data Shortcut is a published XML file link inside a specific folder structure to a specific Path, Drawing, and named Civil 3D Feature – aka a Data Reference. Through that structure of simple, yet editable, links we are allowed share the fundamental data behind that underpins all our civil engineering design and survey projects.

Freedom to Make and Manage

There is good news and bad news. We can put the Data Shortcuts website and the XML links it holds almost anywhere. Without a doubt this flexibility can be confusing if we lack an execution plan and structure to our work inside Civil 3D. With increased freedom comes more personal accountability for every Civil 3D user to know and perform the necessary Data Shortcut and Data Reference mechanics.

Civil 3D looks for that specific folder structure relative to a Working Folder location that every Civil 3D user controls. Autodesk chose to make the Data Shortcut site location one folder down from the current Working Folder location. Yes. The current state always matters in Civil 3D.

Every Civil 3D user should understand the why, how, what, and when of Data Shortcuts and the DREFs they manage. The following golden oldie but still applicable public video covers the essentials and the available choices and basic setup for Data Shortcut structures.

There is an updated set of videos now available on the Data Shortcuts Explained page.


Management Capabilities

As you can see from this video, how you may employ Civil 3D’s Data Shortcut basic methodologies is simple, elegant, and yet powerful. This solution to the shared data problem has stood the tests of both real-world production use and time in organizations large to small.

Data Shortcuts and the Data References do make the work easier.

  • DREFs keeps us from tripping over our own feet –destroying our own work.
    We can QAQC Civil 3D Features, protect them, and publish them.
  • DREFs prevents us from providing out of date static data in the project context.
    We control exactly what we share and when. Yes, we can even share static and/or XML data.
  • The odds are you missed the reference to substitution (the pun is intended) that I allude to in the video. That’s an advanced Civil 3D topic.
    Data shortcuts and Placeholder Data References can also provide and help you manage options inside the project context. This more nuanced capability is often overlooked.
  • In a word - If you don’t employ ever-improving Civil 3D Project Templates, you should.
    In the video the Data Shortcut structures are empty to keep it simple.
    After reading this post you know better.
  • The Civil 3D 2017 release added the capability to employ published named folders to collect, organize, and manage the Data Shortcuts.
    Shared Folders are stored in a separate XML file with a similar name at the top of the structure.
  • Well-constructed NoStyles Data Reference drawings make our project upgrades faster and easier.
    They deliver us from the unintended evil of our own making.

“What’s a NoStyles drawing?”

I have championed the use of NoStyles drawings for the storage of Data References in Civil 3D projects for a long time.

A NoStyles drawing is a drawing with only the Styles that Civil 3D creates automatically from an empty AutoCAD template. All the Styles are Standard and are built by the Civil 3D code in the drawing. No customized Styles are included or limited as much as possible.

NoStyles templates are supplied with all Framework for Civil 3D products.
Why? They perform better.

The Civil 3D user discipline and skill to clean up Data References becomes pretty obvious in a production working environment. The small added time needed to clean up DREFs saves tons of time in any project context.

NoStyles DREFs significantly improves project stability.
NoStyles DREFs improve our ability to employ and/or publish the shared Data References differently.
Everyone can appreciate a more robust, adaptive and productive Civil 3D.

All that said, there’s a bigger picture here…

Performance Capabilities

The real world performance benefits to a well-managed DREF structure in our daily Civil 3D production work are significant.

Feature Separation and what Autodesk calls Persistence do matter to Civil 3D performance in a production environment.

Persistence means that:

  • Since the Civil 3D 2014 release the data behind from DREFs for everything other than Surfaces are stored in the host drawing and only checked on drawing load for changes in the references.
  • The 2017 release added new optional Persistence capabilities for DREF Surfaces. This matters significantly with large surfaces in particular.
  • The 2017 release also allows the sharing of Corridor models which is again a significant boost to Civil 3D user productivity and overall project capability as well.
    The capability means the DREF structures and clean-ups become even more important.
  • Civil 3D Survey Dbs are a specialized form of data shortcut for point and figure data.
    It is always about location, location, and location. Whether you do survey or design work, best not forget or ignore the Survey Dbs which have an independent Working Folder setting of their own.

If you believe your Civil 3D drawing(s) or project is sluggish, you probably need to separate your Civil 3D Features and Data Shortcut them into Data References. Civil 3D is built to work this way whether we like it or not.
Put another way…

There is no such thing as a single drawing in Civil 3D.

Separate to Add Value

“Our internal graphic standards, processes, and workflows must maintain the increasingly valuable separation between the data-centric model and any specific published result.”

I refer to the practical goal and production result as Intelligent Publish on Demand (iPOD) in many posts and articles on this site. The Civil 3D templates, Style Tools, standards resources, and powerful Spreadsheet Tools supplied in the Framework for Civil 3D are all built to make that possible and easier to maintain. That focus on robust and adaptive tools separates the Framework from all would be competitors in the marketplace.

Why Are Data Shortcuts Really Important?

The Managed Dynamic Model and Data Shortcuts structure creates and potentially means more managed meaning and more published value for everyone involved in any infrastructure or public works project we build or maintain.

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