Civil 3D DREF Replacement Strategies

Tags DREF, Data Shortcut Manager, implementation, Project Management, project template, data shortcut

Most of us who employ Civil 3D in production environments are familiar with the mechanics to replace External References (XREF) in our working and/or publication drawings. The Survey dept updates the existing annotation for the proposed project’s Parcel map. Survey can overwrite the previously shared XREF drawing, and/or provide a separate and differently named drawing for project users to replace manually.

There are valid reasons to employ either and/or both XREF Replacement workflows. Hopefully, these choices are planned and ritualized responses to known project Benchmarks and identified project States.
See the Manage Civil 3D Dependencies post and the entire in-depth series on these topics.

As a case in point: Do we want or need to update references in previously submitted published deliverable drawings? Yada yada - the all too common project rigmarole about unexpected consequences that might destroy our work and day.

Our Civil 3D Reference Replacement Rituals

Nothing is quite as simple as it sounds in the World of References that is Civil 3D. You know that.
Civil 3D is a diva – She can deliver great performances, but only if we direct and manage the show.

We can and should create a Civil 3D production environment that maximizes what and how all the many Autodesk supplied Reference Management tools help you.

Then, sooner or later, Autodesk changes things or we do.

Managed Project DREF Replacement

Civil 3D has long included intentionally similar processes and mechanics that apply for shared Civil 3D project Data References (DREF). The Survey dept updates the existing project Surface. Survey can overwrite the previously shared Surface in the current shared DREF drawing, and/or provide a separate, and perhaps, differently named DREF and/or drawing for project Civil 3D users to replace manually.

The Civil 3D Data Shortcut workflows employ a different set of Civil 3D tools. DREFs process and structure do differ from classic XREF file and folder location-based process and structure.

Significantly, Data Shortcuts employ a separate and linked XML-based file alias technology. In effect, we can give both separate names and separate and different visible folder structures to how we can connect the data behind dots in our project.

Currently in the Toolspace, Civil 3D by default still controls the displayed top end folder structure and XML file locations by the current Civil 3D Project storage location and the types and subtypes of Data Shortcuts. Here are the well-known DREF types:
Alignments, Corridors, PipeNetworks, PressurePipeNetworks, Profiles, SampleLineGroups, Surfaces, and ViewframeGroups.

The current Project’s ShortcutsFolders.XML file supplies the collected and displayed DREF subtypes and any custom folder names that we create. For good reasons, you should never manually edit this XML file while the Civil 3D Project is in use by any user.

Yes. There are mission critical Civil 3D reasons DREFs are all focused on and around the Design Control Manager in Civil 3D – the Alignment and its many children.

The Data Shortcuts Manager

The recent Civil 3D Managed Data Reference Replacement post and video demonstrate how the newer Civil 3D Data Shortcut Manager Tool (DSM) now allows us to effectively and easily replace DREF sources and also replace regular internal Civil 3D Feature objects with shared DREF sources.

The DSM tools are drawing centric.
We can affect changes in one open drawing in one Civil 3D Data Shortcut collection (Project) at a time. However, the DSM does allow the savvy Civil 3D user to get a quick or detailed overview of all DREFs in the current Project’s Data Shortcut collection. Practice time inside the DSM helps.

The Data Shortcuts Editor

The Civil 3D Data Shortcuts Editor (DSE) is an external utility tool that has project wide scope.
The DSE:

  • Is Civil 3D release specific
  • Opens from the Project’s Shortcuts folder location
  • Can help us visualize the DREF Whats to the physical file location Wheres
  • Reads and displays the default DREF types and subtypes from the existing DREF link XML files directly
  • Sorting by any of the displayed XML values is supported
  • Does not support edits of the Project’s ShortcutsFolders.XML file but writes to this file if DREF changes are saved
  • Find and replace by entire or partial string change edits are allowed to Object Names, Paths, and Drawing Names
  • Match by drawing Handle ID or Object Name changes are allowed

I get to see a lot of Project examples from customers. The DSE is always the first tool I employ to start to look at them. God knows. I never open a drawing first. Just sayin’.

Some general DREF replacement strategies are discussed below. The following strategies can actually and practically both be applied simultaneously in any Civil 3D project.
As I like to say,
“Civil 3D is very flexible and adaptive in regard to projects because Civil 3D is the project.”

Match the Feature Names Strategy

In the Civil 3D Managed Data Reference Replacement post’s video example, we employ the DSM and a classic Match the Feature Names in a separate Data Shortcuts structure folders strategy. We keep the names of the DREF sources the same as employed in our current drawing to simplify the manual user managed upgrade process of the DREF Design Control in a roadway Corridor.

Note that a matching name method is technically not required by the DSM or by Civil 3D in general. In other words, a drawing Civil 3D Feature named BOZO can be linked to a shared DREF named FRED.
DREF type and subtype matches are checked by the DSM.

The Match the Feature Names strategy can play an important role in standardizing project-based workflows to update and upgrade the mission critical project data behind throughout the many phases of project development across an entire project.

Typically, we end up with more named custom folders (or confusing DREF duplicates) in the project Data Shortcut structure to manage the separate parts and pieces. Typically, we end up with more DREF source drawings as the project progresses as well.
Routine project DREF maintenance is required.

Set the Working Folder and the Project

No one commands that our civil engineering and survey projects must have only one Civil 3D Data Shortcuts collection and structure. The classic example might separate Design dept data from Survey dept data into two separate Data Shortcuts collections and structures.
See the Civil 3D Projects and Setup page and videos with linked posts for how to get this done.

Separated and named phase Data Shortcut collections and structures (current Civil 3D Project) work effectively. A named phase Data Shortcut strategy requires better planned, structured, and agreed on naming conventions for DREF type and subtype collections, drawing file storage locations, and drawing file names.

Typically, the multiple DREF collection strategy requires more copying and editing of both DREF sources and drawings and more advanced and disciplined Civil 3D user skills. Users should be comfortable with find and replace methods and tools in the Data Shortcuts Editor (DSE) and comfortable with the aforementioned replacement methods with the Data Shortcuts Manager.

The replacement of existing DREFs that is now possible in the Data Shortcuts Manager was always possible in the Data Shortcuts Editor. We can learn to work around the DSE’s checks for valid drawings and Features.
The DSE will not allow us to replace regular named internal drawing Features with DREF sources as is possible today in the DSM.

Partial Civil 3D Project Templates are a good method to begin and refine the implementation of this multiple DREF collection strategy. See the Civil 3D Projects and Setup page.

We hope and expect the Autodesk supplied DREF Reference Management tools will bail us out when our project Reference plan (or lack of one) goes south.

Frankly, that is the worst time to learn how to employ the tools and learn to build a Managed Dynamic Model in a Civil 3D project. Batteries are not included. Eheh.

The Data Shortcut Manager Futures and the DREF Group

Currently, Civil 3D does not allow us to create DREF Groups or Sets to collect selected arrays of DREFs together in the interface and tools.
Perhaps we want to swap this collection of roadway Design Control and other DREFs for Main Street with another phase two named DREF Group for Main Street.
Managed DREF Groups, Sets, or Families is high on my Civil 3D Wish list.
Please. Tell Autodesk in writing if you like the idea.

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