The World of Data References in Civil 3D

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Most of us who employ Autodesk 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 may overwrite the previously shared XREF drawing. They may provide a separate and differently named drawing for the design project users to replace manually in the project.

Civil 3D Reference Replacements

There are valid reasons to employ either and/or both XREF Replacement workflows. For publishing performance reasons, we may want to substitute those XREFs with pre-plotted DWF Image References (IREF) stacks. See The Civil 3D DWF Publication Reprise post and video. The hit video is worth a reprise…


DWF Publication Performance

What do you know? DWF publication works really well in all releases of Civil 3D.

Want to learn more in detail about DWF publication in newer releases of Autodesk Civil 3D?
See the Civil 3D and DWF post and video.

Our Civil 3D Reference Replacement choices should be strategic planned and ritualized responses to known project Benchmarks and identified project States.
That’s a sentence to chew on.

Case in point: Do we want or need to update references in previously submitted published deliverable drawings? We know about the all-too-common project rigmarole about unexpected consequences that destroy our work and break our day.

See the Manage Civil 3D Dependencies post and the entire in-depth series on these topics.

Our Civil 3D Reference Replacement Rituals

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

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

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

Project Managed DREF Replacement

Civil 3D intentionally employs similar processes and mechanics that apply for shared Civil 3D project Data References (DREF). The Survey dept updates the existing Surface for the project. 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. DREF process and structures. These differ from classic XREF and IREF file and location-based process and structures.

DREFs employ a separate and linked XML-based file alias technology. 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.

By default in the current Toolspace, Civil 3D 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 Shortcut. Here are the familiar DREF types:
Alignments, Corridors, PipeNetworks, PressurePipeNetworks, Profiles, SampleLineGroups, Surfaces, and ViewframeGroups.

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

Where is the Known Good

Recent Civil 3D release Upgrades and Updates provide better DREF Reference checking and Fix Broken Reference Tools to help us repair broken DREF functionality. The automated tools are better than nothing. However, we better understand and follow the project’s DREF management plan.

Civil 3D users must know the answer to the Where is the Known Good DREF question.

The Civil 3D user must know what do the Set Working Folder and Set Project commands really do in Civil 3D.

The current Project’s ShortcutsFolders.XML file supplies the collected and displayed DREF subtypes and any custom folder names that we create in the Toolspace interface. For good reasons, we should never manually edit this XML file while the Civil 3D Project is in use by any user. Unless we are very skilled about how DREFs and the Data Shortcut folders work, we should probably leave this file alone.

The Data Shortcuts Manager

The Civil 3D Managed Data Reference Replacement post and video demonstrate how the newer Civil 3D Data Shortcut Manager Tool (DSM) allows us to quickly and easily replace both DREF sources and internal drawing Civil 3D objects with shared DREF sources.

The DSM tool is drawing centric.
We can affect changes in one current and 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 provides a project wide scope.
The DSE:

  • Is Civil 3D release specific
  • Opens from the Project’s Shortcuts folder location
  • Helps us visualize the DREF Whats to the physical file location Wheres
  • Reads and displays the default DREF types and subtypes from the 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 many Civil 3D 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 matched 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.

We may 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.
Routine project DREF maintenance and cleanup 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, a 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 within 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.

The moment of reference crisis 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.

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