Map Feature Sources in Civil 3D

Hi Folks! Sorry that I haven’t updated in a while, but I’ve been on the road. I did an on-site Civil 3D class last week, am doing one this week (in Chicago, of all places!), another NEXT week, then a meeting in California the next week, then a class here in our company headquarters the week after that. As you can likely tell, there’s one heckuva demand for training and implementation for Civil 3D. If you’re in need of these services, feel free to email me using the link to the right.

Now, down to business. You didn’t log in here to hear me talk about my busy travel schedule. If you did, you really need to find a hobby…I’m just saying…

In the world of Civil Engineering, we often have to work with data that is in another format. One thing that I love to show my customers is the untapped wealth of information that you can have once you start using the GIS capabilities of Map 3D. The best part about this is that you already have it – it comes built into Civil 3D.

For this how-to, we’re going to assume that we’re about to subdivide a piece of land, but the property owner wants to know if the project is feasible. That’s a reasonable request, and one that we can do quite handily with the software at our disposal. Now, for the sake of this discussion, let’s imagine that the area that we’re looking at is already assembled in a county or city GIS. Many local governments have TONS of information that they’ve collected, from property descriptions to owner names to detailed information about property. Unfortunately (or so we think,) most of these local governments assemble and work with their GIS in a competitor’s product. OK, I’ll say it – they mostly use ESRI. Now, I’m not going to talk about the pros and cons of ESRI products vs. Autodesk Map 3D (at least not in this post), but I’m going to show you how this doesn’t have to be a hurdle that you have to jump – you can use it too!

Now, to use this ESRI data (which is in the SHP format), we’ve got two choices – well, with the 2007 release we do. We can go to the Map menu and select Import, then bring in the SHP file in question. However, it’s now converted into DWG format and if we make any edits, we have to export to SHP file. That’s OK, and how I’ve been doing it for years. However, Map 3D 2007 has a much better way of doing this using a Feature Source. You may be asking “What is a Feature Source?” AOTC Map 3D 2007 Essentials defines a feature source as the following:

A Feature Source is any source of spatial data that has been connected by means of feature data objects (FDOs). An FDO enables you to connect directly to SDF and raster data and databases that contain spatial data. No import or export is necessary to use the spatial data that resides in the original feature source.

What’s great about Feature Sources? Since a Feature Source is just a representation of the data that you’re working with, it renders on your screen very rapidly, allowing you to work far more efficiently. Feature sources can be sylized using the Display Manager, but that’s a post for another day. However, one of the best things about a feature source is that we can edit the data (both vector and database) and save it to that file natively! No more import/export!

Let’s get to the meat of this discussion – how to use feature sources. First, of course, you need to have your Map Task Pane active. If it’s not, or you can’t find it, type MAPWSPACE in the command line. That should bring it up. Now, to connect to the data, you need to click on the Data button at the upper left of the Map Explorer portion of your Task Pane:

(Hey, I finally got images to work in Blogger – it was an Internet Explorer issue – works fine in Firefox. Yet ANOTHER reason to use Firefox)

Next, you’ll want to connect to data – keep in mind that you’re not IMPORTING data, but merely connecting to it. By connecting to it, you can view it and the data that it contains, edit it, and have it saved without ever doing an export or saveas. You’ll use the following form to connect to data – simply choose the folder where your data resides:

Once you connect to a folder, all the compatible data in that folder appears – for example, I’m connecting to SHP data, so all SHP files in the folder will be displayed. I now can check the ones that I want to connect to, and click add to map, as below:

Once I’ve connected to it, you can see that the data is added to our drawing:

Now, if we look in the Map Task Pane, we can see the data that we connected to listed at the very top:

Now, to see the object data that is associated with this file, we need to select the data grid view. To select this, expand the data in your Map Task Pane and select the particular SHP file that you want to see the data for. Then, select GRID from the buttons above:

This will bring up the grid view, as shown below:

Now, select any bit of data that you’d like to edit, and edit away! This view is similar to a spreadsheet view, and can be edited easily:

Note that there is no “SAVE” necessary. We’ve connected directly to this data and edited it in place. It’s now saved DIRECTLY to the file. To edit the graphical (or vector) data, we can pick any particular piece, and use the tools on the DATA toolbar to check this vector data out and edit it, then check it back in.

It’s amazing how much functionality this gives us – the ability to connect directly to ESRI (and other) data, edit in place and always stay in sync with your GIS data is phenomenal.

As usual, Have Fun!


  1. Murph says:

    Ah excuse me but you’re stepping on my area of expertize again. : )
    Glad you posted this Jason saves me the trouble and of course still waiting on my R007 to get installed.

  2. Nick Zeeben says:

    So you left us in suspense, was the site suitable?

  3. Murph says:

    It was sutiable in the demo he did that I attended other than a tree in the middle of the pond.