History of Data Shortcuts

There has been some discussion on the Autodesk DG recently of how to work with Data Shortcuts. What are Data Shortcuts, how do you work with them, and how have they changed over the releases?

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What are Data Shortcuts?

Data shortcuts are external xml files that store link information about a Civil3D object (Surface, Alignment, Profile, Pipe Network, etc.). This xml file is not to be confused with LandXML files. Though they are written using the same file type (xml), they store very different information. It would be like trying to import points from just any ascii text file that you found. It is the same file type but is not storing the information the same way.

How do you work with them?

Data Shortcuts are exactly that – shortcuts to data found in another drawing file. It is similar to creating a shortcut on your desktop to an application or file found somewhere else. That shortcut links you to the information you want.

Since a data shortcut is an XML file, you can edit it using different methods depending on what works for you and what version of Civil3D you are on:

  • You can edit using the Edit Data Shortcuts Panorama (in Civil3D 2006-2008).
    • The Edit Data Shortcuts Panorama is the main method of working with data shortcuts in Civil3D 2007 and 2008
    • This is the best method when working with Civil3D 2007 and 2008.
  • You can use Notepad
    • An xml file is really hard to read in Notepad because of no formatting.
  • You can use a free downloadable program called XMLNotepad from Microsoft.
  • NEW in Civil3D 2009! You can use the external program called "Data Shortcuts Editor" provided with Civil3D 2009.

How have Data Shortcuts changed over the releases?

I started playing with Civil3D 2005. It was great right off the bat. As you stumbled through, you could immediately see the power of the software.

One of the biggest benefits to me was the fact that the data was stored in the drawing not in separate files that you had to keep track of. However, this was also one of the biggest setbacks with the software. How many work with all the data in one file? Worse yet, how in the world can you work with such a monstrous file?

Civil3D 2006

2006prospector So when Civil3D 2006 rolled out, Data Management was all the buzz. Civil3D had finally added Data Management. There was a Projects section added to the prospector. From there you could add a Project (sounds familiar – LDT anyone?).

The project data management system relied heavily on data shortcuts which were simply links to the drawing storing the actual Civil3D object. To use data shortcuts effectively in C3D 2006, the drawings have to be attached to a Civil3D project folder.

It wouldn’t be long before you changed file names, saved and changed folders or something that would break the drawing attachment. It was a pain to reattach a drawing, let alone data shortcut management.

The cool thing was that you could edit the data shortcut files and make those file changes, handle changes, rename the object link and so forth. As long as you could keep the Project>Drawing link it sufficiently worked! But there had to be something better out there.

Civil3D 2007

Autodesk thought there had to be something better out there as well. They found a product that they had already developed called Vault. Vault is "A data management tool that helps manage and securely store design data…" (from Autodesk.com). They built Vault right into Civil3D using Vault to manage and control data shortcuts. This was much more than most organizations needed so with SP3, Autodesk has reinstituted the ability to work with Data Shortcuts. However, the format of the data shortcut file had changed so any data shortcuts coming from Civil3D 2006 had to be rolled into Vault or rebuilt. Also, data shortcuts now became more like pointers. Pick the data shortcut to get the link information from and store that data in the application. Once you reference the data shortcut, then store the data shortcut data in the drawing. Thus, editing a Civil3D 2007 data shortcut file did not get you far a lot of times.2008DS_Panorama

Civil3D 2008

Working with data shortcuts in Civil3D 2008 was the same as working with data shortcuts in C3D07.SP3. 2009DS_1

Civil3D 2009

Data shortcuts are now in their third generation (and their third format). They come a long way baby!!

We will talk in more detail about working with Civil3D 2009 in an upcoming blog but some improvements:

  • User interface improvements
  • Built-in directory management
  • Create shortcuts for objects in multiple places/ways

Stay tuned…


  1. John Davis says:

    Very nice, complete post. I, for one, will be anxiously awaiting your next article. The last two sentences in the “Civil3D 2007” paragraph could use some work, but there’s plenty of meat on the plate! Thanks and welcome, again.

  2. sean twomey says:

    Great summary and also its great to see you’re going to expand on the topic. One thing I’d like clarified (and I think it may take some experimenting) is the business of combining shortcuts and AutoCAD X-Refs as opposed to Civil 3D X-Refs. Ideally it would be all Civil 3D in the office but in reality we usually have to cater for AutoCAD as well.
    The questions are:
    1) How stable is the arrangement of creating a DWG from shortcuts (e.g. contours of a specific interval) and having AutoCAD guys use it as an X-REF?
    2) Whats the best, tried and tested, option for getting one of those AutoCAD DWG’s out to a contractor who only has LT?
    These questions come from a few bad experiences in the past – it would be great to know for sure that its all working now.

  3. First off, I want to apologize to any who are having graphics/image issues. I wrote the article for web browser viewing and it seems the images are overwriting text in some cases. Hey, it is only my second post here 🙂

    I will answer both questions with one phrase: Object enablers

    They are a free download, simple install to allow a user to view a proxy object made by a vertical application (like C3D). You can download them here:

  4. Torrey Ehrman says:

    Thanks for the post. I liked the data shortcuts in C3D 2006 and am glad to see they are bringing the project feel back. In Autodesk’s Civil 3D 2009 Best Practices paper at the bottom of page 36 it sounds like they are saying we need Vault to reference profiles. Is this true?


  5. Not exactly Torrey, thiis seems to be a mistake (maybe left over from previous versions). You can create Data Shortcuts of profiles just fine. In fact, one of the format changes that was made to the Data Shortcut file was add an attribute called “parentHandle…”.
    This is a GREAT improvement!! How? Before C3D2009, the profile HAD to reside in the same drawing as the Alignment. Now you can create profiles of alignments that are referenced in from other drawings!! The profiles stick with the parent alignment, no matter where the alignment is coming from. However, you cannot have a data shortcut of a profile without a Data Shortcut of an Alignment. The new interface organizes profiles as children of Alignments.
    I will try to post more about working with Data Shortcuts in C3D09 either tomorrow or Monday.

  6. Craig Jole says:

    I am with Sean – we have a mix of Civil3D and base AutoCAD, and no way around it, like it or not. I have not found an easy way to try to get all the pieces (xrefs, data shortcuts, FDO objects, etc) to work together, and things are just random from project to project, depending on that specific project.

    It drives me crazy, but since I haven’t been able to find what I would consider the “right way”, I just try to help ensure that we are hitting deadlines.

  7. Torrey Ehrman says:

    Thanks for the answer and the new post. Sounds like a big step for the unvaulted. I can’t wait for C3D 2009 to ship. My GIS friends recieved Map 2009 and they are liking it.