The new External Reference tools you didn’t know about in AutoCAD 2014

Each new release of AutoCAD brings with it a number of significant enhancements. For instance the 2014 version introduces incredible tools such as Design Feed and Live Maps from Bing. As useful as these are, I oftentimes find the smaller, less celebrated features to be among my favorites. One such enhancement in AutoCAD 2014 is the new external reference (xref) tools we find in this release.

Since xref’s are the way I typically assemble projects, I find these new, less celebrated, tools incredibly handy. Specifically, AutoCAD 2014 provides us with the ability to change both the xref type (attach/overlay), and the xref path type (full, relative, no path) for xref’s already in your drawing.

Changing Xref Attachment Types

Based on the way I assemble my plans, I prefer using the Overlay path type when setting up xref’s for my projects (this helps me avoid the dreaded circular xref’s). Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, you’ve undoubtedly run into an instance where an xref in your drawing was opposite from your preferences. In my case, I have a drawing that’s been attached to my drawing:

An Attached External Reference
An Attached External Reference

Prior to AutoCAD 2014, fixing this typically meant detaching the xref, and then reattaching it – losing any custom settings like layer states in the process. With AutoCAD 2014 there’s no need to apply such a cumbersome process, as the type cell in the Details panel of the External References Manager is now a dropdown list. All you need to do is click on this dropdown list, and choose your preferred path type:

Changing the attachment type of an existing External Reference (xref)
Changing the attachment type of an existing External Reference (xref)

Changing Path Types

I have been a strong advocate for Relative Path xref’s ever since their introduction many years ago. Unfortunately, even the most diligent project setup was easily destroyed by fixing a broken xref path by browsing to it (as this converted the path to a Full path xref). Thanks to AutoCAD 2014, these all-too-common changes do not have to destroy your project setup any longer. Provided AutoCAD can find the reference file, you can now change the Path Type of any reference by right-clicking its name in the External References Manager. In the example below, I want to change from the current Full path to a Relative path xref:

Converting a Full Path external reference (xref) to a Relative Path xref.
Converting a Full Path external reference (xref) to a Relative Path xref.

While this integration into the External References Manager is great, it’s also important to point out the Path Type function has also been added to the -XREF (command line version) command. Starting the command-line version of the command now gives you the option to select a PATHTYPE function.

The PATHTYPE function within the command-line version of the XREF command.
The PATHTYPE function within the command-line version of the XREF command.

Even if you don’t typically type your commands, this is an important inclusion as it allows you to write a script to manage xref path types in your drawing.

Donnie Gladfelter
Donnie Gladfelter

Donnie is author of the book and Autodesk Official Press, AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT: No Experience Required, a columnist for AUGIWorld Magazine, Autodesk University speaker, and former member of the AUGI Board of Directors.


  1. hi can anyone help please with this issue: i copied a dwg drawing from work to my usb stick. now i’d to open it at home with my laptop to do some work, however i can open the drawing but not the xref ( update the location of referenced files).

  2. Our standard is to always place xref’s on the same common layer in every drawing.
    Except when we forget. Is there a setting that would allow us to place xref’s on the same layer automatically in ACAD 2015?

  3. Nice post. Most of it was know. Now the tough question.

    Is there a way to change the name of the referenced xref file. I received a project where all the drawing files had a revision in the file name i.e. XXXX-XXX-XXX Rev 1 (very poor practice).

    As we are going to be working on the files and revising them and short of recreating the xrefs, I want to get rid of the “Rev 1”.

    Any ideas?

    • Copy the xref file, change the text you don’t want, i.e the Rev 1.
      Use the ‘reference manager’ from the autocad suite and batch repoint all the drawing file xrefs to your new one. As long as you didn’t move the position of the text in your xref it should all work nicely…

  4. I got 3DAlign command figured out, but the Polyline Roof comes in upside down, so I had to use the 3DRotate to flip it right side up. Then Extrude to finish it.

  5. OK Donnie, I’ve come to the conclusion that your directions for using the 3DAlign for the Polyline Roof of the East apply to the Cabin are wrong, in your book on page 963. Unless you can explain in better detail. Can I get some help here please?

  6. Hi,

    Using the Book…”AutoCAD 2013 No Experience required”
    I’m on page 963, Putting a Roof on the Cabin. I’m having a hard time getting this 3DAlign command to work. I’m picking the Base points ect. for the Polyline I created from the East Elev. but when I done, the Polyline is way out… Darn thing. I made it this far on my own, but now I need some help. Thanks.

    • But how POPULAR is this bricsCAD. No one I know has ever heard of it. How many businesses use it? I know of none. I’ve been an AutoCAD drafter since rel 10, 25 yrs. ago.

  7. I’m using AutoCAD 2010 and I get the Attach / Overlay dropdown in the XREF dialog as as described above. On a side note, if you use the CLASSICXREF dialog it just takes a double click on the word to switch from Attach to Overlay or vice-versa. Maybe newer isn’t always better.

  8. Donnie awesome post as always but there are some inaccuracies to your post. The only NEW feature with 2014 is the PATHTYPE function and the ability to Make the path absolute. The other features allowing us to make the path relative or switching from Attach to Overlay (and vice-versa) were introduced in 2013.

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