Project Explorer - 101

               In this article let's take a look at the basic roles that Project Explorer can play in our day to day life with MicroStation. I will try to answer several questions on what is Project Explorer doing and how can it help in sheet composition and managing your AEC data. I will also describe the basic fundamentals behind Project Explorer.

This blog post applies to MicroStation XM. Some of the content is from newer versions.

               Typically you create several models (design, drawing, sheet), saved views (plan, elevation, section, detail), and reference attachments using MicroStation. They are distributed in several DGN files. Thinking beyond these DGN files, you also use information from several folders and URLs, using data of different formats; Microsoft Office files, Acrobat files, other CAD formats, and image files. Is there a single place in MicroStation where we can list all this important information? The answer is Yes - in Project Explorer.

               Since you have all your data at your finger tips in Project Explorer, you can use it for sheet composition and getting your final deliverables ready. If you setup Project Explorer correctly, you can have all your models (design/drawing/sheet) show up in corresponding folders in Project Explorer, additionally you can have folders that correspond to different types of saved views as well as other resource types. You can drag and drop your models or saved views from Project Explorer into a MicroStation view window to attach them as references to the active model. Also, if you hold the CTRL key while dragging a model it allows you to place that model as a cell. In the following image you can see several types of information that are being displayed from our project by Project Explorer.



               If you create a new section view using the "Place Section Callout" tool, it will be available under the "Sections" folder just by refreshing the folder (right click select Refresh). We call this "Harvesting", which is Project Explorer's ability to scan several folders and file types for a particular resource type and list them. Pretty Cool!!! You can distinguish a harvested folder from a regular folder by the small filter on its icon.

               Callouts (Section, Detail, and Elevation) have a link created on them automatically when the saved view associated with them is placed on a sheet. We have had a links technology even before MicroStation XM with our "Engineering Links" tools. We now have a much more sophisticated way of achieving the same result using Project Explorer and a technology we call "Design Links". This technology is not limited to URLs only, you can link a graphic element to a URL, any MicroStation resource type (saved view, model, reference attachment, etc.), or other project data. Think hyperlinks within your DGN files. This link can be manually established in Project Explorer by right clicking on the resource and choosing "Add Link to Element". Alternatively, if you drag and drop a resource in a view while holding down the ALT key, it will allow you to add a link to an element. Elements may have more than one link stored on them. When hovering the mouse on a linked graphic element, a glyph appears indicating that the element has a link. The tooltip shows all the links that this graphic element contains.



               If you were to right-click on on a linked graphic element, it will show an option called "Follow Link". This lets you choose the link that you wish to follow. "Follow Link" means it will take us to the resource which the link refers to. For instance, if you follow a "URL Link", it will open the URL in your default web browser. These links will also publish to PDF when printing our documents.

               Tools have been made available in MicroStation which let you identify all the elements containing links in a single shot, as well as give you an opportunity to rectify/modify existing links.

               Links have several other benefits, a CAD administrator can make a set of links referring to his company's CAD standards and make them available in Project Explorer for every draftsman/designer. A link can be made to a Print Organizer PSET file, where we can Preview and Print our drawings. We can have a link to a configuration variable and expand this link in Project Explorer to see the information it contains. A link can be made to a folder within our project to see the information that it contains about our project. These are just a few of the link types available. Don't worry if this sounds too advanced. Depending on your feedback, I can blog on each of these topics separately.

                Talking about links, this is exactly the type of data that Project Explorer is composed of; Project Explorer is nothing but a set of links. Choose a file or folder in Windows Explorer and right-click choose "Create Shortcut". This creates a new icon right there, this new icon is nothing but a link to the original. The new shortcut icon consumes less space (typically a few KBs) on your disc. The links that we are creating in Project Explorer are the same thing as Short Cuts in Windows. These links also have a very small overhead on the size of DGN files. For example, let's take a look at a link to a model or "Model Link". What information should a "Model Link" have in order to make it an independent entity? Model name, file name and full-path of the location of DGN file on disc. If we right-click on a "Model Link" in Project Explorer and choose the Properties option, you will see the following dialog describing all the information needed to find the corresponding model.



Since we now understand what a link is, let us look at a list of the different types of links that we have in MicroStation:

1. File Link
     • Refers to a file on a disc.
2. Folder Link
     • Refers to a folder on a disc.
3. Model Link
     • Refers to a design/sheet/drawing model in a dgn file
4. Saved View Link:
     • Refers to a saved view in a dgn file
5. Reference Attachment link:
     • Refers to a reference attachment in a model
6. Drawing Title Link:
     • Refers to a drawing title in a sheet
7. Configuration Variable link:
     • Refers to a configuration variable in MicroStation to harvest links from
8. URL Link:
     • Refers to a URL, FTP or e-mailing address
9. Key-in Link:
     • Refers to a key-in in MicroStation
10. Word Heading Link:
     • Refers to a heading in a Microsoft Office Word file
11. Word Bookmark Link:
     • Refers to a bookmark in a Microsoft Office Word file
12. Excel Sheet Link:
     • Refers to a Sheet in a Microsoft Office Excel file
13. PDF bookmark Link:
      • Refers to a bookmark in a adobe pdf file
14. PSET Link
     • Refers to the Print Organizer file.

                   In this blog post we have mentioned several things; PSET files and Print Organizer, Place Callouts tools, Links, and a few other items. Watch for future posts on these topics as well as a Project Explorer 201 post. So be there!


  • is it possible to edit properties of a sheet model using Project Explorer without opening the dgn file? I would like to edit the Sheet Name and the Description of multiple files without opening up each file individually.

  • Hi Mark,

    I have a basic question about the Project Explorer,  I completed a practice  project I was working on and started a new one.

    These are both located within the examples folder on my C drive.  To set up the new project I copied  one of the template project  folders that ships with the software, (I'm using Bentley Architecture). I gave it a new project name and created a new project configuration file of the same name.  I placed The new PCF and project folder along with other Project folders and PCF's in the examples folder. On opening up the new project however in the Project explorer under models I find that it still contains names of models from the previous project I was working on even though I used a copy of  the standard project template. How do I purge the new project of references to the old project.   It seems maybe there is a configuration variable that needs to be adjusted.

    Also how can I set up projects so that I can work on them off and external drive rather than tucked inside the microstation examples folder?

    Best Regards


  • Hi Bigean;

    Regarding using Configured Libraries;

    Designate a DGN file to store all your link sets, suppose MyLinks.dgn. Then import the Default Link set from Ustation.dgnlib to MyLinks.dgn file. Then in your active DGN file change Link Set dialog to Selected file, select this DGN file and then you can make changes to the default link set and can populate it with links.

    I appreciate your suggestions for deleting links added to element and we will consider this in future release.

    Regarding Logical support to links, Microstation supports Logical path to be specified while adding links same as reference attachments.

    Like References, Links also looks for the target file in Master file directory or in paths pointed by MS_RFDIR.

    There are some differences in Reference attachment and Links behavior, we will try to iron out those differences in future release.


    Mark Penn

  • Allright, many thanks to answer my questions.

    1 answer was not enough to enlight me: The "configured library" answer. So that one presented as default after starting V8i (link set from ustation.dgnlib). Assume I like the default structure. No need to rename folders, no need to add folders. It already contains filters to sort sheets into sheets, callouts into callouts (right?). Fine. I *just* want to use it, meaning I want to add links into that structure or harvest. But I can't, cause EVERYTHING is read only. What's the use of that ... User opens V8i, sees that PE structure, likes it, but cant just start to use it? What's the easiest procedure to make it r/w and populate it with links?

    All other answers are very satisfying. Suggestions left for future:

    Add buttons in the PE dialog for deleting links and those 3 keyins to select elements with links. Using only Elem Info dialog and keyins for functions is not a nice way.

    Add Logical support to links, like it is implemented for reference attachments. It's one very important of several ways to ensure portability. FYI, we've just rejected using PE in our company because of this.

    Thanks a lot for giving valuable information!! I start to be your fan ;)


  • Mark,

    Thanks for the help with this. The second option worked a treat.