Monday, April 4, 2011

AutoCAD Content Explorer

AutoCAD 2012 introduces AutoCAD Content Explorer. It overlaps to some extent with the old Design Center and comes via Autodesk Labs Project Snap.

Content Explorer is available on the Plug-ins ribbon tab and comes with the commands CONTENTEXPLORER and CONTENTEXPLORERCLOSE and system variable CONTENTEXPLORERSTATE.

Content Explorer aggregates design content from different folders that have been specified for monitoring by the Content Service (that is using Lucene for index/searching). Content Service is a separate installer. The executable for the Content Service is named Connect.Service.ContentService.exe but Autodesk missed to add file properties to it like a proper description and company name. Now it just has an anonymous description: “Service”.

With Content Explorer you can index design content for quick access, catalog the objects in each file, and search for content in local folders (not external drives and USB devices), network folders (not Windows network drives), and the Autodesk Seek Library.

With Content Explorer, you can

  • Browse and search design content in local folders, network folders, and the Autodesk Seek Library and immediately access files and objects from within the AutoCAD environment
  • Browse into DWG files and access and insert blocks, layers, linetypes, styles, etc.
  • Search for objects, all text, attributes (including block attributes), and files in specified local and network folders.
  • Pinpoint specific block references or text strings and automatically navigate to the containing file
  • Open any file from Content Explorer and zoom to any attribute within it
  • Save search parameters for instant access to design content that meets your design needs
  • Customize how search results are displayed to streamline your work environment
  • Right-click and select Open and Find text to open the drawing and locate any text within.

All text and attributes in the files are indexed, including block attributes. In addition, the following objects are indexed when a folder is selected for monitoring:

  • Block definitions
  • Block references
  • Dimstyles
  • Layers
  • Layouts
  • Linetypes
  • Multileaderstyles
  • Tablestyles
  • Textstyles
  • Xrefs
  • Hyperlinks

Manage Saved Searches in Content Explorer

The saved searches feature allows you to capture a certain search string in a single click.

You can eliminate all of the steps required to search for specific files or objects by saving the search string.

For example, you can save a search that locates all of the furniture created by a specific designer. Any time you want to quickly access furniture, select the saved search. Since the index is continuously updated, any new files that meet the search criteria are displayed every time the search is recalled.

You can also delete saved searches, edit the names of existing saved searches, and save new searches on the Saved Searches drop-down menu.

Advanced Searching with Content Explorer

Advanced searches can be performed using property:value pairings or boolean operators.

You can refine your searches by using string combinations and value pairings.

Use Property Name and Value Pairs

A property:value pair is the property name and specific value for which you want to search. To search for a property with a specific value, enter the data as property:value in the Search field.

For example, enter author:jsmith in the Search field to find all of the DWG files where the author was JSmith.

More than one property:value pair can be used in a search string. For example, you can search for all of the drawing files identified as seating which were created by jsmith by entering objecttype:seating author:jsmith in the Search field.

You can create custom properties and values for your files on the AutoCAD properties dialog box.

Use Attributes and Value Pairs

An attribute:value pair is the block attribute and specific value for which you want to search. To search for a block attribute with a specific value, enter the data as attribute:value in the Search field.

For example, enter Designedby:JohnDoe in the Search field to find all of the objects designed by John Doe.

Search Text for a Specific Value

With the basic search capability, you can enter a text string and the search engine will return all files with a file name, keyword, title, author, or other properties that meet the string criteria, as well as any files containing the string, and objects with names that match the text string. Sometimes this type of string search will return more results than you need.

Use the text:string pair to search only for text entities, such as leaders, fields, hyperlinks, MText, tables, or any other text that may show up on a drawing. This type of search parameter will not search file-level properties, such as Author or Title.

To search for a specific text string, enter the data as text:string in the Search field.

For example, enter text:reviewed in the Search field to find all of the files with text entities containing the string “reviewed.”

Search with wild cards

You can use wild cards when specifying search criteria.

* - Represents any number of characters within a string.

? - Represents a single character within a string.

The search engine assumes a trailing asterisk (*), so you do not need to put an asterisk at the end of a search phrase.

Search with Boolean Operators

You can use operators to further refine your search results.

For example, to search for all of the files identified as seating that were not authored by JSmith, enter objecttype:seating NOT author:jsmith in the Search field.

AND - Searches for x AND y in any order. The search granny AND smith returns anything containing both words.

OR - Searches for either x OR y. The search granny OR smith returns anything containing either word.

NOT - Searches for x but NOT y. The search granny NOT smith returns anything containing granny but not smith.

" " - Searches for the exact phrase contained within the quotation marks. The search "granny smith" returns everything containing the exact phrase granny smith.

Filter Results in Content Explorer

The filter lets you choose object types, specific dates, date ranges, and relative dates to display in search or browse results.

Filter settings persist throughout searches and browsing until they are changed or the filter is deactivated. If you do not get the search or browse results you expect, try checking your filter settings to make sure they are current.

Indexing Stages

The indexing occurs in three stages, with deeper indexing occurring with each stage. The stages can be determined by the thumbnails displayed in the Content Explorer window.

And after a while when indexing is ready...

Stage Icon Displayed Description

File has been discovered by the indexer.

By the end of this stage, file name and standard Windows properties have been extracted. You can search for file names and Windows properties, but you cannot explore the content within the file.

Note! Since all text and attributes in the files are indexed, the initial index of the files contained in the watched folders may take some time to complete.


Thumbnail and DWG-specific file properties have been discovered. During this stage, all objects and any text in the drawing, including block attributes, are being indexed.

You can now search for DWG properties, but you cannot explore the content within the file.


File is completely indexed.

You can now explore or search for content within the file.


There was an issue while indexing this file.

Select the file and press CTRL+ I for more information regarding the issue.


If the Sheet Set Manager dialog opens every time you open a file in Content Explorer, it is because of the SSMAUTOOPEN system variable setting. Change the setting to suppress the dialog.

If you plan to search folders on several different network computers, Content Service must be installed on each network computer and the folders added to the watched folder list for indexing. Any machine running AutoCAD or an AutoCAD vertical with Content Explorer can access the network machines running Content Service for real-time search results.

See also Autodesk 2012 Content Explorer Service Hot Fix


  1. To me, Content Explorer feels like a really slow version of DesignCenter. Maybe it will improve over time.

  2. To me, Content Explorer feels like a really slow version of DesignCenter.

  3. Thanks for the neat explanation Jimmy. What happens when Content explorer meets corrupt / partially corrupt files and password protected fies. Will it timeout and move on or just keep going on consuming memory?

  4. I tried to add some corrupted drawings and password protected drawings and it seems to just ignore them and show the exclamation status icon indicating Indexing error.


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