Future of DXF Files?

Updated Apr 14, 2017
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Technology and the CAD industry is rapidly evolving. Why, the latest AutoCAD release allows automation; newer software interfaces are increasingly easy to use; the innovations are endless. Contrast that with the DXF file format, which has been around since 1983. That’s way back when AutoCAD was first introduced and folks used 360kB floppy disks! It’s amazing how the DXF file format has evolved along with the CAD industry. If you’re wondering how much longer the DXF file will be used so widely in the CAD industry, or how much longer AutoDesk will continue to support the file format, fret no longer. As far as we can tell, DXF will remain popular in the foreseeable future.

DXF will continue its reign as the industry standard for data exchange

The DXF will definitely retain its role as the data-exchange workhorse for all basic purposes. It will continue to be the major file type in the CAD, CNC and GIS industry because of its amazing cross-compatibility. This is because the DXF file format is an open-sourced CAD file format. The file specification is published online for free. As a result, a large majority of CAD and CNC applications supports the file type and will continue to do so.

What do all these acronyms mean? CAD, CNC, GIS...
I know, any beginner would be overwhelmed at the number of acronyms and fancy lingo!

  • CAD stands for Computer Assisted Drawing – as you can tell from its name, CAD is the use of computer technology for design. Engineers, product designers, architects – professional or amateur – use CAD programs like they would use paper and pencil.
  • CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control. Here, a computer converts a CAD design into numerical coordinates. Once a DXF file is loaded onto a CNC program, the computer can generate instructions to a laser cutter or 3D printer for example.
  • GIS stands for Geographic Information System. It enables us to visualize and interpret spatial or geographical data, so we can make sense of real-world trends. For example, a cartographer can plot the pollutant-creating factories onto an aerial photograph, and later identify the areas most vulnerable by pollution.
DXF File Format - Specification Screenshot

AutoDesk maintains a 270-page specification document of the DXF file format!

As with all popular file types, the DXF code standards will be continually updated. This maintenance work is conducted by AutoDesk, the company that first created the DXF file format. AutoDesk releases new updates to the DXF file specification document every few years and the most recent one was back in 2012.


DXF can’t keep up with every single CAD feature out there

There are many CAD applications out there in the market, hundreds if you try and count all the specialized, vertical market CAD programs. Each program has features that are unique to it; newer programs and newer releases have introduced a whole array of cutting-edge features. DXF does not keep up with all of the features in the CAD world. AutoDesk, the company that maintains the DXF specification does not document certain object types such as AutoCAD’s dynamic blocks or ACIS solids and regions. In other words, data associated with these application-specific features cannot be represented by the DXF file format. In that respect, some users are of the opinion that the DXF file format is becoming slightly less relevant in the CAD world.

CAD Drawing in DXF File - Engineering, Architecture and Fashion Design Examples

Here are few examples of drawings in DXF file format. Only lines, polygons and text can be represented in DXF. Of course, very complex drawings can be made up of these three basic elements

It never has though. The DXF has always been much like the .txt file – the simple file that stores plain text that you open with Notepad on your computer. It is not as feature-rich as Microsoft Word’s files (.doc); you can’t change fonts or format your writing in Notepad. However, the simplicity of the .txt file is by design. The file type is purposely kept as simple as possible to keep it as cross-compatible as possible. Any computer – a Linux, Mac or Windows PC – can open .txt files. Similarly, any CAD program running on any operating system can open DXF files. It’s because of this “openness” that DXF will be used for a very long time.


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