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AutoCAD tutorial: Attach an xref

Xrefs (external references) let you view another drawing within your current drawing without actually inserting that other drawing.

Why use xrefs?

  1. Xrefs keep your drawing smaller.
  2. Each time you open a drawing, AutoCAD loads a current copy of the xref, so that you always have the most updated version. The drawing contains a link to the xref, so you don’t have to worry if what you’re seeing is outdated.
  3. You can attach and detach xrefs easily. You can also load and unloaded them to display or hide them, without losing the connection.

Xrefs are ideal for times when you need to reference another drawing but don’t want the relationship to be permanent. They are also ideal for situations in which multiple people work on a drawing. For example, both an electrician and a plumber might add an architect’s plans to their drawing as an xref.

Attach an xref

Follow these steps to attach an xref:

  • Choose Insert tab> Reference panel> Attach (the ATTACH command) to open the Select Reference File dialog box. (In earlier releases, this was the XATTACH command.)
  • Make sure Drawing (*.dwg) is visible in the Files of Type drop-down list in the dialog box. If not, click the list and choose it.
  • Navigate to the drawing you want to attach, choose it and click Open. The Attach External Reference dialog box appears.

  • Set the Reference Type to Attachment (the default). If you want, you can specify the scale, insertion point, and rotation in the dialog box. Click OK.
  • If you used the settings you see in the dialog box here, you’ll be prompted for an insertion point. You’ll see an image of the xref, so you can place it by eye if you want. Click to place the xref.


  1. An overlay is useful when you’re sharing drawings over a network. If someone else attaches your current drawing, that person doesn’t see the overlay, only the main drawing.
  2. In the Scale section, you can check the Uniform Scale checkbox to ensure that the Y and Z values are always the same as the X value. This ensures that the xref isn’t distorted from its original ratios.

Do you use xrefs a lot? What tips do you have to make using xrefs easier and more efficient? Please leave a comment and let everyone know!

Draw and edit faster and easier with these top 25 productivity tips every AutoCAD user should know. Check out “Top Productivity Tips Every AutoCAD User Should Know” at

Ellen Finkelstein

25 comments to AutoCAD tutorial: Attach an xref

  • Joseph Troiano

    We use Xrefs a lot and find them very useful. Under “Path Type” I recommend using Relative Path. Your example shows the Full Path which will cause problems when sharing your drawings. Note: AutoCAD will not let you select Relative Path unless you recently saved the drawing.

  • Mike Freeman

    Xref’s are extremely useful when working in a multi discipline office, if our architects change something on the drawing it will notify you to reload the xref & the change they made will becoome apparent. I can them amend the building services drawings to suit.

  • mohammed


    i want some clear information about x ref. i want the steps to complete x refs. please help me. thank you


  • kith


  • may

    plz help me,can I have more infomation about xref? may I know what’s the reason the file cannot be reload? I did copy the file to other drive but i copy the xref file as well. may i know other than re-attach, do you have better way to reload the file? hope to get your valuable tutorial as soon as possible, thank you.

  • Bill

    When inserting the xref into your dwg it will be on the layer that you are currently in. Therefore change it to “0” layer or a layer that you have designated as an xref layer or it could be frozen or not plotted.


    Cuando creo varias ventanas despues de haber adjuntado varios archivos en el model, algunas ventanas se desactivan cuando se crea otra ventana. Cómo procedería para que una vez creada la ventana a satisfacción y al crear otras, las primeras dejan de visualizarse.
    English translation from Google Translate: When I create multiple windows after you have attached several files in the model, some windows are disabled when another window is created. How to proceed after creating the window to the satisfaction and the new ones, the first stop display.

  • Nish

    When Xref a file onto the current file shows differents in elevation;but the value of elevation shows “0” for both current file elements & xref. both files BASE(0,0,0) & Units are same.
    Pls any one know how to solve it?

  • yes i recommend also relative path. Relative path means are partially specified folder paths that assume the current drive letter or the folder of the host drawing. This is the most flexible option, and enables you to move a set of drawings from your current drive to a different drive that uses the same folder structure.

  • Sue

    What is the solution to not receiving a large busy bunch of X shape construction lines over the Architectural drawings? After I copy & paste external drawings into my new AutoCAD drawing to explode them, the Xs appear on drawings!
    Sometimes I can’t even attach them because I can’t explode in this case too, or I may lose part of my drawings.
    Can you please help me to save my time for cleaning these drawing?



    i am attaching a dwg file as an xref, the xref layers are getting imported but i cant see the xref drawing in my drawing area. plz tell me the solution for it.

  • Daniel

    the current layer may be turned off…when attaching xref, it will assume the layer that is current. Once you have attached xref, go to layer states manager and highlight one layer. Hit CTL A to select all layers. Turn all layers on. Hope this helps.

  • annu

    I am using AutoCAD 2013. I have a problem in dimensions please solve it. I use architectural dimensions. when I take value in foot it shows correct dimension but whenever I need value in inches and use it (eg-9” or 4’7” etc.)it always shows incorrect value in drawing. please tell me how I it will be correct…..

  • Anton Joseph

    You have to possibly check on the unit system that you are using. Another check you should make is, if you using the ACAD – Imperial or ACAD – Metric shortcut to use Acad?

    Have a nice day

  • Daryl Archibald

    what if you have a drawing with an xref already and you want to xref that drawing to another plan…..will the xref in the original drawing show up?

  • Robert Williams

    @Daryl Archibald,

    YES. XREFs are often nested. When a nested XREF shows up in other drawings, its Reference Type is “Attachment” as opposed to “Overlay”.

    The only way you can modify that original XREF is through the drawing it is XREF’d into. For instance:

    > You have XREF-A and XREF-B in DWG-A.
    > XREF-A is Reference Type Overlay.
    > XREF-B is Reference Type Attachment.

    > You XREF DWG-A into DWG-B.
    > In DWG-B, you can see DWG-A and XREF-B, but NOT XREF-A.

    > In DWG-B (using layer commands), you can move, freeze, or turn off XREF-B, but you cannot directly modify any entity within XREF-B.
    > In DWG-B XREF window, you can only Unload/Reload XREF-B. But you cannot Detach or Bind XREF-B.

    > To remove XREF-B from DWG-B, you must return to DWG-A and remove it from there, or change its Reference Type to Overlay.

    I HTH

    Robert Williams

  • Vina Hidajat`


    My problem is, I attached FILE A as an xref, and later I made a revision of FILE A which I saved as FILE A_REV. Therefore, I needed to detach all the FILE A xref attachment and change it to FILE A_REV and make layer adjustment (involving numerous xclips) and the works are too extensive.

    Is there a way where I can just change the directory of the xref attachment so that the adjustment will remain the same?

  • Jesse


    We received a CAD file where xRef are used, when we open it using Progecad it shows that it’s missing xRef and do not show any objects but box. However, when opened in Autodesk CAD it perfectly shows all the solid object and other part of the drawing, and yet it still says that it’s missing the xRef. Is there other way of inserting model aside from xRef, that could have possibly done here? Does anyone knows why those solid objects/part of drawing can be seen in Autodesk CAD but not in Progecad? We also try to view the same file in Autodesk Navisworks and now we cannot be able to see the solid object/drawing part. Autodesk CAD shows the object but Autodesk Navisworks do not – if it has something to do with who made the program… how come they cannot read the same object? I cannot get information from the maker of the file – thus I seek help here. Thank you in advance.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts about AutoCAD tips. Regards

  • james


    I just received Architectural drawings and when I open them up all I see is bunch of squares which are referenced to the sections.
    I cannot see any wall types, Dimensions, gridlines and believe it is all XREF. How do I change this to drawing files or get rid of XREF so I can work on the drawings ? Please help right away.


    i want some correction on auto cad x ref file .but i cant do nothing please suggest me how can work on my project help me

  • Jesse Vas

    Most of the problems I’m reading here are often caused by the way drawings are sent from one person to another. When packaging a drawing for email, use the eTransmit command to build a .zip file which contains all relevant files.

    For drawings that are only viewable in AutoCAD, it is probably because the xref was bound to the file at creation, rather than using eTransmit. You may need to edit the xref using the edit in place option. Copy all of the required elements to your base drawing with the Remove From Working Set button on the XREF EDIT toolbar/ribbon, which will move those elements from the xref to the base drawing.

    Mr. Kumari – are you sure that the object is an xref? It might be an minsert (multiple insert) object, which creates what looks like a block that is not easily broken. I have in the past used such objects as xrefs into a new drawing, where the xref edit in place command would allow me to break open the object and grab the elements.

    (Off topic – Minsert objects are also created by the dynamic array tool, which is why those arrays need to be exploded before the individual objects can be edited. I would suggest using the group command to make a group of objects that will then be duplicated with the array or minsert command. After the array is exploded, the group can still be turned on and off to allow easier manipulation of large sections of drawing.)

  • Kapila

    can we take part of another drawing as external ref.?

  • Hassan Mohamed

    December 15, 2017 at 10:44 pm
    can we take part of another drawing as external ref.?

    Yes, By using XCLIP the xref

  • Kimaya

    I have a drawing that is x.ref in the current file that I am working in. For some reason, it is showing lighter colors. And it cannot be exploded. I have checked the layer in which the file is, there seems no problem with the layer. What can I do to get the file in normal colors?

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