By Nick Harris
Earlier this year Autodesk launched a new version of AutoCAD for the web. We have seen several iterations of a browser-based DWG editor over the last 5 years but the officially titled AutoCAD Web App is different. In the past, these lightweight versions of AutoCAD were developed as separate products which led to an inherent limitation on performance and functionality. The new AutoCAD Web App shares the same engine and code base as the AutoCAD you are already familiar with, but the interface is presented in a web page with no installation required. Web presentation technology has matured to such an extent that Autodesk is able to engineer an experience that takes advantage of years of AutoCAD development to present drawing capabilities in a modern browser environment. AutoCAD for Web is available with an Autodesk Subscription that includes AutoCAD and you can connect to Autodesk’s cloud data management services to store and retrieve your AutoCAD files.
For AutoCAD enthusiasts Kean Walmsley of Autodesk gave some history of the milestone in a recent blog:
‘The AutoCAD team has been working on a project codenamed “Fabric” for the last several years. It's has been a huge amount of work – something I’ll hopefully get into in a future blog post – but it’s finally bearing tangible fruit. In broad strokes the work was to take the core of AutoCAD and make it cross-platform. You might consider the Big Split – work that was done ostensibly to build AutoCAD for Mac but resulted in a Core Engine that became the mechanism through which developers could run custom code in the cloud via AutoCAD I/O (now part of Forge’s Design Automation API) – to be the first phase of this effort. At the very least Fabric stood on the shoulders of the Big Split.
The Big Split was a significant effort that resulted in code that could be cross-compiled on both Windows and OS X. It did so via various techniques, some of which were less than ideal with the benefit of hindsight (such as using #ifdef statements in various places to have conditional compilation on the two platforms). Fabric has done away with #ifdefs, forcing any platform-specific code into a PAL (Platform Abstraction Layer) per targeted platform. And Fabric is able to target more than just Windows and OS X. Some of the main targets were the established mobile platforms (more on that down the line), but one major effort was to target the web platform with the AutoCAD codebase.
Yes, you read that right… yesterday’s update to AutoCAD Web now runs the same core code as standard AutoCAD, but in a browser. A major part of AutoCAD’s C++ codebase gets run through Emscripten (at least that’s my understanding – I’ll correct any details I get wrong) to be transpiled into WebAssembly. This is huge. We’re finally able to have a single codebase that results in the same AutoCAD core technology working inside a web browser.’
For many years we have been developing custom applications that automate and connect desktop AutoCAD thanks to Autodesk’s continued commitment to providing powerful development interfaces and supporting a community of AutoCAD developers. We have saved thousands of person-hours for our customers by building extensions on the AutoCAD platform that automate the manual tasks of activities like drawing management and data extraction that would normally be time consuming and error prone. With the AutoCAD I/O platform we can deliver the same productivity enhancements without the need for a desktop copy of AutoCAD. Furthermore, we can take advantage of the power of cloud computing to significantly reduce the time that these operations take without tying up local computers. We have a solution that allows our customers to issue hundreds of drawings whilst extracting all the important title block data and updating the project register in minutes rather than days. Talk to your account manager about how we can significantly improve your productivity by automating AutoCAD.