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Fusion 360 Mastery: How to Use Version Control to Easily Manage Your Design Projects
Welcome back to the Fusion 360 Mastery series! In our previous installment we dug into the details of working with files, folders, and projects. Now it’s time to take these concepts a step further with Fusion 360’s version control system. If you’re coming from the world of software development then you might already understand what version control is, feel free to skip ahead. If this is your first time hearing about it, let’s cover the basics.
What is Version Control?
Put simply, version control allows you to track every change made to your project’s files. You can think of it like taking a snapshot. Each time you make a change to a file, a version control system records what was changed, who changed it, and when. As your project progresses, you’ll have a complete history of versions that can be reviewed or restored whenever you need.
This system sounds simple enough, what’s the big deal? Imagine the days before version control systems existed. Designers in a team would typically have their own copies of the same file on their computers. Let’s say you make a change, how does anyone else know about it? Do you shout across the office? Send an email? Maybe you have to start a spreadsheet to keep everything on track? This can be a real mess to manage.
Why Use Version Control?
Let’s face it, your priority is your design project. Trying to piece together a manual version control system is just adding another to-do onto your already full plate. This is why we made version control an integrated component of Fusion 360. It works right out of the box, automatically. So why use it?
Collaboration is easy
Everyone on your team is able to work on the same project, at any time, without any concerns about changes overlapping. There’s no worrying about who has which version of which file. It’s all in one centralized location, with every change and collaborator clearly tracked.
Tracking versions is simple
You’re likely already in the habit of saving your project as you work on it, but how do you know how often to save? How are you going to name each version? And most importantly, how do you know what was changed in each version? All of these questions are taken care of by the version control system in Fusion 360, automatically.
Visibility is clear
Every time a change is made to a design in Fusion 360, the version control system kicks in to make a new version of your project file. Each version also has its own description that can tell you at a glance what was changed, by who, and why. This helps tremendously when you have multiple people working on the same design and need some accountability in your workflow.
Restoring versions is quick
Maybe you had a team meeting and realized that your latest design revision just isn’t cutting it. How are you going to revert back to another version? Hopefully you didn’t already overwrite your previous changes! With version control in Fusion 360 you can quickly revert back to a previous version whenever you want.
Backing up is worry free
Thanks for Fusion’s cloud storage, every version that gets created is safely and centrally located. Did your computer just take a nosedive and needs to be replaced? Your design project isn’t lost forever. Open up Fusion 360 on any device and your entire project history will be waiting for you.
How to Use Version Control in Fusion 360
The version control system in Fusion 360 has a ton of functionality to play around with, and yet it’s incredibly simple to start using. We’ll be walking through a sample file below that gives you an idea of how the process works. If you want to follow along, download the sample file here.
First things first, we need to add our sample file to Fusion 360 so it can start tracking changes. We can do this by selecting the Upload button within a project.
Once the file is successfully uploaded to Fusion 360 the version control system gets to work. Open your Data Panel and you’ll see the first version of the sample file labeled as V1.
Let’s open this file in our canvas, make some changes to it, and see how the version control process works. This sample file includes a handle that can be rotated around a base plate. If you left-click and drag the handle left or right it should rotate. Release left-click and the new positioning gets locked into place.
When you change the position of a model you need to capture it. After moving the handle, select the Capture Position button at the top of your interface. You also revert the handle to its original location if needed from the same menu.
This is a good time to check out the timeline in Fusion 360 at the bottom of the canvas. You’ll notice at the far right of the timeline we have a new Position action that has been added. If this is your first time reviewing the timeline, don’t stress. There’s a lot of icons down there, but it’s basically just a history of all the changes applied to your design. Check out the latest addition:
Adding a version change description
Now that the new position is successfully captured, we can save our design. Select Save at the top of your interface and the Add Version Description dialog will open. The description you add here will be visible to everyone that has access to your project. Add as many details as needed to clearly communicate what you changed.
After adding a description, select OK and wait a moment for Fusion’s version control system to save your snapshot. After opening the Data Panel we can see V2 listed for the handle file:
We’re going to make one more final rotation to our handle and save again to get a third version.
At this point working with the version control system has been pretty hands off. You make changes to a file, save it, and a new version is created automatically. But what happens if you want to view a previous version, see what was changed, or revert to an earlier version? That all happens in the Data Panel.
Viewing the version history
With your Data Panel open, select the V2 (or V3) icon for the Handle file and you’ll open up a complete version history. As you can see we have all 3 versions listed, each with their own unique description and time.
There are also some tabs to see if this file Uses any reference designs, is Used In any other designs, or if it contains any Drawings. These tabs are outside the scope of this walk through, but feel free to explore them on your own.
Back in the Versions tab, If you hover over a non-current version you’ll see two options:
- Promote. You can promote an older version, which will make it the current version.
- Open. You can open an older version, which will open in a new tab.
Promoting old versions
Let’s take promote for a test spin and see what happens. We’re going to promote our second version to the current version. Make note of the timeline in our current version:
And what it looks like after promoting V2 to the current version:
As you can see, when we promoted an older version it changed the timeline to remove the second rotation capture. Back in our version history we can also see that promoting an older version creates a new version:
Opening multiple versions
Just want to open multiple versions of the same file and compare them side by side? The Open action is your best bet. This will open each file version in a separate tab, like so:
One thing to keep in mind, each older version you open is read-only. This means if you need to make any changes to an older version then you have to save it as a brand new design.
Let’s say we want to save V2 as a completely new design to work on outside of this project. We can do this by opening V2 and selecting File > Save As. Give that file a name, and you have yourself a new, version-controlled handle to work with.
That about covers the fundamentals of version control in Fusion 360. Go ahead and play around, try making changes to your design, and check out the version history and timeline to see how everything gets tracked!
That’s a Wrap
In today’s world of distributed teams, it just makes sense to use an automated version control system. Even if you’re flying solo on a project, it can be incredibly useful to have every version of your design at your fingertips. Whether you need to roll back, promote, or just review changes, version control in Fusion 360 has your back!
Ready to make easy work of managing and controlling your design projects? Try Fusion 360 today!