After writing the post on all the different ArchiCAD key and license types, I think it’s worth talking more about project migration and old versions of ArchiCAD. We touched on this topic in that post, and I’ve mentioned it a few times on both BIM Engine and my blog, but I’ve yet to really dedicate a post exclusively to the issue.

When moving between versions, whether it’s ArchiCAD or another program, we face a few converging issues

1986 - archicad 2

ArchiCAD 2 in 1986

Most enterprise software is now on a yearly release schedule. Looking back at the history of ArchiCAD, we’ve gotten a new version every year since the 2006 release of ArchiCAD 10. But that’s just part of the story, look closer at the link. Since the release of Radar CH in 1984, only 1985, 2000, and 2005 haven’t seen either a new release of ArchiCAD or a major numbered update (such as 2003’s ArchiCAD 8.1). So really we could say ArchiCAD has been on a yearly release schedule since the very beginning. We’ve just switched to whole numbers since 2004; no more decimal versions. That all means a four year old version of ArchiCAD is also four releases behind.

Likewise the release cycle for operating systems is also compressing. Between 2001 and 2012 we’ve had Windows XP, Vista, 7, & 8. In the same time we’ve gone from Mac OS X 10.1 to 10.8. While Microsoft isn’t on yearly updates yet, Apple is. So expect OS X 10.9 later this year. What that means is we get compatibility pressure from the operating system side. For Windows users, you’ll want to be aware of these issues. And for Mac Users, check here. Those links will tell you what versions of ArchiCAD are supported on the latest operating systems, and which just flat out won’t work (hint: anything older than ArchiCAD 10 won’t work on Mac OS X 10.7 or newer).

I recently wrote about hardware requirements for ArchiCAD. Refresh your memory. The issue to be aware of is that your ‘fairly new’ machine is probably a lot older and more out of date than you think. A machine from a few years ago running OS X 10.6 or earlier, or Windows XP could have potential issues with everything from not enough RAM, CPU speed, or cores to only being 32-bit and having a weak video card. And that’s not even touching upon unsupported operating systems, drivers no longer being updated, and other more general compatibility issues with software that may indirectly affect ArchiCAD.

As a result of these three issues, each year we are faced with multiple layers of new software (and their subsequent hardware requirements). Versions we are familiar with (Windows XP or ArchiCAD 7, both 2001) are positively ancient in the digital world. Or they might not be that many years old, but they have so many new releases superseding them (Mac OS X 10.6 or ArchiCAD 13, both 2009). What that means is we need to begrudgingly accept that last year’s big release quickly gets left behind.

Backwards Compatibility vs Forward Compatibility

Backwards Compatibility means a newer version of a software can open a file made by an older version of the software. In other words, ArchiCAD 16 can open an ArchiCAD 10 file. On the surface this is a no brainer: New is better than Old; New opens Old. End of story. But. But. But. Annoyingly that’s not the end of the story. ArchiCAD 16 can’t open any file older than ArchiCAD 10. So it can’t open a file made with version 9, 8.1, 7.0, 6.5… I couldn’t find the exact explanation as to why, but I assume it’s a coding thing. Any readers know the answer? The solution to backwards compatibility beyond the event horizon of ArchiCAD 10 files is to use the File Converters that Graphisoft provides. These will let you open files as old as ArchiCAD 4.1. But effectively because of hardware issues (see the link about File Converters), only ArchiCAD 6.5 and newer are really accessible for Mac users. I think PC users are in a better situation, assuming they still have WIBU keys instead of CodeMeter keys.

Forward Compatibility means an older version of a software can open a file made by a newer version of the software. So in our ArchiCAD world, that would describe the (Herculean) feat of opening an ArchiCAD 16 file in ArchiCAD 10. Everyone more or less understands—at least implicitly—why we shouldn’t expect this to be possible. I don’t need to fill this post with all the changes between ArchiCAD 10 and 16, but there are a lot. While many of us wish it’d be easy to open new files in older versions, we all get that the Morph Tool didn’t exist five years ago so ArchiCAD 12 wouldn’t understand how to read that data. HOWEVER… if you really need to get a new file into an old version there is an arduous process you can take. Be Warned! With each step backwards in time, you’ll lose more data.

ArchiCADEvery version of ArchiCAD, as far back as I can recall can save backwards one version. So if you are using ArchiCAD 16, you can save backwards to ArchiCAD 15. But anything that was new to ArchiCAD 16 will be lost in the back-saved version (so all your Morphs will vanish). Regardless of the lost data, one step into the past is easy. If you need to go more than one step, your task isn’t any harder, just more annoying. If you needed to go from say ArchiCAD 16 to ArchiCAD 13, you would save from 16 to 15 in ArchiCAD 16, then open ArchiCAD 15 and save from 15 to 14, then open ArchiCAD 14 and save from 14 to 13. By then you’d have lost a lot of info—Morphs, Shells, Renovation Statuses, other improvements—but you’d have the core of your model in an earlier version. I’ve had to do this on a few occasions. I was working on one project where I was in ArchiCAD 14 modeling and my teammate was doing 2D structural overlays and details in ArchiCAD 11 (don’t ask). Fortunately the data going backwards and forwards in time was all 2D. This meant lost data was pretty much negligible. Also note that for this process to work, one has to have all the intervening versions of ArchiCAD installed.

ArchiCAD Library ObjectsLibrary parts (Objects) have their own special quarks about backwards and forwards compatibility. This ArchiCADwiki article explains the process nicely. Since ArchiCAD 13, when you open an older file in a newer version, ArchiCAD will automatically replace the Objects with their more recent analogs, if they exist. So for instance the Object House Model 13 will be replaced with House Model 16 when you open an ArchiCAD 13 file in ArchiCAD 16 with the ArchiCAD 16 library loaded. Note this only works with Objects that are from ArchiCAD 13 or newer. An ArchiCAD 12, 11, or earlier Object won’t replace itself. The link at the beginning of this paragraph also covers Migration Libraries. Those are important with migrating forward in time. ArchiCAD 16 and presumably future versions come with migration libraries for ArchiCAD 10 and higher. These library subsets fill in the gaps of the old objects that aren’t replaced with newer versions. Think of Migration Libraries as discontinued Objects. If you need access to older libraries, but don’t have them on your computer, you’re in luck. You can download ArchiCAD libraries from versions 4.55 through 9.0. This link will tell you more.

ArchiCAD LibraryNow that your brain is overloaded and spinning, some critical points

  1. Saving backwards to earlier versions of ArchiCAD can be avoided if you agree to use the oldest version of ArchiCAD that your team members need to use (ie, if the firm you’re teaming with is stuck on ArchiCAD 14, use ArchiCAD 14 with them. If you’re on a newer version, your license will let you work in earlier versions—though with the CodeMeter keys only as far back as ArchiCAD 10. Alternatively, get them to upgrade. Seriously. No one should be using ancient versions of ArchiCAD. Here’s why.
  2. Don’t neglect your old projects. Get the intern to spend a day doing Save As on all the old ArchiCAD files. At a bare minimum save everything up to ArchiCAD 10. But while you’re at it, save up to ArchiCAD 16 (or whatever the latest version is when you read this). I presume we’ll be able to open ArchiCAD 10 files for a long time, but what happens when we can’t any longer? You’ve been warned. If you don’t have an intern, get a case of beer and do it while watching Netflix. This should be a fairly mindless process. And for now, just keep the project linked to the old libraries. No need to migrate the parts as long as the old ones are readable in ArchiCAD 16 (certain old Objects not working in new versions is also beyond the scope of this post, see helpful link #3 below).

You need to remember to future proof your data

I can’t stress the above statement enough. Did you follow everything I wrote? Probably not. That’s okay. And probably partially my secret goal. None of the above really matters if you always work with current (or fairly current) software and bring your backlog of data with you. Is it annoying that you have to spend a few hours or a day every couple of years making sure your old projects are in an accessible version? Sure. Is it a waste of time? Absolutely not. Unless you’re 100% okay with not having access to your old work.

Some Helpful Links

  1. Converting Old ArchiCAD Files
  2. Migration Guide for ArchiCAD 16
  3. Library Object Globally Unique Identifier
  4. Need Old libraries from before ArchiCAD 10? Here’s your answer

I’d love to write a follow up post detailing some personal experiences with migrating files between versions. Do you have something to share? Both success and horror stories: I want to hear them both. Send me an e-mail. I’d love to interview you. If you’re still not satisfied and want more on this and related topics, I suggest you read this post next.



  1. Kate Pennington

    ARCHICAD 16 eröffnet Ihnen darüber hinaus einen „zweiten Weg“, um rasch an das passende Objekt für Ihre Planung zu gelangen. , eine Cloud-basierte, in ARCHICAD integrierte Datenbank stellt Ihnen über 10.000 sowohl herstellerspezifische als auch allgemeine GDL-Objekte zur Verfügung. Die Datensammlung wird kontinuierlich erweitert.

  2. Jared Banks

    Oh so I made a mistake in this post. I’m told ArchiCAD 16 (and 17 and presumably versions into the future) can open ArchiCAD 8.1 files. I for some reason thought the cliff was ArchiCAD 10 (which is the oldest ArchiCAD version a Mac running OS X 10.7 or newer can run).

  3. Juan Pablo Hoyos

    Hi, i just want to know if some one here has ArchiCAD 9 Spanish Library and or entire ArchiCAD 9 Spanish for windows or Mac Installer or Folder installed, please really need it, i download the ArchiCAD 9 file converter from Graphisoft but the library is INT and USA not SPA, thanks


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