Altium Designer Documentation

Building & Maintaining Your Components and Libraries in Altium Designer

Created: April 22, 2022 | Updated: September 2, 2022
Image of various components

An electronics design is a collection of connected components. The rewarding part of product development is coming up with cool ways of solving those engineering challenges and connecting those components to craft your unique design.

However, a large part of the work, and to many designers, the more tedious part, is creating the components. While it might not be exciting, the components become a valuable resource for your company, and it is essential that they accurately represent the real-world component.

The component that you buy and solder onto the board is the real component, but that component has to be modeled in each of the electronic design domains in which you want to use it.

Depending on what type of design implementations you plan to perform, your component could include a symbol for the schematic, a simulation model for the circuit simulator, an IBIS model for signal integrity analysis, a pattern or footprint for PCB layout, and a 3D model for visualization, 3D clearance checking, and export to the mechanical CAD domain.


Component Management

Effective management of component data is essential for electronic design, and the management of components used in a design has always been a fundamental element of the Altium design software. As the software evolved over years, the component management methodologies traveled a long way, from simple discrete libraries of schematic and PCB models, through database libraries, to the Workspace components providing representation of design components to a wider product development arena, along with cutting-edge and easy-to-use features for unparalleled collaboration during the entire design process.

Workspace

Workspace Library

Components stored in a connected Workspace that provides a single source of up-to-date and standardized component data for your entire design team. Parametric and faceted search capabilities allow you to find and place the parts you need efficiently and quickly. These components are tightly coupled with the real-world manufactured part and supply chain data accessible at design time, offering a significant improvement in terms of procurement cost and time when manufacturing the assembled product.

If you have Altium Designer Pro Subscription or Altium Designer Enterprise Subscription, then additional capabilities will be available to you when you are connecting to your Workspace. For more information, see Workspace Library.

Database

Database Library Want to tightly couple the design components to your company database? Then explore database libraries. Each record is a component, referencing the required models and parametric component data. The model links and parameters are added to the symbol during placement, turning it into an Altium Designer component.
SVN Database Library An SVN Database Library is an extension of the Database Library model, with the difference being that the source symbol and models are stored under version control. The source libraries are created, added-to, and maintained within, a Subversion-based repository. The link to the repository, and to the external database, is defined within an SVN Database Library file (*.SVNDbLib).
Database Link Using this method, the Database Link file (*.DbLink) defines linkage between the schematic component and a matched record in a database. The record match is established by key field linking, which can be a single key field (for example a part number), or multiple key fields (by defining a Where clause).

File

Integrated Library Prefer to have your components pre-packed and pre-verified in a single file? Then compile the source schematic/PCB/simulation models to generate an integrated library (*.IntLib).
Schematic Library A schematic library (*.SchLib) can be a model library, holding component symbols; or if model links and parametric data are added to each symbol, it becomes a component library.
PCB Library A library for storing PCB footprint models (*.PcbLib). If required, a 3D model can be added to each footprint. 3D models are created from 3D body objects, or a STEP model imported into a 3D body object.

Workspace Library

Components are stored in your Workspace – one centralized secure location for all your design data, accessible for your entire design team. The benefits of using components hosted in a Workspace are vast. Some of the advantages are:

  • Single source of component data – with a Workspace accessible for the entire team, engineers can source up-to-date and standardized components from one secure location, get real-time supply chain data, and use parametric and faceted search to find the exact components they need.
  • Design-time choice of physical components – for any given component, you can choose which manufacturer parts can be used to implement that component when assembling the board.
  • Real-time supply-chain information – fed back from the aggregate parts database of the Altium Parts Provider (which itself interfaces to and gathers the parts from enabled Suppliers) to let the designer know the current costing and availability of the chosen parts, and from all vendors that sell those chosen parts (as defined in the Workspace's local Part Catalog). This information can be added to a component at any moment, including after save of this component to the Workspace – without directly editing it and hence without impacting designs where it is already used – and then be used as part of a Bill of Materials.
  • Concurrent editing of the library – as the Workspace library is essentially a set of Component Items hosted by this Workspace, multiple users can be editing or creating new components for the Workspace library independently, without having to wait when other users will finish the work on their side.
  • Component Models Reuse – a component can be thought as a 'bucket' into which all parametric information and domain models is stored, including schematic symbol, PCB footprints, and simulation models. A component doesn't contain the domain models themselves but rather links to the relevant model Items that are also in a Workspace, so a single domain model can be used by multiple components. If a model changes, you'll be suggested to update all components that use this model, and this ensures that no component will use an out-of-date model.
  • Direct Component Editing – if a component needs to be edited, you can open it for editing directly from within your Workspace. A temporary instance of the Component Editor allows you to edit all aspects of that component, including modifying its referenced domain models without a file-based document in sight.

And if you enjoy having Altium Designer Pro Subscription or Altium Designer Enterprise Subscription, you’ll also benefit from extended functionality:

  • Use of Component Templates – apply parameter and component taxonomy-based templates, so each new component type automatically has the correct BOM-compliant parameter set in addition to automating the correct naming, revision, and lifecycle schemes.
  • Component Lifecycle Validation – if a component is in an "end of life", "obsolete", or "abandoned" state, you will be warned before trying to manufacture boards that use it.
  • Where-used Component Traceability – components can be traced all the way through usages: if a part goes obsolete, you can explore in which designs it was used to know which ones need to be updated. If a symbol or footprint has an error, you can see all the components that use that symbol and footprint so you can fix them.
  • Requests of new components – an engineer can submit requests for new (or missing) components to the dedicated librarians and get notified when this component becomes available for use in designs by the requestor and other engineers in the company.

Altium Designer can work with two types of Workspace:

With an Altium 365 Workspace, you'll benefit from a richer set of collaborative features, including Global Sharing. And because it is cloud-based, you get the latest version of the Workspace without having to worry about manual upgrades.

Read more about Designing with a connected Workspace.

When hosting your components in Altium 365 Workspace, you'll have access to view more detailed information regarding component health, through a dedicated Library Health dashboard. This provides greater detail on issues and enables you to quickly assess and fix components accordingly.

Read about Component Management with a Connected Workspace and Components in a Workspace.


Database Libraries

Database Libraries

Altium Designer provides the ability to place components directly from a company database, by creating and using a Database Library. Placement is carried out from the Components panel which, after installing a database library, acts as a browser into your database.

After placement, design parameter information can be synchronized between placed components and their corresponding linked records in the database. Full component updates – including the graphical symbol, model references, and parameters, can be performed. Parametric information from the database can also be included in the final Bill of Materials (BOM), ready for component procurement.

The Move from 32-bit to 64-bit Software

With the release of Altium Designer version 18.0 and Altium NEXUS version 1.0, the design software became 64-bit. To link from design components to a database in a 64-bit version of Altium software, the backend database engine must also be 64-bit. If you use Microsoft Access or Excel to manage the backend data and have a 32-bit version of Office installed, it is possible to install the 64-bit Microsoft Access database engine as well. For detailed information about how to do this, follow the instructions in the Using Database Libraries with 32-bit and 64-bit Altium Design Software on the same Computer article.

If you attempt to connect via the 32-bit Microsoft Access database engine, the following error message will appear.

Error dialog, reporting that a 64-bit version of the Microsoft Access Database engine is required for database linking

Note that certain connection errors, such as incorrect syntax in the Provider details of the Connection String, can result in the wrong database engine being called and the error dialog shown above appearing, after installing the 64-bit database engine.

Read about Working with Database Libraries.


File-based Libraries

Library files

If you need to keep your components locally, on your file system, you can organize your components into file-based libraries.

An Altium Designer file-based library is an arbitrary collection of models or components. How the models or components are organized into libraries is up to you. You might structure your libraries around device suppliers, or you might cluster components by function, for example, with a library for all of the microcontrollers your company uses.

Schematic component symbols are created in schematic libraries (*.SchLib). The components in these libraries then reference footprints and other models defined in separate footprint libraries (*.PcbLib) and model files. As a designer, you can place components from these discrete component libraries or you can compile the symbol libraries, footprint libraries, and model files into integrated libraries (*.IntLib).

Read about Working with File-based Component Management Methodologies.


Models

A component

From a designer's perspective, a component gathers together all information needed to represent that component across all design domains, within a single entity. It could therefore be thought of as a container in this respect.

Each component is a collection of linked models and parametric component data. It is the models that contain the detailed information needed by each design domain.

The following model types can be used:

Schematic symbol The symbol represents the component on the schematic sheet. The symbol is created using standard drawing objects, the pins add the electrical properties.
SPICE model Simulate the behavior of the connected components using the SPICE simulator. SPICE models are usually sourced from device suppliers.
Signal Integrity model PCB interconnects are becoming part of the circuit as device and circuit switching speeds increase. IBIS models describe the pin behavior, allowing Altium Designer's signal integrity simulator to analyze the routes.
PCB footprint Each component needs to have a place defined on the PCB where it mounts and connects – the footprint is the model that defines that PCB space. A PCB footprint is created from a set of standard objects, with the pads providing the connectivity.
3D model Today's electronic product is compact and tightly packed, comes in an unusual shape, and may well have a PCB that is folded to fit into the case. To design a product like this you need to be able to model the PCB in 3D – so you can visualize the finished board, perform 3D clearance checking, and transfer the loaded board to the mechanical CAD domain. To do this, you'll need a 3D model of each component.

Read about creating and managing Symbols, Footprint Models, Simulation Models, and 3D Models in your Workspace.


The Components Panel

The expanded Components panel

The Components panel provides direct access to all available components, including Workspace, database and file-based library components, in Altium Designer.

The panel sources components from a Workspace and any open or installed library files. The panel offers full details of the selected component (Parameters, Models, Part Choices, Supplier data, etc.), component comparison, and for the Workspace components, a filter-based parametric search capability for specifying target component parameters. Based on contextual dynamic filters, the panel’s search capability allows you to quickly locate the exact part you need from your company's connected Workspace.

By using Altium Designer's Manufacturer Part Search panel, you can search for real-world manufactured parts, then acquire those parts into your Workspace. Acquisition involves creating a new component – using the Component Editor in its Single Component Editing mode – and releasing to the Workspace.

Read about the Components panel.


Where to Next?

Component Management with a Connected Workspace

Creating a Schematic Symbol

Creating a PCB Footprint

Working with Pad & Via Templates and Libraries

Working with Database Libraries

Working with File-based Component Libraries

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