Altium Designer Extensions

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Altium Designer's Installation Management System allows you to handcraft your installation of the software at any time after initial install. This covers not only updates to the core functionality (or system resources), but also the ability to install, update, or remove additional functionality. The latter is made possible through the provision of optional Extensions. This functionality could include mixed-signal circuit simulation, core embedded design technologies, or maybe support for a new FPGA device family. In short, any targeted packages of functionality that extend and enhance the feature set of Altium Designer – collectively known as Altium Designer Extensions. Think customization of the software, but on a whole new level!

This article takes a dedicated look at the concept of Altium Designer Extensions and, more importantly, their management.

Extensions Management Interface

Additional software functionality, provided through optional extensions, can be browsed, installed and managed through the Extensions & Updates view – one of several views available under Altium Designer's Home page. Access from the Admin view of the Home page, or by clicking the Extensions and Updates entry on the software's pop-out resources pane – accessed by clicking the  button.

The Extensions & Updates view - command central for managing the extensions for your Altium Designer installation.

It is from here that you can see, at-a-glance, which extensions are currently installed, if there are any updates available for them, or if additional functionality is available through further extensions. And you are not constrained in any way – you can freely install, update or remove extension-based functionality at any time as your needs change.

The Extensions & Updates view also reflects the current state of the Altium Designer platform itself, with controls available to modify the core features and functionality installed with the platform, and also to update the platform to the next version of Altium Designer, as and when it becomes available.

Extensions Explained

Before looking at the workings of the interface provided by the Extensions & Updates view, it's a good idea to take a step back and consider what it is that allows the functionality of the software to be extended – the Extension.

This is a key concept of the system to understand. An extension is effectively an add-on to the software, providing extended features and functionality. A core set of features and functions are installed and handled transparently as part of the initial install, referred to as System Resources. In addition, a range of Optional Extensions are available – packets of functionality that are optionally installed or removed by the user as required. It is the extension concept that enables the installation to be handcrafted in accordance with design needs.

Customization of an Altium Designer installation essentially boils down to management of the available extensions. Install, update, or remove available extensions as and when you need to. A range of extensions are available from Altium for use with Altium Designer. In addition, and with the Altium DXP Developer extension, you can extend the functionality of Altium Designer yourself through use of the Altium Designer SDK (Software Development Kit) – creating your own extensions for the software.

And inherent to the Altium DXP Developer extension is the dedicated DXP Developer Interface - the user interface for manging custom extensions. Part of this interface is a publishing feature that enables you to share those extensions securely with a wider audience through release to the Global Extensions Gallery. This is a cloud-based Altium Vault and opens up the possibility for third party developers to offer and trade extensions for Altium Designer, through secure distribution, licensing, and installation of the extensions they craft.

Functionality is added to, or removed from Altium Designer, through installation or removal of optional extensions.

Types of Extension

As a concept, an optional extension is a single entity – a package of functionality that installs seamlessly into Altium Designer's wider platform environment. However from the designer's perspective, optional extensions can be further categorized to provide greater depth of meaning as to just what is being installed. As a result, an optional extension can be classified into one of the following three types:

  • Platform Extension –a dedicated package of core platform functionality that has been 'brought out' of the platform and delivered in the guise of an extension. By delivering this functionality as an extension, Altium can deliver updates to that core functionality without having to release an update to the entire platform itself. This streamlines delivery of such functionality to the designer using the software, and gives Altium's Developers freedom to enhance areas of the core software platform outside of that platform, all the while retaining the cohesive delivery of a unified platform.
  • Software Extension – a dedicated add-on for the software that extends its features and functionality is some measurable way. Software extensions can be delivered by Altium itself, or be developed by third parties and traded for a defined purchase price.
  • Hardware Device – a specialized extension in support of a specific physical device family, for use in soft design.

From the software's perspective, an extension is an extension, is an extension. The back-end mechanics of handling extensions – integrating them into the platform's unified design environment – is the same, irrespective of the type of extension being installed.

Working with the Extensions & Updates View

The following sections take a closer look at working with the Extensions & Updates view to effectively enhance your installation of Altium Designer. The view itself consists of the following distinct 'pages':

  • Installed – functionality currently installed as part of your Altium Designer installation. This includes platform functionality (core resources and platform extensions), software extensions, and hardware devices. It is from this page that you can configure the core platform, adding or removing features and functionality at any stage after installation, directly from within the software.
  • Purchased – platform extensions, software extensions and hardware devices that you have already purchased and that are available for installation to your instance of Altium Designer.
  • Updates – any updates that are available for currently-installed extensions (of all types), as well as the main platform itself.

When accessing a page in the view, extension information is retrieved from the location in which that extension is stored. Altium's own extensions are stored in, and information therefore retrieved from, a dedicated cloud-based Altium Vault. To force a manual refresh of the extension data, use the Refresh control, at the top-right of a page.

Browsing Installed Functionality

Information about your current installation can be readily seen from the Installed page of the view.

Look to the Installed page of the view for a summary of what's currently installed in your instance of Altium Designer.

This page presents the following information:

  1. The version of the main Altium Designer platform currently installed, along with the user (and computer name) and account under which a valid license of the software is being used.
  2. The platform extensions currently installed.
  3. The software extensions currently installed.
  4. The hardware devices currently installed.

To access more detailed information about an extension (of any type), simply click on its name. For more information, see Browsing Purchased Extensions.

Browsing/Modifying the Core Feature Set

The core design functionality for your installation can be modified at any time after installation, and directly from within the Extensions & Updates view. From the Installed page, simply click the Configure control, at the top-right of the Platform region. This accesses the Configure Platform page, presenting the core feature set for the software – including platform extensions – and is identical in content to that found on the Select Design Functionality page of the Altium Designer Installer.

Configure the core functionality for your installation directly from within Altium Designer.

Features that are already installed have a tick in their associated checkbox (). Those that are not currently installed have an empty checkbox (). The following changes can be made:

  • To install a feature that is not currently installed, enable it (check its checkbox).
  • To remove a feature that is currently installed, disable it (uncheck its checkbox).

Quickly enable all features in a particular section, for installation, using the corresponding All On control, at the top-right of that section.

Remember that the PCB Design option provides the base software and core technologies required to perform PCB design. It is always installed and cannot be removed.

Make changes to the installed core feature set as required and click Apply. A confirmation dialog will appear, click OK to apply the changes and restart Altium Designer. The instance of Altium Designer will close and a window will appear showing progress, in terms of download of the files required to implement the change(s), followed by the installation of those files. Altium Designer will then be restarted.

To return to the main view of your installation, either click the Installed page header again, or click on the Installed part of the breadcrumbs, at the top-left of the page.

Browsing Purchased Extensions

Access the Purchased page of the view to browse a listing of all extension-based functionality currently purchased for your installation of Altium Designer – consisting of platform extensions, software extensions, and hardware devices. This is functionality that can be optionally added to, or removed from, your Altium Designer installation.

Browse through a listing of purchased extensions.

By default, only those extensions that have not yet been added to your installation are presented. To view all purchased extensions, irrespective of their installation status, disable the Purchased but not installed option, at the top-right of the page. An extension that has not yet been installed is indicated by the download icon (), while one that is currently installed is indicated by the installed icon ().

Clicking on the name of an extension accesses a detailed page for that extension.

Examine and manage your installation at the individual extension level.

Information includes:

  • Whom the extension was created by.
  • Its version.
  • Its release date.
  • Where it is sourced from (the Global vault or the organization's local vault for example).
  • A more detailed description.
  • Any pertinent release notes.

A control to Install, Update, or Remove the extension will be available at this level, depending on that extension's current installation status, and if it is already installed, whether or not there is an update available for it.

Installing an Extension

An individual extension can be installed in one of two ways:

  • From the summary-level Purchased page, by clicking on the  icon at the top-right of its entry. Hover the mouse over the download icon, to view details of the version available.
  • From its detailed page, by clicking the Install button.

Platform extensions can also be installed from the Configure Platform page, when making changes to the core functionality of the installation.

Highlighting the methods of installing an extension.

At the summary-level Purchased page, a progress bar will appear, showing progress of the download (getting the fileset for that extension from the source vault) and subsequent installation.

Installation progress is shown for each individual extension you choose to install.

Should you need to cancel installation of an extension, simply click its associated cancel icon ().

You can click to install as many extensions as you like, they will simply be added to a queue, with up to four extensions being downloaded and installed at any given time.

Install multiple extensions - they will be added to the installation queue.

A restart of Altium Designer is required after an extension finishes installing, in order for the functionality it provides to take effect. The interface will alert you to this, using the  icon.

For each installed extension, its associated installation files are stored in a dedicated folder, named after that extension. Extension folders can be found along the following path: \ProgramData\Altium\Altium Designer <GUID>\Extensions. In addition, the root Extensions folder contains a registry file – ExtensionsRegistry.xml – which is used to keep track of all extensions currently installed for that instance of Altium Designer.

Additional verification of which extensions are currently installed can be found by switching the Extensions & Updates view to its Installed page.

Updates

Access the Updates page of the view to browse a listing of all extensions for which there is an update available – for the different types of extensions, as well as for the platform itself.

Browse whether any currently installed extensions, or the main platform, have an update available.

Updating an Extension

An individual extension can be installed in one of two ways:

  • From the summary-level Updates page, by clicking on the  icon at the top-right of its entry. Hover the mouse over the icon, to view details of the version available.
  • From its detailed page, by clicking the Update button.

At the summary-level Updates page, a progress bar will appear, showing progress of the download (getting the fileset for the later version of that extension from the source vault) and subsequent installation. Should you need to cancel the update of an extension, simply click its associated cancel icon ().

As with installation, you can click to update as many extensions as you like, they will simply be added to a queue, with up to four extensions being downloaded and installed at any given time.

Be sure to restart Altium Designer after you have finished updating the required extensions, in order for the later functionality they provide to take effect. The interface will alert you to this, using the  icon.

Updating the Main Platform

Altium Designer – that is, the platform itself – can be updated directly from the Updates page of the Extensions & Updates view. When a new version of the platform is available, a notification will be present on the Updates page. Simply click the  icon to proceed with the update. Hover the mouse over the icon, to view details of the platform version available.

If there is no later version of the platform available, then the text Platform software is up to date will be displayed to reflect this.

Update to a new version of Altium Designer, directly from within the current version!

A progress bar will appear, showing progress of the download (essentially getting the installer for the later version from the source vault). Should you need to cancel the update of the platform, simply click its associated cancel icon ().

A confirmation dialog will appear, alerting you to the fact that a restart is required to install the platform update – click Yes. The instance of Altium Designer will close and a window will appear (essentially the Updating Altium Designer page of the installer dialog) showing progress, in terms of download of the files required to implement the update, followed by the installation of those files.

Altium Designer will then be restarted.

Verification that you now have the later version of the platform installed can be made either from any page of the Extensions & Updates view, or from the Help » About splash screen.

Automatic Checking for Updates

Altium Designer provides automated checking for updates – both for the platform itself, and for installed extensions. Checking is configured, in terms of checking frequency (how often the software will check for new updates), from the System – Installation page of the Preferences dialog.

Access the System – Installation preferences page directly from the Extensions & Updates view, by clicking the Settings control, to the left of the Refresh control, at the top-right of a page.

Define automated checking for updates as part of your Altium Designer preferences.

Set the field to one of the following frequencies:

  • Never
  • Every day
  • Every 3 days – the default setting.
  • Every week
  • Every 2 weeks
  • Every month

To effectively turn off the automated update checking feature, set the Check frequency to Never.

Uninstalling an Extension

A currently installed extension can be uninstalled in one of two ways:

  • From the summary-level Installed page, by clicking on the  icon at the top-right of its entry.
  • From its detailed page, by clicking the Remove button.

Platform extensions can also be removed from the Configure Platform page, when making changes to the core functionality of the installation.

Remember that the PCB Design option provides the base software and core technologies required to perform PCB design. It is always installed and cannot be removed.

Highlighting the methods of removing an extension.

Be sure to restart Altium Designer after you have finished uninstalling the required extensions, in order for their functionality to be removed from the installation. The interface will alert you to this, using the  icon.

The extension will no longer be displayed on the Installed page. Instead, it can be found on the Purchased page, available for install again if needed.

For each extension that is uninstalled, its associated installation folder and files will be removed from the following path: \ProgramData\Altium\Altium Designer <GUID>\Extensions. In addition, the registry file – ExtensionsRegistry.xml – will be updated to remove entries for those uninstalled extensions.

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