Sharing Scenery Across Multiple Versions

Can I share scenery across multiple versions of X-Plane?

There are a number of good reasons for wanting to keep multiple versions of X-Plane installed, but let's face it, even with today's huge disks, keeping multiple copies of the 60GB global scenery is not an option for most of us. The Network Installer page describes how to move some of the big folders back and forth among multiple versions, but this is awful fussy, and will get tiresome real quick if you switch back and forth among multiple versions a lot.

The good news is you can share scenery and resources among versions, with some limitations. The mechanism you use is symbolic links, a type of forwarding pointer you can put into the file stucture to make a folder appear in some location when it is actually somewhere else. Symbolic links are available on all three operating systems. Once you have set up the symbolic links, when you copy an X-Plane folder (because you're about to install a new version, for example), the symbolic links get copied and not the common folders they point to. So the copy also shares the common folders.

Warning! Setting up symbolic links requires the use of command line access. Shared folders are not supported by Laminar, their use may stop working in future versions of X-Plane, and they may keep the X-Plane installer from working correctly in the future. This exercise is not for the un-savvy or faint-hearted.

One other thing: X-Plane has changed the way it handles file operations internally during the 8.x run. The symbolic link technique works with versions 8.40 and later but may not work with earlier versions.

Which folders can I share?

Symbolic links work for some X-Plane folders and not for others. They work for folders that X-Plane references directly by name, like "Earth nav data". They do not work for folders that are enumerated. Enumeration means finding all the subfolders in some folder and then handling each one in some way, either processing its contents or displaying it in a menu. For example, all the aircraft folders are enumerated when you go to open an aircraft, and when X-Plane scans the aircraft folders for aircraft to load. Similarly, Custom Scenery folders are enumerated. For this reason, you can't put symlinks into the Aircraft folder to point to your private aircraft library or into the Custom Scenery folder to point to your custom scenery library. This limitation applies to Mac OSX. Other have reported that it does not apply to Linux; I have no word on it either way for Windows.

There are several scenery folders that are large enough to be worth sharing. There is a tradeoff in choosing which ones to share, because some folders are more likely to be updated by future X-Plane versions than others. If you update one of your X-Plane versions, all versions will see any updates made to the shared folders. Usually this will work, but there's always the possibility that the updated resources depend on new features in the new version of X-Plane. If this happens your older versions will stop working and you will have to recover the old scenery resources from a backup (and stop sharing the affected files or folders). So this page is less of a cookbook and more a set of guidelines.
In my own setup I've chosen to be relatively conservative and share the global scenery DSFs and the Earth Orbit Texture files. The DSFs are, of course, the lion's share of the resources at 54GB. The Earth Orbit Texture files are an additional easy 400MB. Neither of these folders is likely to be updated by an 8.x version, certainly not in an incompatible way.

Setting up the shared folders

Here's how I did it on Mac OSX:

I keep all my X-Plane versions (i.e., the X-Plane 8.xx folders) in one folder. In this same folder I created an additional folder named X-Plane 8 Common. Then I moved my Resources/bitmaps/Earth Orbit Textures into the X-Plane 8 Common folder. I created a new folder, X-Plane 8 Common/DSF 820 Earth and moved the Resources/default scenery/DSF 820 Earth/Earth nav data into X-Plane 8 Common/DSF 820 Earth. The result looks like this:


Creating the symlinks

You do this by opening a terminal window, setting your working directory to the right destination folder, and creating the symbolic link with the ln -s command, in my case as follows:

cd "X-Plane 8.50"/Resources/bitmaps
ln -s "../../../X-Plane 8 Common/Earth Orbit Textures" "Earth Orbit Textures"
cd ../"Default Scenery"/"DSF 820 earth"
ln -s "../../../../X-Plane 8 Common/DSF 820 Earth/Earth nav data" "Earth nav data"

When the dust clears, if you've gotten it right, the affected portions of your X-Plane folder will look like this. (I've omitted a lot of the files and folders for clarity.)



Why the duplicate DSF 820 Earth folder? Because the folders in the default scenery folder are enumerated, so DSF 820 Earth itself cannot be a symbolic link.

Cool! What about Linux and Windows?

The good news for Linux is it's just like OSX, since both are basically Unix on the inside. However, on Linux the limitations on enumerated folders apparently don't apply.

On Windows, the equivalent of a symlink is called a junction. The tools to manage junctions are not distributed with Windows, but you can download a third party tool. Usage is similar to the Unix ln -s command but differs in syntax. I haven't done this myself on Windows so I can't give you my own worked example. For a detailed explanation and discussion, see the topic at X-Plane.org.

Note here in the detailed description in post #7, the author sets up symbolic links to the top level Custom Scenery and Default Scenery folders. This saves a lot more space than my example. (Note that 700MB 820 world terrain folder I didn't touch.) However, every X-Plane update will modify the contents of these folders somewhere, so the chances of breaking an earlier X-Plane version in an update is much higher.

Note also that Windows treats junctions a little different than Unix treats symbolic links, so some of the restrictions related to folders that are enumerated described above may not apply in Windows. I haven't had time to experiment, so you'll have to.


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