A Category is a property of a GeometricElement that categorizes its geometry. That is, every GeometricElement is in one and only one Category.

The visibility (on/off) of a category may be controlled per-view.

Categories are similar to levels in DGN, layers in DWG, and categories in RVT.

Category Classes

There are three Category classes, with this hierarchy:

  • DefinitionElement
    • Category (abstract)
      • DrawingCategory (concrete & sealed)
      • SpatialCategory (concrete & sealed)

DrawingCategory is used for classifying GeometricElement2d elements via the GeometricElement2dIsInCategory (concrete & sealed) relationship. GeometricElement2dIsInCategory relates each GeometricElement2d with exactly 1 DrawingCategory.

SpatialCategory is used for classifying GeometricElement3d elements via the GeometricElement3dIsInCategory (concrete & sealed) relationship. GeometricElement3dIsInCategory relates each GeometricElement3d with exactly 1 SpatialCategory.

Note that Categories are not relevant for Elements that are not subclasses of GeometricElements.


A SubCategory is a subdivision of a Category. SubCategories allow GeometricElements to have multiple pieces of Geometry that can be independently visible and styled (color, linesStyle, transparency, etc.)

It is important to understand that a SubCategory is not a Category (i.e. Categories do not nest.) GeometricElements are always related to a Category, not a SubCategory. That is, it makes no sense to say a GeometricElement is "on" a SubCategory.

A SubCategory always subdivides a single Category. This relationship is defined by the CategoryOwnsSubCategories relationship. Every Category has one SubCategory called the default SubCategory.

An example of a Category is "Window". The "Window" Category might contain SubCategories "Pane", "Mullion" and "Hardware". If the Window Category is displayed, the Pane SubCategory may be displayed while the Mullion SubCategory may be turned off.

Note: If a GeometricElement's Category is off, the element is not displayed, period. SubCategory is only relevant when the Category of the element is displayed.

Category Rank

Categories have a property called Rank that is defined by this enum:

enum class Rank
  System = 0, //!< This category is predefined by the system
  Domain = 1, //!< This category is defined by a domain.
  Application = 2, //!< This category is defined by an application.
  User = 3, //!< This category is defined by a user.

Category and SubCategory CodeValue

Category and SubCategory names comes from their CodeValue.

To avoid creating names that are unprintable, indistinguishable to users, and/or cannot be export to other systems, the following characters are disallowed in Category and SubCategory names:


Category CodeScope

Category is a subclass of DefinitionElement, and are therefore required to be in DefinitionModels. By convention, the Codes for Categories are scoped to their DefinitionModel.

For Categories that are meant to be specific to a discipline or Domain, create a DefinitionModel and use it for your Categories. This permits each Domain to have a unique set of Categories, even though their names are not necessarily unique across the Domains.

SubCategory CodeScope

The CodeScope of a SubCategory is always its parent Category. That is, SubCategory CodeValues are only unique within their Category.

SubCategory References in GeometryStreams

Every GeometricElement2d and GeometricElement3d has a Category. They also have a GeometryStream property that defines the geometry of the Element. Within that GeometryStream, 0..N references can be made to SubCategoryIds of the element's Category to control the visibility and style of entries within the GeometryStream. Any reference to a SubCategoryId that is not a SubCategory of the element's Category is rejected.

Domain Standardization of SpatialCategories

Every Domain should provide standard Categories for the GeometricElements that it creates. Categories will often correspond to classes in the Domain ("Door", "Window", "Beam", etc.). SubCategories within each Category may correspond to portions of the GeometricElement ("Hardware") or to important geometric aspects of the GeometricElement ("CenterLine").

Every SpatialElement subclass does not need its own SpatialCategory. Two common SpatialCategory patterns are:

  1. A SpatialCategory is used for a class and all its descendent classes.
  2. A SpatialCategory is used for a set of unrelated classes that have some conceptual similarity but do not fit rule 1.

User Control of DrawingCategories

DrawingCategories are similar to drawing layer/level standards and are ultimately under the control of the user. It is intended that DrawingCategories will be distributed via catalogs in the future.

iModel Connectors and Categories

Each iModel Connector job should create a DefinitionModel for its Categories. That way each connector can have its own set of Categories without risk of name collision with other jobs.

iModel Connectors should respect and use the standard SpatialCategories defined by the Domains.

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Last Updated: 15 May, 2024