Workbench creation

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This page will show you how to add a new workbench to the FreeCAD interface. Workbenches are containers for FreeCAD commands. They can be coded in python, in C++, or in a mix of both, which has the advantage to ally the speed of C++ to the flexibility of python. In all cases, though, your workbench will be launched by a set of two python files.

The workbench structure

Basically it is simple: You need a folder, with any name you like, placed in the Mod directory, with an file, and, optionally an file. The Init file is executed when FreeCAD starts, always, and the file is executed immediately after, but only when FreeCAD starts in GUI mode, not in console mode. That's all it needs for FreeCAD to find your workbench at startup and add it to its interface.

Inside those files you can do whatever you want. Usually they are used like this:

  • In the file you just add a couple of things used even when FreeCAD works in console mode, for example the file importers and exporters
  • In the file you usually define a workbench, which contains a name, an icon, and a series of FreeCAD commands (see below). That workbench also defines functions that are executed when FreeCAD loads (you try to do as little as possible there, so you don't slow down the startup), another that gets executed when the workbench is activated (that's where you'll do most of the work), and a third one when the workbench is deactivated (so you can remove things if needed).

C++ workbench structure

If you are going to code your workbench in python, you don't need to take special care, and can simply place your other python files together with your and files. When working with C++, however, you should take greater care, and start with respecting one fundamental rule of FreeCAD: The separation of your workbench between an App part (that can run in console mode, without any GUI element), and a Gui part, which will only be loaded when FreeCAD runs with its full GUI environment. So when doing a C++ workbench, you will actually most likely be doing two modules, an App and a Gui. These two modules must of course be callable from python. Any FreeCAD module (App or Gui) consists, at the very least, of a module init file. This is a typical AppMyModuleGui.cpp file:

extern "C" {
    void MyModuleGuiExport initMyModuleGui()  
         if (!Gui::Application::Instance) {
            PyErr_SetString(PyExc_ImportError, "Cannot load Gui module in console application.");
        try {
            // import other modules this one depends on
            Base::Interpreter().runString("import PartGui");
            // run some python code in the console
            Base::Interpreter().runString("print('welcome to my module!')");
        catch(const Base::Exception& e) {
            PyErr_SetString(PyExc_ImportError, e.what());
        (void) Py_InitModule("MyModuleGui", MyModuleGui_Import_methods);   /* mod name, table ptr */
        Base::Console().Log("Loading GUI of MyModule... done\n");
        // initializes the FreeCAD commands (in another cpp file)
        // initializes workbench and object definitions
         // add resources and reloads the translators

The file

# FreeCAD init script of XXX module  

#*   (c) John Doe 2015                                        *   
#*                                                                         *
#*   This file is part of the FreeCAD CAx development system.              *
#*                                                                         *
#*   This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify  *
#*   it under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL)    *
#*   as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of     *
#*   the License, or (at your option) any later version.                   *
#*   for detail see the LICENCE text file.                                 *
#*                                                                         *
#*   FreeCAD is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,            *
#*   but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of        *
#*   GNU Lesser General Public License for more details.                   *
#*                                                                         *
#*   You should have received a copy of the GNU Library General Public     *
#*   License along with FreeCAD; if not, write to the Free Software        *
#*   Foundation, Inc., 59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA  02111-1307  *
#*   USA                                                                   *
#*                                                                         *

FreeCAD.addImportType("My own format (*.own)","importOwn")
FreeCAD.addExportType("My own format (*.own)","importOwn")
print "I am executing some stuff here when FreeCAD starts!"

You can choose any license you like for your workbench, but be aware that if you wish to see your workbench integrated into and distributed with the FreeCAD source code at some point, it needs to be LGPL2+ like the example above. The FreeCAD.addImportType() and addEXportType() functions allow you to give the name and extension of a file type, and a python module responsible for its import. In the example above, an "" module will handle .own files. See Code snippets for more examples.

Python workbenches

class MyWorkbench (Workbench):

    MenuText = "My Workbench"
    ToolTip = "A description of my workbench"
    Icon = """paste here the contents of a 16x16 xpm icon"""

    def Initialize(self):
        "This function is executed when FreeCAD starts"
        import MyModuleA, MyModuleB # import here all the needed files that create your FreeCAD commands
        self.list = ["MyCommand1, MyCommand2"] # A list of command names created in the line above
        self.appendToolbar("My Commands",self.list) # creates a new toolbar with your commands
        self.appendMenu("My New Menu",self.list) # creates a new menu
        self.appendMenu(["An existing Menu","My submenu"],self.list) # appends a submenu to an existing menu

    def Activated(self):
        "This function is executed when the workbench is activated"

    def Deactivated(self):
        "This function is executed when the workbench is deactivated"

    def ContextMenu(self, recipient):
        "This is executed whenever the user right-clicks on screen"
        # "recipient" will be either "view" or "tree"
        self.appendContextMenu("My commands",self.list) # add commands to the context menu

    def GetClassName(self): 
        # this function is mandatory if this is a full python workbench
        return "Gui::PythonWorkbench"

Other than that, you can do anything you want: You could put your whole workbench code inside the if you want, but it is usually more convenient to place the different functions of your workbench in separate files. So those files are smaller and easier to read. Then you import those files into your file. You can organize those files the way you want, a good example is one for each FreeCAD command you add.

C++ workbenches

If you are going to code your workbench in C++, you will probably want to code the workbench definition itself in C++ too (although it is not necessary: You could also code only the tools in C++, and leave the workbench definition in python). In that case, the file becomes very simple: It might contain just one line:

import MyModuleGui

where MyModule is your complete C++ workbench, including the commands and workbench definition.

Coding C++ workbenches works in a pretty similar way. This is a typical Workbench.cpp file to include in the Gui part of your module:

namespace MyModuleGui {
    class MyModuleGuiExport Workbench : public Gui::StdWorkbench

        virtual ~Workbench();

        virtual void activated();
        virtual void deactivated();

        Gui::ToolBarItem* setupToolBars() const;
        Gui::MenuItem*    setupMenuBar() const;

FreeCAD commands

FreeCAD commands are the basic building block of the FreeCAD interface. They can appear as a button on toolbars, and as a menu entry in menus. But it is the same command. A command is a simple python class, that must contain a couple of predefined attributes and functions, that define the name of the command, its icon, and what to do when the command is activated.

Python command definition

class My_Command_Class():
    """My new command"""

    def GetResources(self):
        return {'Pixmap'  : 'My_Command_Icon', # the name of a svg file available in the resources
                'Accel' : "Shift+S", # a default shortcut (optional)
                'MenuText': "My New Command"
                'ToolTip' : "What my new command does"}

    def Activated(self):
        "Do something here"

    def IsActive(self):
        """Here you can define if the command must be active or not (greyed) if certain conditions
        are met or not. This function is optional."""
        return True


C++ command definition

Similarly, you can code your commands in C++, typically have a Commands.cpp file in your Gui module. This is a typical Commands.cpp file:


  sAppModule    = "MyModule";
  sGroup        = QT_TR_NOOP("MyModule");
  sMenuText     = QT_TR_NOOP("Runs my command...");
  sToolTipText  = QT_TR_NOOP("Describes what my command does");
  sWhatsThis    = QT_TR_NOOP("Describes what my command does");
  sStatusTip    = QT_TR_NOOP("Describes what my command does");
  sPixmap       = "some_svg_icon_from_my_resource";

void CmdMyCommand::activated(int iMsg)
    openCommand("My Command");
    doCommand(Doc,"print('Hello, world!')");

bool CmdMyCommand::isActive(void)
  if( getActiveGuiDocument() )
    return true;
    return false;

void CreateMyModuleCommands(void)
    Gui::CommandManager &rcCmdMgr = Gui::Application::Instance->commandManager();
    rcCmdMgr.addCommand(new CmdMyCommand());

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