How to see relationships between features in SOLIDWORKS

Article by TriMech Solutions, LLC updated October 13, 2022


One of the core principles in SOLIDWORKS is connectivity. What does this mean and how is it communicated in the SOLIDWORKS Feature Manager Design Tree?

Well, every file type in SOLIDWORKS is made to talk to one another. A part file that is used in an assembly file are linked together, if I change that part file, the assembly file is supposed to update. Looking in on an even smaller level, inside a part file we have relationships between our features. You have to create a sketch to be able to make an extrude, and the connectivity between these two features is called a parent-child relationship. The sketch is the parent, and the extrude is the child. The child cannot exist without its parent. This concept is seen throughout all different file types, and we can create very complex relationships between files when we start making advanced designs inside of assemblies or use mold tool features where we have master parts controlling other files.

So how can we keep all of this straight when we are designing, or worse when we get a design someone else made and we need to understand how the features depend on one another to make changes. I am going to go over two different ways to see relationships and also see references in your SOLIDWORKS files.

Using Dynamic Reference Visualization Arrows

The first thing I am going to explain is how to easily visually view parent-child relationships inside of files by turning on something called Dynamic Reference Visualization Arrows. What turning these arrows on does is show relationships between features as blue and purple arrows in your design tree. Blue points to parents, purple points to children.

To turn these arrows on, right click on the top-level part name in your design tree and you will have two icons in your context menu for turning on parent arrows or children arrows.

Parent arrows or children arrows

Parent arrows or children arrows options

These arrows are a great visualization tool to see very clearly what features have relationships with one another. This works in parts as well as in assemblies to show relationships of mates or in-context parts. If the feature you are looking at has a reference that isn’t located inside of the file, the arrow will point all the way up and off the design tree and will have an Out of Context note.

Out of context note

Out of Context note

If you are new to modeling, I always recommend turning on the visualization arrows to help you learn how features, sketches, and other reference items interact and connect with one another. If you are more advanced, I still recommend turning them on because it helps you understand how SOLIDWORKS is thinking and is a good reminder that if you change something that has children, those children may be affected.

SOLIDWORKS Parent/Child Relationships dialog box

Another way to see these relationships in your features is to open the Parent/Child Relationship dialog box. To do this, simply right click on your feature and select Parent/Child. This will open up a menu with a list of the relationships the feature has. This menu is great because you can right click on the features to edit them, suppress them, or a number of other options. You can also switch what feature you are examining by double clicking one of the listed options.

See the feature relationships with Parent/Child Relationship

See the feature relationships with Parent/Child Relationship

When we are designing it is important to know how our models are built to make sure we are not going to affect or break anything by accident. When I was a designer working with complex configurations on part files, I always used the parent child relationship box to make sure when I suppressed one feature, I didn’t accidentally suppress any children it may have.

Learn more about the SOLIDWORKS Feature Tree

If you have more questions about parent child relationships in SOLIDWORKS, I recommend looking into our SOLIDWORKS Essentials training where we have an entire chapter dedicated to how features work with one another.

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TriMech Solutions, LLC

TriMech provides thousands of engineering teams with 3D design and rapid prototyping solutions that work hand-in-hand, from sketch to manufacturing. Javelin became a subsidiary of TriMech Solutions LLC in 2021.