Which version of Kicad to use to open an old project

Hello, I found an old Kicad Project http://www.1010.co.uk/org/detektor.html and I am trying to open it. I tried to open it with Kicad 5.0.1 and Kicad 4.0.7 but I got errors with both.

Which version of Kicad would be able to open this? Is there a way to figure this out by looking at the files? Also is there an archive of older builds (the oldest I see on the CERN website is 4.0)

The first line in the .brd file is:

PCBNEW-BOARD Version 1 date 23/5/2012-13:50:57

That would mean KiCad v1? Sorry I’m pretty new to Kicad. Are builds for Kicad v1 available online?

There have been ways to open such projects with version 4. I am sure there are some tutorials out there regarding that.

A quick search uncovered this: https://rheingoldheavy.com/new-stable-kicad-10-steps-to-import-an-old-kicad-project/

This seems to be a fairly well documented (but old) project.
KiCad has come a long way in the last 5+ years. From very buggy and barely usable to pretty good. KiCad seems to be on the road for being on-par with the expensive EUR 2000+ PCB packages in maybe just a few years.

Getting confronted with (very) old versions of KiCad and conversions of schematics and PCB’s between different KiCad versions Is not an ideal way to getting to grips with KiCad. Just having KiCad V5 and V4 installed on the same PC is … somewhat problematic.

When you start with KiCad you already get confronted with multiple things.

  • Having a schematic, that works (or do you have to design the schematics as well?)
  • Getting to know the GUI (And quircks) of KiCad (or any other PCB package).
  • Learning to organise schematics (Some people really make a mess out of them).
  • Learning to route PCB’s. Layers, tracewidths, ground planes EMI stuff, etc.

I think a better approach in this particular case is to completely re-create the project and use the pictures of the schematic and PCB as a guide. It will take more time, but you spend your time learning the current version of KiCad (V5.0.2) instead of struggling with very old versions and conversions between KiCad versions.


You have just found the oldest KiCad project that I have ever seen.


Looks like you can open the schematic but all the symbols are remapped & the pcb layout does cause a crash in 5.0.2. A casual look at the Gerber files seems OK. I agree with @paulvdh here, the project is pretty well documented so it would be a good starting point for drawing out a new version and drawing a layout. The time you spend looking for a (possibly flaky) solution to importing this would probably be better spent using this design as a way of learning Kicad.It is not a particularly complex design and you have a good guide for component placing in the documentation.

OTOH if you just want a board and are less interested in learning KiCad, you can probably just use the Gerber files included in the project zip. However, remember the other advantage of drawing it yourself is that you can use components that you have in stock or know you can obtain easily rather than be tied to specific components. I’m looking at those switches, for instance - you might need to search for those.


One of the main problems is that the cache libraries are missing from the project. Meaning it will be quite hard to get the old symbols back (We loose the help by the rescue dialog. Meaning whatever we do going forward will break the schematic.)

I opened the pcb side in v4.0.6. Sadly the copper zones seem to be broken from the import. (saving the file will break it completely)

I invested way too much time into this but i got the pcb salvaged (can be opened in v4 and v5):
detect_simple.kicad_pcb (168.1 KB)

But to be honest you would be better of redrawing that thing from scratch. A lot of traces seem to have been laid down badly (at strange angles, extremely near to other things, …)
There are even a few connections where a trace has a different net to the pad it seems to connect to. (This could be a problem from the import or the original designer did not update the connectivity of the board properly and simply ignored some DRC errors.)

Also note that i needed to recreate the copper zones. These got lost in translation.

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Did V1 even have constrained angle tracks and DRC? I have only ever seen discussion of importing what might be called V3 KiCad

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Thanks folks! You’re the best.

I will heed the advice to recreate this project and will take it as an exercise to redraw and re-layout based on the images on the page. A good way to learn Kicad 5 I guess.

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See https://bugs.launchpad.net/kicad/+bug/1815292, is it this?

I can not speak for @John_Pateman but i played around with the board in question. It is simply created with a kicad version too old for being compatible with version 4. (KiCad nightly did not open the board at all. But i did not get an error message.)

I could open it in v4 but after saving it needed to use a text editor to do some manual fixes. (Some layers where discovered wrong so there where a few things that had “Bad Index!” set as their layer.)

My guess would be that some of the support for files by these old versions was simply removed from version 4 and possibly even more was removed from version 5.

I compiled with the fix for the above mentioned bug. I could open the project and the pcb file. It just gave a message dialog about saving in the newer file format. And indeed after a small modification I saved it and this is the new file:

(kicad_pcb (version 20171130) (host pcbnew “(5.1.0-rc1-18-g1c8077148)”)

But zones are indeed lost.

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I have just opened a 2005 kicad project with version 5.0.2 to see if it works.

  • Schematic needs to be remapped
  • Layout works fine as far as the legacy F9 canvas is used

Yes, that looks like it is the issue. That was a quick fix! Good know that we might be able to rescue old designs - I still reckon it is a good exercise to re-do this in K5 though, even just as a learning exercise. Shows the value of having good documentation. :slight_smile:

As a side note, the topic of opening old projects (for various definitions of “old”) keeps popping up. It is an important aspect of software maturity, but it seems like it gets low priority with the development team. I am not sure if people are aware that especially in commercial usage it is important to be able to open files created a year ago. Often the person opening the file will not be the original author and will not be able to answer confusing questions about using components from cache or library versions.

I have been bitten by this, so now I have a solution: I keep a VMware virtual machine with a full installation of Ubuntu and KiCad, for every significant project. Storage is cheap these days, and this guarantees that you will be able to access your projects in the future. This solution has already saved me tons of time and frustration.

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What is needed is a small archive of old projects of the various releases too test.
I see JP-Charras has just committed a patch for this project, he is probably the only long term KiCad developer left.

(Slightly Off Topic) I find this thread a little unsettling. The initial post presents a project, whose design is essentially lost because it is a whopping SEVEN years old! In my mind this raises questions falling somewhere in the realms of ethics, integrity, corporate responsibility . . . . I gotta think about how to classify it for a bit.

Seven years? 80% of the coins in my pocket are older than that! I’m obliged to keep legible and readable copies of tax returns for 7 years. My two computers are 9 years old and 7 years old. My car is 10 years old. I’m wearing 5 year old shoes. My wife is . . . . ummmm . . . . well . . . . we’re together for life so it doesn’t matter, but our 7th anniversary was early in Mr Reagan’s administration.

Should I simply shake my head and accept the fact that engineering information becomes inaccessible after 7 years? I hope not - there are strategic bombers flying with airframes older than the PARENTS of the crewmen flying them!



KiCad simply was not ready back then. It had many missing features. (Including lots of stuff that would make it possible to reuse the project.)
See the early versions as beta releases and everything makes sense.

Oh and i have to disagree with the project is lost. I could open it normally in version 4. As expected the missing cache library made sure the schematic is basically a lost cause (This is the fault of the original designer. One can not expect the software to work if you do not include all the data required.)

The only thing that is a bit lost are copper zones. But they are rebuild easily. (This is because copper zones where bodged in the first release. If you look at the file you will discover that kicad simply put a ton of traces to fill the area of the zone. There is not really any info about the zone itself only the traces.)

As a note: one can view the project in v4 without fully loosing the zones. (But the zone looks strange. -> missing the outermost outline, only the traces for filling are shown.)

Oh and regarding your bomber: Well yes the documentation for it still exists. So you can maintain that thing and if needed even build new parts for it. (For the later you might still need to draw that part new in a modern cad program if you want to use modern manufacturing technologies like CNC.)
If you would want to make a medium modification to it you would basically need to start from scratch as the design files are not available in a digital form.

Same here. Making the same unmodified thing is easy as the gerbers are still valid. Modifying it is possible if the original project was created and archived correctly. (including the cache library would be the minimum requirement.)

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Did V1 have a symbol cache file?
Anyway, this shows the sanity of using plain text files, I have several 7 yearish projects in my office that are hopelessly locked away by binary file formats, encryption and expired software licensing