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Versioning Stories and Layouts

Designers, editors and writers have itchy trigger fingers, born out of bitter experience working with computers. We like to periodically do a “Save As” to files we’re working on so we can safely revert to previous versions in case something gets messed up.

But when a designer does that to a layout file with linked InCopy stories, only the layout file is versioned. They end up with a new version 2 layout that’s linked to version 1 stories.

While that can be useful on occasion; a lot of ID/IC workflow users need something more complete. They want a way to back up everything — the layout, the assignments, and the linked InCopy stories in their current state. Sometimes, Track Changes is just not enough!

(Those of you with ID/IC workflow management systems like SoftCare’s K4, Woodwing’s SmartConnection, or Van Gennep’s PlanSystem don’t have to worry about this, since they all come with solutions for automatic back-ups and versioning. Small and mid-size publishers going “commando” with InCopy, like most users, need to figure this out on their own.)

Maybe you’ve tried doing an end-run and simply duplicating a project folder on the server. If you haven’t tried that yet, let me save you the effort: It doesn’t work. The duped layout file still links to the original stories in the original folder, ignoring the ones that are right there in the same folder.

Or, you could use the one method that always works: the Do-Over. Open the layout, Save As with a new name in a new folder, then unlink (embed) all the managed InCopy content. You’re left with a normal InDesign file with normal stories. Then you re-export the stories to InCopy format again to the new folder, and re-associate them to assignments. It’s painfully tedious, but if you get paid by the hour, think of all the money you could make! ;-)

But, guess what? It is possible to save versions of managed stories in InDesign/InCopy without having to re-invent the wheel, without any additional software or dedicated features. You just have to know how to work the clutch.

In the remainder of this article I’ll explain how the designer can back-up/create a new version of an entire project, including the managed InCopy content. In the next issue of InCopyFlow I’ll present some ways editors can create versions of individual stories they’re working on. (And if you’re wondering about Version Cue, I’m currently testing it with IC/iD. I’ll let you know how it goes.)

Let the Designer Do It

The easiest way to make a new version of a layout and all its linked InCopy content in one fell swoop is from within InDesign. Here’s what the designer needs to do:

  1. Open the layout, and check the Assignments panel to make sure that all stories are checked-in (available) and up to date. This is a critical step — don’t proceed until all InCopy links show a happy globe-and-paper icon, and nothing else.
  2. Choose File > Save As, and give the layout a new name (like “Acme Brochure v2.indd”) and location. To prevent massive confusion, save it in its own folder (e.g., “Acme Project v2”) outside of the original project folder.
  3. Open the v2 layout’s Links panel and select all the entries that end in .incx or .incd, representing the linked InCopy files. (This is easier in CS3 because the Links panel fly-out menu has a new Sort by Type command. When you choose that option, all the linked InCopy stories are grouped together, making it easy to shift-click them all before going on to the next step.)
  4. Choose Copy Links To from the Links panel menu. That tells InDesign to copy the selected links to the location you’re about to tell it.
  5. In the resulting Open/Save dialog box, choose a new location for the linked InCopy content files. You don’t get a chance to rename these. So, again, to prevent confusion, it’s best to create a dedicated folder to hold them — call it “Stories-v2” or “Content-v2,” something like that — as a subfolder inside the new project folder. Navigate to your new stories folder, then click the Save button.

That’s it. Since the Copy Links To command not only duplicates the selected linked files, but also re-links them to the current layout, the original story files are left behind. (They’re still linked to the original layout, just not the new one.) You can safely archive the old layout and its linked InCopy content. Originals of any linked images remain where they were; presumably elsewhere on your server.

By the way, another way to do this, which designers might find easier than the Copy Links To method, is to simply choose File > Package. Yes, the same command normally used to collect all the files necessary to send the job to a commercial printer. But you don’t have to send the results to the printer, of course; you can use Package for anything you want.

For our purposes there’s no need to have InDesign package the fonts, so you can leave that unchecked in the Package dialog box. But be sure to turn on the checkboxes for “Copy Linked Graphics” and “Update Graphic Links in Package,” because that way InDesign copies and updates the links to the InCopy stories too, in the same “Links” folder it creates to hold the graphics. Since you can’t rename the layout file (the copy of it that InDesign puts in the Package folder) during the process, you’ll need to do so manually in the Finder/Explorer.

Updating the Assignments

What I described is all that’s necessary if you’re using a layout-based workflow; that is, if the editors are opening the full .indd layout. A little extra work — just a little — is necessary if you’re using Assignments (.inca) files in your workflow.

Assignment files aren’t really linked to the layout (they don’t appear in the Links panel); they’re more like an attribute, or “children,” of the layout itself. So the .inca files won’t get copied to your new folder regardless of which method above you use, and the new version of the layout will report that the Assignments are missing.

Not to worry, it’s normal, and you’ll fix it in a minute. Please don’t try moving or duplicating the old .inca files into the new folder or anything, that’ll lead you down the rabbit hole.

Instead, do it the easy (and correct) way. In the new layout, right-click on a missing Assignment in the Assignments panel and choose Change Assignment Location (or choose the command from the Assignments panel menu). The usual Open/Save dialog box opens up.

While you could change the name of the .inca file here; don’t! The Assignments panel itself won’t update (a bug?) to show the new assignment name, and people will get really confused. Trust me. Leave the name as is, but definitely choose a new location to save it in — you’d want to target the new (v2) project folder for this, of course. Click the Save button, and InDesign makes a new copy of the same .inca file, in the location you specified, and the “missing” stop sign icon in the Assignment panel disappears.

Everything else about the assignments are retained — what InCopy content belongs to them, the type of assignment they are, and so on, so you don’t need to recreate them from scratch. And in case you’re wondering, the old assignments in your original project folder are untouched. Thus the command “Change Assignment Location” might be more accurately named, “Recreate the Same Assignment in a New Location.”

Personally, I think the command should be called, “Resurrect The Lost Assignment From Thy Loins, Oh InDesign.” Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? I’ll submit it as a feature request.

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at or on Twitter @amarie
Anne-Marie Concepcion

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4 Comments on “Versioning Stories and Layouts

  1. Thanks heaps for this, very useful piece of info. Still an annoying amount of work to save a version of my design however, at the moment I hold off assigning anything until the very last minute so there’s as few layout changes to the documents as possible.

    Is there any updates to this article that I should know about?

  2. Hi,

    Thank you so much!!

    I ran into this problem with a client workflow. I was copying the project folder with assignment files, making changes on a new version and it was changing the original. It was driving me nuts.

    It seems a bit crazy that unless you have Inc / Ind management software theres no easier or quicker way around this. I guess it just have to be a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ (x50).

    Thanks again!


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