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There are several graphical PCB viewers available and they read what appears to be a standard board file (.BRD) format. Eagle and other PCB designing applications generate board files, but also generate Gerber files. What’s the difference between the two formats? Is there a reason why you would choose one over the other? Do board files contain only a subset of the information contained in Gerber files for IP protection, performance etc.?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I wouldnt agree with the statement/assumption that .brd files are portable across platforms. Each tool has its own native file format. Where gerber is. As answered though gerber is more of an output format than a working format, similar to a word processor document format vs pdf. One you use to save your work and continue to work the other while you can do that is more of an output format for delivering a snapshot of the work in a portable/standardized way. \$\endgroup\$ – old_timer Dec 26 '19 at 7:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @old_timer Well, there’s OpenBoardView and other apps that read .brd files for assisting in viewing where components are located on a board. \$\endgroup\$ – user148298 Dec 26 '19 at 18:42
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Board files are effective "source" information specific to a particular design package and suitable for editing. Elements would have associated metadata indicating their place in the design, for example a net name or number.

In contrast, Gerber files are a portable output, intended only for fabrication and not simply edited, at least in more than trivial ways. Gerbers would normally contain no metadata about the purpose or identity of any graphical element.

A comparison of purpose could be made by considering a spreadsheet file compared to a PDF file capturing a printout thereof.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It is impoortant to note that an Eagle .brd file will likely not be compatible with another CAD system. Schematic and board design files are rarely compatible between CAD systems, even if they have the same file name extension. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Bennett Dec 25 '19 at 21:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is what "specific to a particular design package" literally means, especially as distinct from "portable" in the description of gerbers. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Dec 25 '19 at 21:25
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In addition to @ChrisStratton 's answer, I'll add the case of when you "use" one over the other.

Gerber files adhere to a standard, brd files do not. Although board houses might accept brd files from a number of different applications for production, there is a non-standardized step between turning the board files into boards, and there is no such step with Gerbers. I recommend submitting Gerbers to board houses.

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*.BRD files are XML formatted to define the board in 2D or 3D for viewing.
Not preferred for production.

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Gerber files are just the G codes for optical paths for copper traces for PCB production without labels like Vias.

A global G-code table defines each trace width or router for slots and drills for holes.

Both files are IP. Neither contain logic diagrams.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's how Eagle forms brd files. I have no idea if other packages behave the same \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Seidman Dec 25 '19 at 21:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ TY @ScottSeidman like XLS PDF and other formats ,whoever started it must have set standards for others to import and export but KiCad refers to it as .brd: legacy PCB layout file. .kicad_pcb: the new PCB layout file. \$\endgroup\$ – Tony Stewart Sunnyskyguy EE75 Dec 25 '19 at 21:46

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