Managing Autodesk Licensing

Managing your Autodesk software licenses can feel like a daunting task. The goal is to ensure all your users have access to the software they need be productive, while staying license compliant. The good news is, this goal is attainable!

Developing an understanding of the types of licenses, how they work, and how they are implemented will give you the confidence to effectively attain the goal, without the headache. You may find benefits you didn’t even know existed that are already at your fingertips.

Autodesk Licensing Options

There are currently two models of Autodesk licenses available, perpetual and term based. You are likely familiar with perpetual licenses—it is the way Autodesk has licensed software for decades. When you purchase a seat of software, it is yours permanently. If you keep the license on maintenance subscription, the license is upgraded to the latest version each new release. If the license drops off subscription, the current version you are upgraded to is yours permanently.

The second type is a term-based licensing model called Desktop Subscription. This is a newer licensing model Autodesk introduced recently. This “pay-as-you-go” style software is purchased on a monthly, quarterly, yearly, or multi-yearly term. At the end of this term, you can choose to renew for another term or cancel the subscription. Unlike perpetual licenses you do not permanently own the software license. This model allows you to gain access to software at a much lower cost up front. This makes it possible to ramp up on licenses for a project, summer interns, etc. at a low cost, and then easily drop those licenses. This cost could then be billed to a project rather than treated as a capital expense for your company.

The key difference between the two models is permanent licenses versus term-based licenses. Another key difference is that Desktop Subscription is licensed to a named user. This means the software is licensed to a particular individual at your company rather than activated on a workstation that could be used at different times by different individuals.

To illustrate this, consider this scenario. You have two part-time individuals—one works in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Because they are in the office at different times, they share the same workstation. This is a valid scenario with a perpetual license. However, with Desktop Subscription, because the software is licensed to a named user and it is only possible for one license to be activated on a workstation, this would not be a valid scenario. Each user would require his own Desktop Subscription license and workstation.

Within the perpetual model, there are two types of licenses, standalone and network. Standalone licensing is activated once via the Internet on a workstation and that license resides permanently on that workstation. Network licensing is a floating license type—the licenses are hosted on a local licensing server allowing the software to be installed on any number of workstations. The number of seats licensed by the server will open at any given time.  When a user closes the application, the license is returned to the server and available for any other user to then open the software.

License Servers

This can be accomplished with a single license server or with many license servers spread across your multiple locations.

A single license server, the simplest type of license server, hosts all your licenses and is the single point of license availability. This is great for a single location where redundancy of license servers is not critical. If this server goes down, all licenses are unavailable.

If you have multiple locations there are two other license models available, distributed and redundant. The distributed model is the most often used. With this model you have multiple independent license servers at each of your locations and your licenses are split across them. Users can be configured to pull a license from these servers in a specific order, usually starting with their local license server then reaching out to others if no licenses are available. In this model, a license server can be rebuilt without affecting the other license servers and each server can act independently of the others. If a server goes down, those licenses are unavailable, but the other locations may still be available.

The third and, from my experience, most seldom used type is the redundant model. In this model you have three license servers, each configured with all your licenses. If one server goes down, the other two can still host licenses and all license are still available. However, if more than one license server goes down, then all licenses are unavailable. This also requires that all servers be on the same subnet and have the ability to reliably communicate. Any change to the licenses on one server requires those same changes made to the other two.

Subscription Benefits

Whether you have Desktop Subscription or Maintenance Subscription on a perpetual license there are many benefits available.  There are a few in particular that are important to understand when discussing managing licenses. These include access to the latest versions of your software, desktop, and laptop activations, previous version and home license usage.

Latest Version

With Subscription, whenever a new version of your software is released you are automatically granted access to that version. The contract manager for your licenses will receive an email when the product is released with the new serial number and product key.

Desktop and Laptop

With each seat of standalone software, you are allowed to install the software on a desktop and a laptop for a single user. These two machines cannot be used at the same time. For network licensing, if a user wants to take a laptop into the field where he or she will not have access to the license server, the user can borrow that license from the license server. This temporarily assigns a license to that laptop until a specified date and is no longer available on the license server until that date, or the license is manually returned.

Home Use Licenses

Home use licenses allow users to install and activate their software on a workstation at their home as well as the office. With standalone and Desktop Subscription licenses you simply install and activate with your existing serial number. For network licenses, you can request a home use serial number through the Autodesk Account website.

Previous Version Usage

For both Maintenance and Desktop Subscription, users have the ability to run previous versions of their software. This Subscription benefit allows users to have installed and use the current version and three versions prior. A user could have all four allowed versions of the software installed on a workstation concurrently. There are scenarios when you may need to run software older than three versions previous. If you owned that legacy product version and you are currently on Subscription, your reseller can help you with an exception to run that legacy software.  

For standalone licenses, if you already have a serial for the previous version you can install and activate with that serial. If you do not have a serial for that previous version you can request a serial number through the Autodesk Account website. For network licenses, this functionality is built directly into your license file.

Keep in mind that with network licensing, for each version of the product a user opens concurrently, a license is consumed. For example, if a user opens AutoCAD® 2015 and AutoCAD 2016, this would consume two AutoCAD licenses. For Desktop Subscription, to use a previous version you simply download, install, and activate with your current license information.

Autodesk Account

The Autodesk Account website, which replaced the Autodesk Subscription Center, is your hub for managing your contracts, software assets and users, downloading software, making serial number requests, and so on. There are a few key functions of this site you should be familiar with.

To see contract information and serial numbers, add users, and perform administrative tasks you must be either the Contract Manager or Software Coordinator for your subscription contract. The Contract Manager is the main point of contact with Autodesk and is typically the person who initially ordered the software. If you need to change your Contract Manager, your reseller can make that change. The Contract Manager can also appoint Software Coordinators to help manage the contract. Both of these admin users can also create regular users on the contract and assign them permissions to download software, use cloud benefits, or access Desktop Subscription software.

Downloading Software

When it comes to downloading software there are three options available. Install Now, Download Now, and Browser Download. The Install Now function is the fastest, but is also the most temperamental method. This method downloads, decompresses, and installs simultaneously. However, deployments cannot be created from this method, and if the network connection is lost it is not able to recover the install and the install will fail. This method works well on fast, stable Internet connections, but can be problematic on slow or unreliable connections.

The Download Now method is the method I most often use and it typically works very well. This method uses a download manager to download and decompress the installation files, after which you can install or create a deployment. Unlike Install Now, if network connection is lost, the download can resume where it left off.

The third type, Browser Download, uses your Internet browser’s built-in download function to download the software in a highly compressed self-extracting executable(s). Once finished downloading these are then extracted to a specified directory from which you can install or create a deployment. With a single application such as AutoCAD, typically only a single compressed file is downloaded. However, a suite will contain multiple compressed files. You must download all files before extracting. The file names will indicate the total number of files in the set, and which part of the set that file is. For example Autodesk_Infrastructure_Design_Suite_Ultimate_2016_001_006.sfx.exe would indicate this is the first file in a set of six.

If all else fails, the Autodesk Virtual Agent can be used to download. This is the “bullet-proof” method. It is a browser download type, but allows you to manually pick and download each file in the compressed file set. This can be handy if your browser download only downloaded parts 1-4 of 6; you can manually download parts 5 and 6. The Virtual Agent can be accessed from many Autodesk sites—the one I typically use is At the bottom of the page you will see a blue button that says Virtual Agent. This will open the virtual agent in a new window; from here click Download Links and follow the prompts to the software and version you need.

Once you have downloaded the software you will need the serial number and product keys to install. These can be found on the products and services tab of the Autodesk Account web page. Under each of your products you will see serial number and product keys for current version and three previous versions. You must be a Software Coordinator or Contract Manager to see the serial numbers.

Activation and Registration

Each of your Autodesk products will have a serial number and product key.  The serial number is unique to you and to that product. With each new version of the software you will receive a new serial number. This serial number can be for a single seat or for multiple seats. For example, you could have 10 seats of AutoCAD that all share the same serial number. The Product Key is specific to the application version, but is the same for all Autodesk users. For example the Product Key for AutoCAD 2015 is 001G1. These product keys change each year, this change is predictable. The fourth character, a letter, changes to the next letter in the alphabet each year. For example, AutoCAD 2016 is 001H1.

Activating Standalone Licenses

When installing your software you enter the serial number and product key. On first launch the software will attempt to activate via the Internet. If activation is not successful, check to ensure you entered the correct product key and serial number for the application and version you installed. Also check to see that the activation is not being blocked by a web filter or firewall.

If you are indeed using the correct product key and serial number and you are still unable to activate, you can manually activate with a request code. When you launch the software and the activation screen comes up you will see a request code listed. You can submit this info to Autodesk via a link on the activation window, or by calling your reseller or Autodesk directly. Autodesk will then generate an Activation Code based on your request code, which you will enter in the activation window to manually activate your software.

If you need to remove a standalone license from a computer and move it to a different computer, this can be done using the License Transfer Utility (LTU). This utility allows you to export your license to Autodesk using your Autodesk ID and password and then import the license on the new computer.

Registering Network Licenses

Network licenses are hosted on a licensing server in your office with a Network License Manager (NLM) called LMTOOLS. This is a very light application that can be run on an existing server, or if need be a workstation that is always on. You can find detailed instructions for installing and configuring this application on the Autodesk Knowledge Network.

The license server must be configured with a license file that contains your licensing information. You can generate these .lic files through the Autodesk Registration site, or they can be created for you by Autodesk or your reseller. Knowing how to create your own can save you time and help you better understand your licenses. To generate the file, login to the registration site with your Autodesk ID. You will enter the serial number, as well as the host name and mac address of your license server. Once you have submitted this information a license file is generated and can be downloaded; a copy is also emailed to you. You will need to do this for each network serial number.

License File Management

Once you have all your license files created you will need to combine them into one file to be applied to the license server. You will want to generate all your license files on the same day because if they are created on different days you will run into issues when combining the files. To combine the files you simply open them with notepad and copy the contents of each file into a single file. You will notice the first three lines of each file contain server information—this only needs to be in the file once at the very top, and those three server lines should not be placed into the file multiple times.

I find it very helpful to add comments to the license file to make sorting through the file later a little easier. In the license file the # symbol at the first of a line tells the license server to ignore any text on that line. I typically comment above each license what the license is, the number of seats, and the serial number. I do this simply to make the file easier to read. This is especially helpful if you have many products and serial numbers.

Each year when the new versions of the software are released you will need to update your license file with the newest license information. When you generate these new license files keep in mind it contains licensing for the current version and three versions back. You do not need to keep your old previous years’  licensing information in the file. I find it helpful to start a new license file each year with all the new licensing information. Once you have your license combined you can check it by going to This site will parse your file and tell you what that file contains. I always check my license files with this utility, double checking products and license counts for accuracy. You will also want to update LMTOOLS to the latest version each year when upgrading your license file.

An often overlooked part of network license administration is an Options File. This file allows you to set restrictions on license usage. One function of the license file I find very helpful is the license timeout feature. This can be set to release a license back to the server if the user has been inactive for a certain specified period of time. You can find detailed information on Options File on the Autodesk Knowledge Network. 

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