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Significance of a Netlist PCB in Electronic Design

A netlist PCB has several uses. At different phases of the electronics design process, PCB netlist serves many purposes. The fact is that netlist can have distinct data formats, but they offer similar functions. The Netlist PCB provides a list of connections in a circuit. Therefore, the netlist is crucial for different tasks in PCB layout and electronics design.

Netlist lay out every component and their connections on the circuit board. You can use a netlist in your schematic editor and also your PCB layout editor.

What is a PCB Netlist File?

To understand what a netlist file is, you need to know what the term “net” is. Net is the link between two or more components. The components will be placed on the PCB. Therefore, you can refer to a net as group of resistors, capacitors, and resistors that concerns analog simulation tools. A PCB netlist is therefore,  a text that describes components and their connections.

Every netlist comes with a list of parts and their PINs, designators, and keywords for reference and context. Generally, netlists differ in terms of the amount of details they provide and their formats. PCB netlists are useful when testing a board. With this document, engineers can perform tests to identify any missing or incorrect connections.

Furthermore, they give instances and reveal certain properties of the components involved. PCB netlists are usually different when it comes to their complexity and structure. However, they provide the same function in electronic design. PCB designers as well as engineers have a good understanding of the significance of Netlist in PCB creation. A netlist doesn’t only help to detect possible errors, but also helps to make adjustments.

This document is quite easy and simple to understand even if it is your first time seeing this format. In a netlist, you will see parts list that informs you what every designator means. It is important to know how a netlist is interpreted as it helps to troubleshoot some mistakes. These mistakes may occur due to the use of netlists from other libraries.

You can modify a netlist for some reasons. These include changes in pin number, special characters, and redundant net names. Also, any changes made to a netlist must be well documented.

What is Netlist in PCB Design?

PCB Netlist File
PCB Netlist File

There are several cases where a netlist has proved to be useful during PCB fabrication. Before you begin editing, a netlist is crucial. The program reads the Netlist during the loading of the Gerber data transfer file. After this occurs, the components are logically organized from the top to bottom. Gerber creates another netlist after the program has given each type a layer.

A gate level netlist enables designers to discover and correct any discrepancies in the file. Therefore, it is crucial to identify the divergence from how things must be. When performing CAM testing, a netlist file will always stay active. Another netlist check is performed to identify any electrical shorts and openings that are likely to happen. CAM will design a file for one the electrical test fixturing methods of the next stage.

How to Import Altium Netlist

Sometimes you will need to design a board which a different software package has been used for creating its schematic. Since there is a PCB layout designed by a netlists, most people ask if we can use the inputs from other systems. Is it possible to begin a layout without having a schematic? Yes, it is.

In Altium, an ASCII netlist can be imported and the layout can be performed without synchronization. The Altium User Forum gives a description of this process. It can be stressful to keep up with changes in a circuit along the way. However, Altium has looked for a better way to make things easy.

There is “Import Wizard’ is capable of working with different types of design files. This was developed by Altium as an alternative to importing a netlist.

Altium can make things easier for users and minimize the risk of mistakes. Is it possible to export a netlist from the other direction? Yes, it is possible to do this. In Altium netlist export, you can take advantage of other design files.

Other Types of Netlist

In the PCB manufacturing process, there are other types of netlist. These are the IPC netlist and the Gerber netlist.

The IPC-D-356 netlist

The IPC netlist compares schematic netlist with Gerber data before the PCB manufacturing process. This comparison checks for any discrepancy. Your NRE charge will increase if you request this test. However, it is a good decision as it will save more costs rather than producing bad boards. This will even be worse if the error is detected after final assembly.

To perform this comparison, you need to include netlist testing to your quote. You should as well have it in mind that the test will occur before manufacturing the board. Any discrepancy means the PCB manufacturing will be stopped to solve the issue.

Gerber netlist file

When you use the ODB++ data format to send your design, there will be netlist in the package. The CAM department usually obtains a netlist file from the Gerber Data. This file will be used for the PCB test.  There is always the addition of NRE costs when you receive a quotation from your supplier. These costs are one-time costs. In order to compare the finished bare board manufacturers obtain a netlist file from the Gerber Data.

With this, they can confirm if the final PCB connectivity corresponds with the input data that was sent.

What are the Causes of Discrepancies?

Errors could occur in Gerber files since they are not infallible. Features that are not correctly described can make the system to misinterpret data. Examples of incorrect features are unfilled polygons or incorrect-sized pads. In some cases, a self-intersecting polygon will incorrectly resolve. Hence, this makes the polygon fill to leak.

The best possible resolution is to export Gerber files. Alternatively, you can opt for line fill rather than polygons. However, it is advisable to provide a netlist. Furthermore, a CAM program can misinterpret some things due to operator setup errors. The CAM system can see otherwise if a positive plane is assigned as negative. Therefore, the netlist will not be accurate.

In order to reduce the possibilities for operator error, you can provide positive polarity for internal layers. The best thing to do is to provide a netlist file with other Gerber files. Review the polarity assignments and layer type if there are multiple opens or massive shorting.

How do PCB Manufacturers use Netlist?

When reviewing a PCB design, the PCB manufacturer compares the data in the schematic netlist against the BOM, schematic data and Gerber. Discrepancies do occur between a netlist and some of these documents. In most cases, this is a result of exporting a BOM and netlist before the completion of the design.

Furthermore, PCB manufacturers make use of netlist to specify the requirements for testing a bare PCB . In this case, the manufacturer programs the connectivity in the netlist into the test fixture. A suitable format is the ODB++ data file format. This is because you can generate the netlist from the package.

There are several software programs you can use to generate Netlist. Asides from Altium designer, Cadence Allegro and KiCAD are good pieces of software you can use. The Allegro netlist and netlist KiCad are preferred among PCB manufacturers.

What is the Difference Between a Netlist and a Schematic?


Netlist in PCB design offers a structure for describing connections among components. It always comprises signal keywords, reference designators, and more. A PCB netlist offers you the vital elements to achieve a great design without errors. Netlist helps PCB manufacturers to verify a design. That is why manufacturers love to get the final netlist in order to fabricate the PCB according to specifications.

On the other hand, schematics provide necessary details about all nets and components a circuit board design. It makes it very easy to read and understand circuitry. One of the benefits of a schematic is that it defines the links between component symbols. A schematic is a visual representation that describes the connectivity of a PCB design.

With a schematic, you can identify parts and components by using designations. Many PCB designers use netlist integration, custom editing is necessary due to the various formats of netlists. Design teams may need to include extra documentation due to how complex some schematics can be. This documentation is a description of the design functionality. Both netlist and schematic are a great tool for providing information as regards PCB design.


A netlist PCB provides crucial information sources for the electronic design process. With this document, PCB designers and manufacturers can determine the functionality of a circuit board. The data in a Netlist helps to gain easy reference to everything happening. When there are some errors, the Netlist would reveal them and fix them.

A PCB Netlist is very useful for every phase of the design or testing process. It is difficult to detect errors and how to fix them without having a netlist.

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