Questions similar to these appear in the Be Communities MicroStation Programming Forum.

This page lists some solutions to common MicroStation VBA (MVBA) and Visual Basic (VB) problems. Tips are published as examples and are not necessarily working code.

Text Search Tool

We've created a text search & replace tool for MicroStation, written in MicroStation VBA. You can search for text in several different element types, and you can use a regular expression if required.

Text Search & Replace Tool for MicroStation

You don't need to know anything about VBA or regular expressions (RegEx or RE) to use our tool. If you're not interested in the description of the VBA code that follows, then skip to the download section.

In case you're wondering, the search text in the screenshot is a RegEx. The expression [A-Z]{2} ?[0-9]{3} is designed to …

Components Meaning Matches
[A-Z]{2} Match exactly two upper-case characters CH
 ? Match an optional space (there's a space before the ?)
[0-9]{3} Match exactly three digits 123

That expression matches strings such as CH123 and CH 123.

Why Replace MicroStation's Built-In Tool?

Q MicroStation already has a text search-and-replace tool. Why write another?

A Good question! There are two reasons …

  1. MicroStation's built-in text search tool offers a rather primitive version of regular expression (RE) matching. This VBA implementation uses a more up-to-date RE algorithm
  2. MicroStation's built-in text search tool is a black box: this article describes a VBA implementation for which source code is provided. VBA dabblers can dabble!


Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which evolved from VB 5½, has limited support for string manipulation. For example, a MicroStation user wanted to detect a Unicode character in a text string like this …

Area = 100m\178

178 is Unicode for a superscript figure two (like this ²). User wants to create text in MicroStation that looks like this …

Area = 100m²

The Problem

The problem we want to solve, that VBA makes it hard to do, is to search a String for a sequence of characters like \178 so that we can substitute an alternative. More generally, you ask: “How can we search a String for an arbitrary sequence of characters, and then replace those characters?”

Labour Intensive Solution

The hard way to solve this problem is to write code using VBA's string functions. Those include Left, Right, InStr, StrComp etc. You end up writing some convoluted code that solves a particular problem but is difficult to generalise …

Sub ExampleStringHack ()
    Dim s As String
    s = "Area = 100m\178"
    Dim pos As Integer
    pos = InStr (s, "\")
    Dim s1 As String
    s1 = Left (s, pos - 1)
    Dim code As String
    code = Mid (s, pos + 1, 3)
    Dim s2 As String
    s2 = Mid(s, pos + 4)
    Dim result As String
    result = s1 & Chr$(CInt (code)) & s2
    Debug.Print "result=" & result
End Sub

Regular Expression Solution

Regular expressions (also known as RegEx or just RE) were invented to help solve the above sort of problem. Regular expressions let you write a very precise search rule. Depending how it's implemented, a RegEx engine lets you make substitutions.

Unfortunately, VBA does not include a RegEx engine. You'll have to borrow one. Fortunately, Microsoft provides one in the form of a COM plug-in. Orginally developed for VBScript, this COM server works just as well for VBA. Its name — take a deep breath — is Microsoft VBScript Regular Expressions 5.5. It's been around for a few years, and is probably already installed on the PC you are using.

To use Microsoft VBScript Regular Expressions 5.5, you must first make a VBA reference to it …

  1. Choose the Tools|References menu in the VBA IDE menu bar
    • The References dialog opens
  2. Scroll down the list of available COM servers to find Microsoft VBScript Regular Expressions 5.5
    • The list is long
    • Check the box alongside Microsoft VBScript Regular Expressions 5.5
  3. You can now use the objects from Microsoft VBScript Regular Expressions 5.5

Regular Expression Objects

Press F2 with the VBA IDE open to see available object libraries. Choose VBScript_RegExp_55 to see the four objects provided by the DLL …

  1. RegExp
  2. Match
  3. MatchCollection
  4. SubMatches

You can find more about Microsoft VBScript Regular Expressions 5.5 through a web search. For example, How To Use Regular Expressions in Microsoft Visual Basic.

A Regular Expression to find a Unicode Sequence

Here's a regular expression that will find a sequence of characters such as \178 …

What that means is: "Find a sequence of three or four digits preceded by a backslash". Once we find that sequence in a string, we want to extract it and substitute the Unicode character. Here's the VBA code to convert that sequence into a single character …

' ---------------------------------------------------------------------
'   ConvertUnicodeToChar
'   'code' is a string such as '\178'
'   Returns: Character corresponding to code e.g. ²
' ---------------------------------------------------------------------
Function ConvertUnicodeToChar(ByVal code As String) As String
    Dim unicode                             As Integer
    '   Step over backslash and get numeric value e.g. 178
    unicode = CInt(Mid(code, 2))
    '   Convert numeric value to Unicode character
    ConvertUnicodeToChar = Chr$(unicode)
End Function

The following subroutine uses the Microsoft VBScript Regular Expressions 5.5 to search a string for a Unicode sequence …

' ---------------------------------------------------------------------
'   RegExFindUnicode
'   Search an input string for a regular expression pattern such as \178
'   If found, substitute the corresponding Unicode character
'   Returns: the input string with the code sequence replaced with a Unicode char
' ---------------------------------------------------------------------
Function RegExFindUnicode(pattern As String, search As String) As String
    Dim oRegExp                             As RegExp
    Dim oMatch                              As Match
    Dim oMatches                            As MatchCollection
    Dim result                              As String

    Set oRegExp = New RegExp
    oRegExp.pattern = pattern
    oRegExp.IgnoreCase = True
    oRegExp.Global = True
    If (oRegExp.Test(search) = True) Then
        Set oMatches = oRegExp.Execute(search)   ' Execute search
        If 0 < oMatches.Count Then
            Set oMatch = oMatches(0)
            '   Get everything up to code
            result = Left(search, oMatch.FirstIndex)
            '   Convert the code to a character
            Dim length                      As Integer
            length = Len(oMatch.Value)
            result = result & ConvertUnicodeToChar(oMatch.Value)
            '   Add anything remaining after the code
            result = result & Mid(search, 1 + length + oMatch.FirstIndex)
        End If
        'For Each oMatch In oMatches   ' Iterate Matches collection.
        '    result = result & "Match found at position "
        '    result = result & oMatch.FirstIndex & ". Match Value is '"
        '    result = result & oMatch.Value & "'." & vbCrLf
        result = "String Matching Failed"
    End If

    RegExFindUnicode = result
End Function

Test the Regular Expression Function

Here's a subroutine to test the above function …

Sub TestRegEx ()
    Const Pattern As String = "\\[0-9]{3,4}"
    Const Search As String = "Area = 100m\178"
    Dim result As String
    result = RegExFindUnicode (Pattern, Search)
    Debug.Print "Searched for '" & Pattern & "' in '" & Search & "'"
    Debug.Print "Result '" & result & "'"
End Sub

Regular Expression Help & References

Regular expressions have been around for a long time — several decades. The syntax is challenging, however. You may feel that you need assistance. Searching the web for regular expressions vba will find some results. There are also books available, if you want to browse in peace and quiet away from your keyboard.

Some sites let you experiment with regular expressions. For example, Regular Expression Test Page.

Text Search & Replace Tool

Text Search & Replace Tool for MicroStation

This tool uses regular expressions to analyse text in MicroStation TextElements, TextNodeElements, TagElements and CellElements.

Type a regular expression into the Find box, then …

  1. Choose what you want to find …
    • text in text elements
    • text in text node elements
    • text in tag elements
    • text contained in cell elements
  2. Choose whether to ignore case when matching text

Press the Find button. The tool scans the active DGN model for elements that might contain text. For each text element that it locates, it extracts its text and tests it using your regular expression. The number of matches is shown next to the Find button.

The tool pops the Search Results dialog that shows the Element IDs and type description of each matching element …

Text Search Results dialog

The Search Results dialog shows a list of matching elements.

Select a row in the list and click the Locate button to instruct MicroStation to focus on the selected element in view 1.

Click the Select button to instruct MicroStation to add all elements in the list to a selection set.

Selection Sets and Fences

This text search tool is sensitive to user-defined selections and fences. The algorithm implemented here is …

Replace Text

If you want to replace text, then take these additional steps …

  1. Type a replacement text string into the Substitute box

Press the Execute button. The tool scans the active DGN model as before. This time, in addition to finding text that matches your regular expression, it also substitutes the replacement text for each match.

This operation is undoable. The command is stored in MicroStation's command buffer, so you can choose Edit|Undo to reverse the changes …

Text Replacer: Edit|Undo Text Replacement

Download the Text Replacer Tool

You can download the Text Replacer MVBA project. The project includes the MVBA project TextReplacer.mvba and an example DGN file with a few lines used to test the project.