IMNSHO, protel and other cad packages went a long way backwards when they moved away from text formats.
One of the nice features of Protel is that the PCB ASCII file format is self-documenting. You don't need a manual to read it, though sometimes you might need to experiment a bit to nail down some of the fields. However, the text file is much larger than the binary, which means it takes longer to read and write; in my view, therefore, it is a plus that both formats are available.
(Is there critical information in DXP binary that is lost in the ASCII?)
I just pulled a record out of an ASCII PCB file.
The only fields that might be obscure are the ones to do with polygons, and I think one could dig that out pretty quickly by creating a PCB file with a single polygon on it, and filling it, then saving it as ASCII. There will be a Polygon record with all the vertices and polygon attributes, and a bunch of Track records associated with the polygon. You can have polygon records without tracks (unfilled and perhaps invisible) but not polygon tracks without a polygon records.
But most of the things you might want to do do not involve mysterious fields.
The NET field is a number rather than the net name. If you've ever seen more than one net of the same name in a Protel file, now you know how that might be possible: when a net list is loaded, the nets are given a number, and it is the number which is used everywhere. Normally there will not be duplicate net names, but I think there are some conditions that create them. It's a bug, but I don't recall it ever causing a problem.
So if you want to know what net this track belongs to, you have to find the NET record. Just search on RECORD=Net|ID=79.
If you know about Protel nets and what attributes they have, you know nearly everything about this record with no manual. Nice, eh?
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