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All of the ACR edit info is in the sidecar file (xmp), the nef's are not modified. You can read the xmp files with a text editor; the profile name is in there but not the entire profile, therefore when you change the profile the image appearance will be modified.
The raw files processed with the older version of the profile will get updated by the new profile. That is, if you open up those old images to view them in CR, you'll see the changes from the new profile.
Ha! Obviously not *that* confusing if you think about it logically!
Thanks for putting me straight, guys.
Actually, now I think about it, this is a revelation for my workflow, and possibly a double-edged sword too.
I develop raw images from Bridge, and in any shoot maybe a quarter to half of the images are developed and the rest are untouched.
Occasionally, I'd decide that I needed to update my camera calibrations. I adjusted the sliders, saved a new preset, and changed the defaults. Undeveloped images would automatically take the new calibration, but images which had already been worked-on would still have the old calibrations.
I always felt that this was unsatisfactory. As you can't select images by whether they'd been developed or not (AFAIK), I'd manually select them and apply the new preset to see the new calibration.
The new profiling system makes this redundant. As long as you use the same profile name, calibrations can now be retrospective, automatically.
(Edit: I never mentioned the "double-edged sword" - you might not want old developed images to automatically take a new profile.)
If you use DNG can cause the file to be rewritten (either by resaving or updating the previews), the currently selected profile will be embedded in the file. So in that cause, future changes to the external profile would be ignored unless you reselect it.