Windows

Five free apps for diagramming your network

You don't have to spend a fortune on fancy software to handle basic network diagramming tasks. Here are a few free apps that are effective and easy to use.

At some point, every administrator will need to diagram a network. For some, it's their primary duty -- and they tend to rely on powerful, expensive tools like Microsoft Visio. But for those who need to use a diagramming tool only occasionally, a cheaper solution is best. Luckily, there are several free apps that handle the task well.

Here are five tools that can help you diagram your network without breaking your budget. Some are Windows-only, while others are cross platform.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: CADE

CADE (Figure A) was developed primarily as a CAD tool, but it also serves as a handy network diagramming tool. CADE is a 2D vector editor for Windows. It doesn't have some of the bells and whistles many of the costlier tools have, but it can handle the task of diagramming your network with ease. CADE offers most of the basic functionality found in Visio. Once you've installed CADE, you can download sample diagrams to help you get started.

Figure A

CADE

2: Dia

Dia (Figure B) is an open source, GTK+ diagramming tool that has a shallow learning curve and can help you create basic network diagrams. Like CADE, Dia was inspired by Visio -- but with a much more casual approach and feel. Dia loads and saves XML formatted documents that are gziped by default to save space. Dia is also available for Linux, Mac, and Windows.

Figure B

Dia

3: Diagram Designer

Diagram Designer (Figure C) is another freeware tool that suffers (like Dia) from looking a bit on the outdated side. But Diagram Designer's ease of use should certainly make up for the old-school feel of the application. DD features include customizable template objects, a spell checker, import/export (WMF, EMF, BMP, JPEG, PNG, MNG, ICO, GIF, and PCX), a slide show viewer, a graph plotter, a calculator, MeeSoft Image Analyzer integration, and compressed file format.

Figure C

Diagram Designer

4: Gliffy

Gliffy (Figure D) is the only Web-based tool on this list. It's easy to use and it works on any platform. With the ability to drag and drop shapes from numerous object libraries, you can have your network diagram ready in no time. You can use Gliffy for free, but if you really want to get into creating some diagrams, you may want to pony up the $4.95/month fee for 200 diagrams, 200 MB of storage, public and private diagrams, and unlimited collaborators.

Figure D

Gliffy

5: yEd

yEd (Figure E) is a Java-based tool that's available for Windows and Linux. It has a great user interface and features diagram creation, auto-layout, data import (GraphML, Excel XLS, GEDCOM, GML, XML), and data export (PDF, SWF, JPG, GIF, BMP, and HTML image maps). The auto-layout feature is particularly cool. It uses a wide range of sophisticated layout algorithms to automatically arrange your diagrams, saving you time and effort.

Figure E

yEd

Your choice?

No, these tools don't have the power of their costlier brethren. But in the end, when you need a simple network diagram (and you need it quickly and without an associated steep learning curve), each of the above tools will get the job done.

Have you had a good experience using any of these tools? What other tools would you recommend instead?

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

13 comments
PhilippinesWeb
PhilippinesWeb

So far  visio is still a standard when it comes to network diagrams. In our team at http://philwebhosting.net we always use visio however, we want to probably get some alternative, so far 10Scape seems good. In our network presentation and implementation we always use visio as most of clients have the same. Is there any one that can be opened by visio as well?

davidengel84
davidengel84

Coming from a guy who used Visio 2007 for a few years to create network diagrams, I've started to use Gliffy and it's worked out very well for me. I've created diagrams in Visio and then created the exact same diagram in Gliffy to fairly compare the two. Both have their short comings and advantages over each other, however. The main reason I switched to Gliffy is the pure convenience of having the software available online.

av4077
av4077

try 10SCAPE; does port level diagrams.

worked for me..

feetsdr
feetsdr

Is it me or why do I never see anyone take these drawings down to the port level? Showing that this cable is plugged into port x and that cable is plugged into port Y of that device? I guess it depends on what you need it for / who's going to use that. I do my drawing religously that way and never see anyone do that : ( (partly for me to really document the details of the network and partly for users that might get in there, unplug a cable, reconnect somewhere else and swear that they put it back where it was originally : ) A site I used to look at was http://www.ratemynetworkdiagram.com

Rick5595
Rick5595

What would you recommend to analyse the existing configuration and assets on a network?

clshore
clshore

Should have mentioned Graphviz and GraphVisio. Both are open source. Graphviz is a general purpose tool originalted at ATT Labs, that can represent nearly anything. GraphVisio integrates Graphviz with Visio. http://www.graphviz.org/ Mix in a bit of Perl, Java, ksh, whatever, and you can read spreadsheets, text, logs, realtime feeds, etc. and create graphics to represent any set of objects and relationships.

MemphisDan
MemphisDan

As hubblecat mentioned above Spiceworks will automacically diagram your network; and not only showing the network but workstations, ipaddresses, all sorts of good info. And they have a great user/support community.

fernando
fernando

If you want basic diagrams, and not so-basic ones, consider LibreOffice or OpenOffice. Their dwawing and slideshow apps have simple but nice diagraming features, many styles of conectors, you can move shapes around and they stay connected. Also can import shapes designed to Visio, and although they come with a very small set of default shapes there's dozens more available for free download by the community. Other features are high-quality (for printing), web optimzed, protected and encrypted PDF export, besides export to Flash, SVG, EMF and other vector and bitmap formats. I use them for many kinds of flowcharts and network diagrams, never felt the need for a "better" tool, but I found other tools cited in the article to be counter-intuitive or to produce very ugly diagrams. Other option worth evaluating is the Kivio tool from KOffice. I guess the suite and the diagraming tool changed their names recently and they also got a decent Windows port. I liked it when I tried a few years ago, but LibreOffice was enough for my needs and has already supported both Windows and Linux for many years.

hubblecat
hubblecat

Try Spiceworks - it provides simple network diagrams as well as information on installed apps on each network node. It also has a trouble ticket routine generated by the end user, making life a little easier for the "help desk". The installed apps feature is great for ensuring software license compliance.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

Great free tools....are there any free tools that can scan your network and map it out for you? I have used WhatsUp Gold in the past, but its a little pricey.

MaciekAdRem
MaciekAdRem

There is a free tool which can do that - it's called MyNet Toolset.

pam_mcq
pam_mcq

This program is not free