How to create network diagrams with this free Chrome app

If you're looking for an easy to use network diagramming tool, and you're not concerned with all the bells and whistles, Gliffy Diagrams might be the right tool for the job.

Image: Jack Wallen

When you need a quick network diagram on the fly and you're not at your desktop (the one that runs your primary diagramming tool), the last thing you want to do is snatch up a napkin and do your "best" sketching. Fear not -- as long as you have access to Chrome, you can use a handy app called Gliffy Diagrams. This program will run as an app in any version of Chrome, whether it's on Linux, Windows, Mac, or Chrome OS.

With Gliffy Diagrams, you'll find shapes to create diagrams for the following and more:

  • Flowcharts
  • Org charts
  • UML
  • ERD
  • Network diagrams
  • UI

Gliffy Diagrams can open the following file formats:

  • .vdx and .vsdx (Visio)
  • .gliffy
  • .gon
  • .gxml

Gliffy Diagrams offers an easy drag-and-drop interface, and it even works offline. Diagrams can be saved locally or exported as either .jpg or .png images. Best of all, Gliffy has next to no learning curve.

Installing Gliffy Diagrams

  1. Open Chrome.
  2. Point the browser to the Gliffy Diagrams Chrome Store page.
  3. Click ADD TO CHROME.
  4. Click Add App, when prompted.
  5. Allow the installation to complete.

From within the Chrome Apps tab (or the Chrome OS menu), you should see the launcher for Gliffy Diagrams. Click the launcher and then register the app (it's fre,e and you can opt out of receiving email from the developer). At this point the Gliffy Diagrams main window will open, and you're ready to go.

Using Gliffy Diagrams

The first thing to do is select Network from the shapes listing (left navigation). Now you can select the type of network you need (Home Network, Business Network, Rack Elements) from the drop-down (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A
Image: Jack Wallen
Select your network type from the Network drop-down.

Start dragging your shapes into the main diagram area. Once a shape is in the diagram, you can click on it and then give it a label (click on the A - Figure B), or manually edit the shape by clicking on the square.

Figure B

Figure B
Image: Jack Wallen
Editing a shape within a diagram.

Text can be formatted for each shape, and you can add simple text to the diagram (for when a shape label isn't enough) using the text tool in the toolbar. Shapes can easily be grouped by clicking the first shape, holding down [Ctrl], and then clicking the remaining shapes to add to the group. If you decide you don't want shapes to be grouped, you can select the group and either click the Ungroup button or click the key combination [Ctrl]+[U]. After you complete your diagram, go to File | Save to save it locally, or you can save it as an image file.

There is one caveat to saving as either a diagram or an image file: When you click to save, you must give the file name the appropriate extension (either .gliffy for a diagram or .jpg or .png for an image); otherwise, the file will save without an extension. You can go back and rename the saved file with an extension, but it's more efficient to do so during the saving process.

Note: .gliffy is not a file extension your computer will recognize. To open a Gliffy diagram, you must do so from within the Gliffy Diagrams app (as opposed to double-clicking on a .gliffy file).

Linking Gliffy to Google Drive

Near the top right corner of Gliffy (directly to the right of the filename), click the Google Drive icon and then click Link To Google Drive. You will be prompted to install Gliffy's Google Drive integration -- this is a trial account. Once the trial expires, you'll have to subscribe to Gliffy Online; there are three types of accounts.

  • Free: Limited to five diagrams and 2 MB of storage
  • Standard: $4.95 USD/month and limited to 200 diagrams and 200 MB of storage
  • Business: $9.95 USD/month and unlimited diagrams and unlimited space

Both the Standard and Business accounts offer other features, including Visio import. Check out the price/feature matrix to find out more.

Turn to Gliffy when you're in a bind

Gliffy Diagrams won't replace Visio as your go-to diagram editor, but when you need a network diagram tool that's fast and easy and you don't have a machine with Visio on hand or a spare Visio license available, Gliffy can save you in a pinch. Or, if you simply don't need all the bells and whistles that come with Visio, Gliffy Diagrams is a standout solution.

Give Gliffy Diagrams a try, and see if it'll do the trick.

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