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Sysadmin tools: Creating network diagrams with diagrams.net

Got diagrams? Need diagrams? Check out diagrams.net, an open source tool for drawing all sorts of visualizations.
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Create network diagrams with diagrams.net

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

I was using diagrams.net casually because I had a licensed version of a similar application. With the outbreak of COVID-19, I started to work from home, and by then I discovered that I needed to renew the other application's license. The alternative was to use diagrams.net, and it helped me deliver the needed product on time. So, what is diagrams.net, and what makes it different?

diagrams.net was formerly known as draw.io. Same product. New name.

[ Want to evaluate some other diagramming tools? Check out this article on 6 architectural diagramming tools for cloud infrastructure. ]

Diagrams in IT

No one can argue about the importance of diagrams in IT for developers, designers, and operations staff. A single diagram can be worth hundreds of words. There are many tools on the market that can create technical diagrams. Some are free, and one of the most professional free tools is diagrams.net.

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Example diagram from https://www.diagrams.net/blog/network-diagrams
IBM IoT Network Diagram from diagrams.net. Used with permission.

diagrams.net (formerly known as draw.io) is an open source online, desktop, and container-deployable diagramming application. You can store your diagrams either locally or on your preferred cloud storage solution. You can use diagrams.net either from your Internet browser by going to https://draw.io or https://diagrams.net/ or by installing the desktop version. I find the browser version is enough to get all that I need.

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IT-OT network diagram from the Cisco and Networks shape libraries
IT-OT network diagram from the Cisco and Networks shape libraries from diagrams.net. Used with permission.

Internet browser versus desktop

Let's look at the benefits and drawbacks of using the Internet browser version.

Pros:

  • You do not need any special user privileges on your computer.
  • It works on any OS as long you can reach the Internet.
  • Has a special minimal theme suitable for mobile devices.

Cons:

  • You need to download/upload your diagrams to the Internet. Although this is done via a signed https connection, it still might be an issue with sensitive data.

Now, what about the pros and cons of the desktop version?

Pros:

  • You keep your data locally on your computer.
  • No need to be connected to the Internet.

Cons:

  • There may not be a version for every OS.

My favorite features

Here are some of the diagrams.net features that I find most useful for my tasks. It has many more features, however, that others might find beneficial.

  1. Free.
  2. Small raw files: Save your design in small files.
  3. Export your diagram to other formats: Share your final diagram among others who might not use diagrams.net. You can export your design to different formats, including PNG, JPEG, SVG, PDF, HTTP, XML, URL, and VSDX (still beta).
  4. Import/open your design: Import your design from different sources (Google Drive, OneDrive Dropbox, Github, Trello, local computer, or even from an external URL). The ability to open or import from Github, Gitlab, and Trello also make it very useful in the software development world.
  5. Publish your diagram: Generate a URL for your design that you can share with others so they can view and modify it rather than sharing the raw file.
  6. Create/import libraries of images: Create and import your image libraries.
  7. Different types of diagrams: Draw many different kinds of diagrams to support a variety of use cases (flowcharts, mind maps., network diagrams, engineering diagrams, charts, business, etc.).
  8. Integration with Microsoft products: Work with OneDrive and Sharepoint. An Office 365 app is available for Word, Powerpoint, and Excel.
  9. Third-party integrations: Integrate with many third-party applications and projects (i.e., VS Code, Grafana, XWiki, etc.).
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Example gitflow diagrams from https://www.diagrams.net/blog/gitflow-diagram
Example gitflow diagrams from diagrams.net. Used with permission.

Wrap up

As you can see, I find diagrams.net to be a very handy, cheap, and easy tool for different areas. Take a look at the Official Blog for the project for additional ideas. Creating IT diagrams is certainly one of these fields. How do you see yourself using it?

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Topics:   Problem solving  
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Ashraf Hassan

I am Ashraf Hassan, originally from Egypt, but currently, I am living in the Netherlands I started my career in 1998 in the telecom industry, specifically the value-added services. Although my official studies were in the area of telecommunications, I was always attracted to system administration More about me

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