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Diagrams.net vs. Lucidchart: A few things to consider

While UML diagramming is a relatively universal approach, not all visualization tools are made for the same crowd. Diagrams.net and Lucidchart offer a good example of this.

Diagramming tools offer programmers a practical way to communicate development goals and illustrate architectural approaches. By including visual diagrams alongside source code and documentation, teams can grasp a clear understanding of application structures and development at-a-glance, rather than be forced to scan copious documentation and blocks of code.

Both diagrams.net (formerly known as draw.io) and Lucidchart offer flexibility, ease of use, platform integrations and fast model creation. Ultimately, both of these tools offer useful unified modeling language (UML) diagramming resources that readily meet development process challenges. However, the choice will likely come down to development team size, application complexity, cost and security.

In this article, we'll explore a little bit of the history behind UML diagramming and look at the attributes to consider when choosing between diagrams.net and Lucidchart.

Standardized modeling for software development

The ability to visually represent software systems was made possible in 1997 with the introduction of the Unified Modeling Language (UML). Programmers employed UML entity-relationship models and class diagrams to visualize complex data structures.

For example, programmers using object-oriented languages -- such as JavaScript, Python, C++ and Ruby -- could readily illustrate the relationships between classes, nodes and other components. Development teams also adopted UML to create state diagrams that depict system behaviors and define the events that trigger state changes in services.

Since then, UML diagrams have become a standard part of software development and help teams across the business understand project needs and development timelines. In addition to streamlining the debugging and planning processes, regularly updated UML diagrams can capture application state, provide a schematic to help pinpoint build issues and clarify how to optimize existing systems.

This diagramming approach ensures that coding processes run smoothly, especially when working with multiple developers or remote teams. For teams working on new projects, UML diagrams enable those writing code to uncover problems before programming has started, as well as document the flow of changes once an application is deployed. Finally, they remain critical tools for keeping the ongoing development process both productive and focused.

Diagramming with diagrams.net

Diagrams.net is an open source diagramming tool geared toward a wide array of tech-based professions, including programmers, network administrators, IT analysts and UI designers. It offers a clean and intuitive dashboard equipped with straightforward drag-and-drop capabilities, customizable diagram templates and vector graphics that can sustain image quality over multiple revisions.

Development teams that rely on GitHub, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox will find it easy to collaborate using diagrams.net, thanks to some simple plugins. In addition, diagrams.net provides access and plugin support for Jira, a popular bug tracking and project coordination platform. Jira offers developers the ability to create development flowcharts, entity relationship visuals, wireframes, mock-ups and network diagrams specifically for Jira environments. There's also a paid subscription service that offers integration with the Confluence Cloud collaboration platforms.

The one downside of diagrams.net is security. Diagrams.net allows users to store model updates and revisions in a location of their choice, be that the cloud or on a local device, rather than confine them to dedicated, managed diagrams.net servers. While it's not a particular shortcoming of diagrams.net, as this is commonly the case with any open source tool, enterprise-level teams will likely need a diagramming tool that places a tighter leash on data storage.

Visualizing code with Lucidchart   

Lucidchart offers hundreds of custom design features and templates for diagramming builds or modeling diverse systems. It offers an intuitive drag-and-drop interface, as well as plugins for integration with platforms like Jira, Confluence, Slack, Google Drive and Microsoft Teams. The web-based tool set offers real-time editing interfaces that sync changes and allow collaboration across Windows, Mac and Linux platforms.

Developers may find the in-editor chat feature particularly useful when it comes to conducting software discussions that lend themselves to visuals. Moreover, it provides clear tracking of which team members performed updates and when -- a useful feature for groups of developers who work remotely either part-time or full-time.

Lucidchart users can easily share software process flows, UML diagrams and UI design prototypes in real time and store them for others to reference. Although not included out of the box, an additional subscription feature enables developers to record, view and change the history of a diagram, as well as revert to previous iterations when needed.

As part of its subscription package, Lucidchart provides proprietary safeguards, including the ability to store encrypted diagrams on the tool's own managed platform. In addition to single sign-on  authentication for Google, OneLogin, Okta and Ping, Lucidchart offers streamlined license provisioning and an intuitive administrative panel that can control privacy and sharing permissions across the organization.

Along with enhanced security, another value-add for any subscription software is its level of end-user support. This includes a Lucidchart help center where users can find solutions, view product tutorials and suggest new features.

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