Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?
Graphics Software

Standards and Tools for Computer Network Diagrams? 21

_kabel asks: "Recently I've been asked to draw a map of my company's computer network. Gathering the data to do this isn't the problem though - it's drawing it all. This is no easy task, as it contains hundreds of hosts in many locations around the world, linked together with quite a variety of methods (modem, ISDN, ADSL, VPN over Internet and more.) So I have two questions: (1) Are there any standards on computer network diagrams (i.e. the symbols used for the various devices and connections) and (2) are there any tools already available to assist in this?" I know Visio has the capabilities and the symbols to do this, but what about the free-software diagramming tools?
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Standards and Tools for Computer Network Diagrams?

Comments Filter:
  • There's no reason that I've seen to physically diagram a network, if you have to differentiate subnets in different states/countries on different connections, then do so in your spreadsheet. The hard part is gathering the hostnames, hard coded ip's and etc, but when something does go wrong, you'll be the better for having it. I've used this on 4 different projects over the past 6 years, and I've learned things and added things each time.

    Good luck in mapping your network.

    • First of all, yes spreadsheets can be very important for network documentation, but i think a spreadsheet alone is insufficient(at least once the network reaches a certain size)
      Think about it, what if something happens to you?
      You (and your admin colleagues) may have everything in their minds. Where is which router, what does it connect, what vlans are configured on that switch, what uplinks, stp configuration, redundant interfaces/links.
      Now what if sonmething happens to you and your colleagues.
      Suddenly someone else has to administer the network, and if the network has a certain size, it will be a taunting task to find out how exactly the topology(physical as well as logical) is structured.

      Also a graphical map prevents misunterstandings and generally speeds up the process of making topological changes to your network.
      If you have a consultant or external support at your site, it helps. Show them the diagram instead of explaining for half an hour.
      For me it also is very nice to have such a diagram, from time to time it's very helpfull to take a step back and look at such a map when troubleshooting.
      It helps when you work with other admins, because you can draw and comment on a printed out version of the map.

      I think the mistake a lot of people are making(especially with visio VNE) is to win graphic design awards when drawing network maps, that's not the purpose of it.
      Keep them simple, with only a limited set of stencils(but then again comment them well).

      At last drawing the network maps helps to understand the network, if you for example have a junior admin at your site, let him draw a map, he will understand the network much better(if you build the network yourself, drawing a map obviously very seldom helps your undertsanding ;-) )

      Also drawing network maps is important when proposing network designs to customers or suggesting network changes to executives(see, this is very the firewall is going, protecting your precious e-mail server).
    • Good network documentation does indeed require drawings. You need to know logically where things are but also physically where the fiber runs are. When you're in a closet with hundreds of cables and a rack of CSUs if you don't have a drawing you're sunk. The best tool I've seen is actually AutoCAD. The ability to zoom and have multiple layers is great. Plus you can publish them as *.DWF and anybody with a grahpical browser and the plug-in can soom, do layers, etc. Saying one doesn't need drawings is foolish. There is much more to serious networking than just hostnames and IP addresses.
  • I have been playing with dia [] for a while now. I would agree with the author of dia that the product is in a state where it can be actively used and it is free.

    While it could use more widgets/modules it does offer the option to build your own and it is free. Viso is also an excellent choice in the commercial product line, especially the ability to directly link into other windows documents.

    Either option (dia or visio) will be time consuming, so I would re-read the previous poster. If you do not absolutely need a picture, go for a spreadsheet or simple database. The time consumed will be less, as you do not need to make it look nice. You will also find it much easier to locate a node, system, etc. in one of these products than to look through all the connections visually.

    If you decide to go with the diagram version, I would still suggest the spreadsheet/db be done.

    dia home page []
    dia Win32 Version []

  • try edge diagrammer
  • One program that I have found to be useful in network mapping is Inspiration. It is a mind-mapping program, meant to help get thoughts and ideas flowing, but it is great at creating flowcharts, which makes it perfect for network mapping. It does lack, however, good symbols for network devices, and it only runs on Windows and MacOS.
  • Well, I have to say, Visio is really the tool you are looking for. Visio Network Edition to be exact(although i think the normal version will do, but VNE includes a incredibly large amount of stencils)
    On the free software side of things, there is KIVIO [] which aims to be a Visio clone for X.
    I can't tell you how far it has gotten, but it looks decent, and if there would be(i just don't know if the formats are compatible) a way to import stencils from visio it might just do0 the job.
    Nevertheless, if you have a really large network to draw, my suggestions is to go with visio.
    It is very capable and extremely easy to use.

    Just don't forget to export the files to pdf or ps(maybe also html, but last i checked the html output of visio wasn't too fantastic)
    As for standard symbols, check out some of cisco CCO's [] network maps.
    You'll find a example of pretty much every way of connecting network equipment there, generally with nice example maps.
    DO I sound like a Cisco Borg?;-)
    The way these maps are structured and also the set of symbols is pretty much the standard(IMHO this is the way to draw network maps, but then again i could be wrong).
    Before you start i suggest you think what kind of map you want(how much detail, just logical or real topology, do you want to use generic or product specific - generally i would say, go with generic symbols)
    Another way to go would be to use on of the expensive NMS packages(cisco works, HP Openview) with which you can draw very nice network maps(actually that's just a effect of managaing via this products, maybe there already exists one of this products at your company
    One problem might be to export this maps(i can't tell, have'nt used one of these packages extensively) and the map formats are proprietary.

    For normal "drawing" of maps, Visio is definitely the best choice
  • Standard Symbols 2 (Score:4, Informative)

    by Cmdr. Marille ( 189584 ) on Sunday September 23, 2001 @07:39AM (#2337271)
    just found this>
    standard networking symbols from cisco, in a whole slew of formats, with a reference pdf

    Caveat reador: I work for this company, and on this product, so I am not unbiased.

    WhatsUp Gold [] by Ipswitch [] is a network monitoring product that builds nice maps of your network by auto-discovering your systems. It has nice scalable (vector graphic) icons for common system types and lets you create your own.

    The new version which is due out later this year has a very flexible import/export system for maps so that you could easily use WUG to generate the maps then export them (in XML, for instance) to another program for tweaking.

    It's main use is to monitor your systems and page/email/phone/etc you when things go down.


  • Cheops and Cheops NG (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Seth Cohn ( 24111 )

    Cheops is an Open Source Network User Interface. It is designed to be the network equivalent of a swiss-army knife, unifying your network utilities. Cheops does for the network what a file manager does for your filesystem.

    And then:

    Cheops-ng (cheops next generation) description:
    Cheops-ng is a Network management tool for mapping and monitoring your network. It has host/network discovery functionality as well as OS detection of hosts. Cheops-ng has the ability to probe hosts to see what services they are running. On some services, cheops-ng is actually able to see what program is running for a service and the version number of that program. Take a look at the screenshots page for a detailed look at some of the features of cheops-ng.

  • most people use a standard paint package people who want more do it with visio (why do you think MS took it over ?)

    people round here have been useing Xfig for a LONG time and can import the drawings into ANYTHING (most packages have xfig filters if not PostScript is your friend) being able to import it helps alot

    yes Gnome has Dia and KDE has viso knockoff but realy Xfig might look clunky but its packed full of features that networking people have been useing for YEARS not a couple of mounths and ALOT of books diagrams have been done in xfig

    so my recomendation is you guessed []


  • Suggestions (Score:3, Insightful)

    by anticypher ( 48312 ) <anticypher@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Sunday September 23, 2001 @03:51PM (#2338222) Homepage
    Visio is considered the standard for manually diagramming a network, it's unfortunate the company was borg'd by M$, and the latest version of the product (visio2k) has already shown its direction from professional diagramming tool to org chart tool for micr~1.oft orfice drones. Cmdr. Marille points to a bunch of network icons in his message [], every network person should have a copy.

    If you can afford it, look into Cisco's Network Designer (assuming a large part of your kit is cisco), which autodiscovers your network, similar to how HP openview works, and it also uses CDP info and examines cisco configuration files to understand complex interconnections. If you can't get a copy from cisco, NetFormX [] sells it to everyone else. The neat thing about CND is you can click on each generic icon, replace it with a specific model of equipment, and it builds a database of every component on the network. I've seen clients extract that data automatically into an inventory database for the beancounters.

    Other posters are listing all the free alternatives, but if you really have a globe spanning network with that many machines and routers, spend a little on either visio or CND. Good documentation is a major part of network administration, don't skimp on the tools. If you have to skimp, I'd go with dia, or maybe Kivio is stable enough now.

    When you are trying to build a document base, first find out the largest size printer you will have regular access to. Make all your pages that size, put a nice border just inside the print margins, and have a small info block in one corner just like professionals do. Test how small you can make your fonts so you can read a photocopy of the original. Once you know the limits of your printed pages, then start your documenting project. Break the network into logical maps, representing regional areas, physical locations, protocol types, vpn tunnels, backbones, hosts, etc.

    You can't fit an entire network onto a single sheet of A4 (8.5x11) paper, no matter how hard you try. I can barely fit my home network diagram onto an A3 page. Move all the important non-graphical information onto other pages that accompany the pretty picture page. Make a book where each diagram has a few pages of text descriptions, specs, snippets of configs, spreadsheets, caveats and reasons for doing screwy things.

    When you have successfully documented your network, any PFY should be able to flip through the pages and be able to fix problems with only a few minutes of study (yeah, right!).

    the AC
  • It's been awhile since I've used it, but Scotty/Tkined did an OK job... it's open-source, extensible, and you can import your own icons.

    take a look at it at
  • Build a database in whatever you find useful and then write a simple script to generate a file for input into the AT&T graphviz package. (see )

    Once you have generated the raw graph(s), you can use the graphviz tools to fine tune them into presentable looking displays.

    Graphviz doesn't have lots of network icons, but it's ok, make up your own and document them.
  • Everybody seems to have lots of interesting things to say about various tools, but I wanted to ask the public-at-large if these tools are clever enough to support networks with multiple physical layers? I've seen network diagrams at work where there's ethernet, oc-12, oc-3, RS-232, RS-485, ControlNet, DeviceNet, DataHighway, Modbus, Profibus, etc. all on the same diagram. It is not pretty, to say the least.

    Autocad could do the job, I guess, but Autocad can do a lot of things, and isn't necessarily the best tool available for all of them. So, anybody got any suggestions?

  • I have not found a single piece of software that solves this solution for a generic case, most are designed to deal with very specific situations and have a fair number of limitations Some of the more recent ones I have encountered are:
    1. Fluke networks have a tool that is designed to map switched ethernet networks (no WAN). It can be found at their website [].
    2. The opennms project is considering adding this, there is a discussion list for it on their website [] that talks about some of the technology involved.
    3. 3com network supervisor. This can do some basic mapping of the network, see their webpage [].

The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. -- Lily Tomlin