To choose the best data modeling tool, you must evaluate many features and programs. In this article, we‘ll compare the key offerings of several popular database modelers.
Data modeling is all about documenting the information design underlying a software system. Data is modeled using a diagram with text and symbols that represent how the data should flow. (This is usually an entity-relationship diagram, or ERD.) The diagram can be used as a starting point for building a new database or for re-engineering an existing database.
Typically, data models are built during the analysis and design phases of a software development process. It ensures that the application requirements are unambiguously understood. Being part of a development team and building the data foundations of a solution is one of the things I like about database modeling.
Capturing all possible relationships in a data model can be time-consuming. Still, it is an important step that should not be rushed. Well-documented conceptual, logical, and physical data models allow a project’s various stakeholders to identify errors and make changes before programming begins and mistakes get more expensive to fix. That is just one of the many reasons why you need data modeling.
Which Online Data Modeler Should You Choose?
The main purpose of an online data modeling tool is to make it easier for database designers to translate their ideas into shareable models. Read about what to look for in your ER diagram tool for more details.
The tools we will see below all have the essential functionalities needed to work with entity-relationship diagrams, share them with others, and finally generate databases from them. However, building ERDs is only one part of a data modeler's job, since a database design is much more than just an ERD.
The differences between the many online database diagram solutions are in their ease of use, the database engines they support, import/ export functionalities, schema comparison, documentation generation, and model sharing options. There are also other useful online database tools you could leverage to work with your database.
Visual Paradigm is a development tool suite that supports UML 2, SysML, and Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) from the Object Management Group (OMG). In addition to providing modeling tools, it offers reporting and code engineering capabilities. While the full version of Visual Paradigm requires local installation on client computers, it also has a free online option that allows ERDs to be generated and exported as images without watermarks or usage limitations.
Visual Paradigm’s ER Diagram Tool supports logical, conceptual, and physical data models.
Visual Paradigm tools allow forward engineering and reverse engineering for various programming languages. They are also capable of generating ORM code for developers who use this technique as a replacement for SQL. Within the Visual Paradigm suite, the ERD Tool module provides specific functionality for creating entity-relationship diagrams and converting them into functional databases.
This is a very complete product that covers all the needs of software development teams that use agile methodologies and UML. However, its users note that its many functionalities make it complex and cumbersome as a database diagram design tool.
Vertabelo is an online data modeler solution with a clean, modern, and responsive graphical user interface. Vertabelo offers everything you would expect from an online data modeling tool, including model validation, online collaboration, SQL/DDL script generation and import, text annotations on diagrams (read about using text notes in data modeling to learn more on this), and support for a wide range of database engines.
Vertabelo brings together all the tools you need to work professionally with your ERDs in a modern and practical interface.
Model version comparison and script generation make it easy to transition between data models. The tool supports conceptual, logical, and physical data models and has a built-in system for comparing diagram versions, but you can also track changes to data models using Git.
Vertabelo focuses solely on entity-relationship diagrams, so all of its features are intended exclusively for data modeling. These features include automatic documentation generation and the ability to share diagrams online with different users – inside and outside of the development team – by generating public web links to the diagrams and managing user permissions. Read our article on how to collaborate effectively in Vertabelo to learn more about this.
Lucidchart is a multi-purpose online data modeling tool that includes ERD design capabilities. Particularly noteworthy are its facilities for visually collaborating in drawing, reviewing, and sharing charts and diagrams.
Lucidchart lets you easily create ERDs by dragging and dropping standard ERD symbols onto a canvas.
Its advanced drawing tools make it especially suitable when diagrams need to be presented in a visually appealing way. Creating ERDs with Lucidchart allows you to customize styles, text, and visual elements so that your diagrams make a good first impression.
Among its specific functions for database design, Lucidchart offers the possibility to automatically generate diagrams based on existing schemas and tables via SQL import. It integrates with Salesforce to generate ERDs from your schemas or map the architecture of your instances. It is also capable of exporting SQL scripts to generate a schema from a diagram. The generated scripts are suitable for different DBMS, including MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQL Server, and Oracle.
SqlDBM is an online data modeling tool compatible with Snowflake, Azure Synapse, Redshift, MS SQL Server, MySQL, and PostgreSQL databases. It offers many essential database diagramming features, including reverse/forward engineering, team collaboration, database documentation, version control, revision comparison, and schema conversion.
SqlDBM lets you create unlimited diagrams and export them to images in PNG format.
A notable SqlDBM feature is the ability to impose naming conventions for diagram objects. This allows you to set entity names to UPPER_CASE, lower_case, Title_Case, camelCase, or PascalCase.
The product is available in three versions: Basic, Business, and Enterprise. The Basic version is the most economical and offers forward/reverse engineering of MS SQL Server, PostgreSQL, and MySQL databases. You can create unlimited diagrams and export them as PNG images. For advanced features like team collaboration, Synapse/Snowflake/Redshift integration, revision comparison, naming conventions, logical modeling, etc., you’ll need the higher-priced Business or Enterprise versions.
DeZign for Databases
DeZign for Databases is an intuitive database diagram design tool for developers and DBAs that allows you to create ERDs from scratch or from existing databases and then generate schemas in Oracle, MS SQL, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and other database management systems. DeZign for Databases supports the IDEF1X and crow's foot notations.
DeZign for Databases lets you draw your ERD based using IDEF1X or crow’s foot notation.
The software offers multiple visualization modes at different levels. These can be used at various development stages to convey model information in different levels of detail. In turn, the pan and zoom tools make it easy to view entire large diagrams and then quickly zoom in on the details.
DeZign for Databases supports advanced ER modeling techniques (such as many-to-many relationships and inheritance), which are automatically translated into the physical model when deployed to a target database. The product includes team collaboration tools and the option to export diagrams as image, HTML, Microsoft Word, and PDF files. It also allows exporting CSV files containing an automatically-generated data dictionary.
ERwin Data Modeler
ERwin is a data modeling solution with more than 30 years on the market. It was originally based on IDEF1X modeling nomenclature, although it now also supports IE notation and dimensional modeling.
ERwin Data Modeler shows different representations of a model on each tab of the editor.
Among the virtues of ERwin data modeler is its ability to automate the complex and time-consuming tasks of designing, implementing, and maintaining databases. For database comparison, ERwin offers its Complete Compare facility and Quick Compare templates to automate the bidirectional synchronization of models, scripts, and databases. It also allows individual item comparisons and selective updates, generating ALTER scripts whenever possible.
ERwin users highlight metadata visualization as another of its strengths. Metadata from ERwin models can be automatically collected and then incorporated into centralized data catalogs and business glossaries, which are critical enablers of data governance and intelligence.
The product offers three different versions: Standard, Workgroup, and Navigator. It also offers its Safyr module for data extraction from ERP and CRM business applications. Although the core of ERwin Data Modeler is a Windows application that needs to be installed on client computers, it has a web portal that offers online collaboration between designers and stakeholders.
DBDiagram is a free online data modeling tool that, unlike other database modeling solutions, allows you to generate diagrams via coding. For this reason, it is suitable for programmers, data analysts, and anyone who prefers typing on their keyboards to using a mouse and a graphical interface.
With DBDiagram, you can create a data model by writing code in the DBML language.
DBDiagram uses Database Markup Language (DBML), a markup language designed specifically for documenting database structures. DBML grew out of DBDiagram and became an industry standard.
DBDiagram also allows you to create diagrams from SQL dumps derived from existing databases. Once an ERD is created with DBDiagram, it can be shared with teammates with a single click. ERDs can also be exported to image or PDF files, or you can generate SQL scripts to create tables directly in a database.
A distinctive feature of this tool is its ability to load a database schema from popular web frameworks, such as Rails or Django.
Another online data modeling tool that allows you to use the keyboard to design ERDs is Quick Database Diagrams, or QuickDBD. This option is free and lets you share your work with teammates. With QuickDBD, you don't need to use the mouse, nor do you need to type table structures with any markup nomenclature. You simply type the name of the table in one line; in the next line you type a hyphen, and in the following lines the names of the fields that compose the table.
A minimalist interface and the ability to create diagrams by typing plain text are the cornerstones of QuickDBD.
Data types and other field characteristics – primary key, foreign keys, null / not null – are simply typed next to each field, separating each word with space. QuickDBD interprets the text and draws the ERD in the right panel. You can zoom in or out and use the mouse to arrange the objects in the diagram.
This application's goal is to help you capture ideas quickly and save time, without GUI tools interrupting your flow. It also generates professional-looking diagrams that make it easier for you to communicate your ideas.
Online Data Modeling Tools: Find the Optimal Balance
All of the tools evaluated in this article excel in some particular aspect. Some offer ERD design as part of a broad suite of software design tools; others focus exclusively on data modeling. Some emphasize the visual presentation of diagrams; others offer more features for interfacing with database engines. In addition to these differences, the costs of the tools range from zero to many thousands of dollars.
For the above reasons, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. But if you are a data engineer or database designer looking for a tool that will solve your day-to-day needs, help you improve your productivity, and make you look good in front of clients or bosses, Vertabelo is definitely the way to go.