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The Best Database Documentation Tools

Databases might be daunting and complicated, but database documentation tools make capturing all the relevant information easier. Learn about our top picks in this article.

You might be a developer who often gets emails from non-technical team members or clients wondering what a field signifies. In such cases, organizing and documenting the database's metadata is crucial, although it isn't our first priority. Due to the complexity of databases, we frequently forgo the documentation’s upkeep. Or, worse still, we avoid creating such information altogether.

This is where a database documentation tool comes in handy. A good database documentation solution not only helps in modeling data, but it also creates a detailed data catalog for your database using predefined formats. It’s a great asset for the entire database development team.

This article will discuss the best database documentation tools for your complex database projects.

What’s a Database Documentation Tool?

A database documentation tool helps database specialists to capture all database information in a simplified format. Database developers frequently use it as a data dictionary, which offers fine-grained information on the table schema, or as a single source of truth, which offers a summary of all the relationships inside the database.

Why Do We Need a Tool for Database Documentation?

A database documentation tool has many short-term and long-term benefits. Some of the most crucial benefits are:

  • It acts as a database design tool and helps database developers quickly design and prototype database structures.
  • The business team (sales and business analysts) can easily understand the table structure and the table fields using the rich metadata that developers input.
  • This database documentation shares the knowledge among the entire team and organization, instead of limiting it only to the senior developers.
  • It makes knowledge transference easier in future onboardings.
  • It saves coding time and improves productivity.

 Data Modeling and Database Documentation

In the development of databases, the database documentation process starts during the data modeling stage. In fact, data modeling plays the most critical role in database documentation.

The initial stage of database creation is data modeling. This is the rigorous process of graphically identifying and arranging all the relevant data in an information system with the support of a data modeling tool or an ERD tool.

There are three data modeling phases: conceptual, logical, and physical. In the conceptual model, you start from scratch and create a very high-level description of your entire data model; often, this model simply includes entities and the relationships between them. Logical data modeling goes into a more intricate level of complexity. The entities are expanded to display their attributes, including data types and traits. During physical data modeling, you create a very detailed data model that is ready to be turned into a physical database on a specific database engine (e.g. MySQL, PostgreSQL, etc.). You can learn more about conceptual, logical, and physical data models elsewhere in our blog.

The entity-relationship diagram (ERD or ER diagram) is the most popular diagram used to model and document databases. An ER diagram shows the entities and how they relate to each other. It includes other pertinent data, such as entity attributes, the primary keys that each entity uses to identify rows uniquely, the foreign keys that link entities together, etc. IDEF1X, Crow's Foot, and Baker's notations are a few of the notations that can be used to make ER diagrams.

Ok, that’s the basics of data modeling and database documentation. You can see how they are related. Now let's discuss the best data modeling tool available for creating and documenting databases.

1. Vertabelo

Vertabelo is an online database design tool that can be used to model and document any complex database. It comes with a wealth of fantastic features for software developers and database designers. This web-based application allows you to build your database schema from any location and on any device or operating system. It also supports a number of well-known database management systems (DBMSs), including SQL Server, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Oracle.

Best Database Documentation Tools

You can effortlessly construct your database structure using Vertabelo’s automated functionalities like reverse engineering and SQL generation. Vertabelo’s easy-to-use user interface supports many ERD notations and makes it easy to collaborate and distribute your work.

This ERD tool comes with model validation, built-in version control, and version control with Git to help with your database building and documentation process.

2. MySQL Workbenc

Best Database Documentation Tools

MySQL Workbench is a unified visual tool specific to MySQL databases. it is available on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. In addition to data modeling and documentation, it provides handy functionalities like SQL development and administration tools for server configuration, backup, user administration, etc..

3. ER Studio

Best Database Documentation Tools

ER Studio, developed by IDERA, is another popular database design and documentation tool. It comes as an offline version for Microsoft Windows.

The excellent environment and notations offered by ER Studio allow you to express your data  in conceptual, logical, and physical representations. This data modeling tool checks the normalization and conformity of your data model with the target database. It also has an automated feature to create the physical data model from the logical model.

Like the other leading database design tools, ER Studio also provides forward and reverse engineering capabilities. You can convert your physical data model into a DDL script and create the physical database by using the forward engineering functionality. Reverse engineering lets you create a physical data model from an existing database.

This database design tool supports a wide range of DBMSs, including SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, and DB2. Additionally, ER Studio supports Cloud services, including Oracle MySQL Cloud Service, Amazon RDS & S3, Google Database Service, and others.

4. Visual Paradigm

Best Database Documentation Tools

Visual Paradigm (VP) is also a great database design and documentation tool. The online version of this multi-diagramming application allows database developers to collaborate on any platform remotely. Visual Paradigm supports all major databases, including SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, and MariaDB. VP provides the most popular notations, including Crow's Foot, to help you design and document your database from a conceptual to a physical level.

This ERD tool comes with a Table record editor that enables you to enter test data and comprehend the type of data entered into the physical database. Also, its Model transitor feature automates the creation of physical and logical data models from their previous levels; you can maintain traceability with this feature.

Visual Paradigm also provides forward and reverse engineering functionalities like other major data modeling tools. Additionally, the Patch Tool helps you to patch changes made in the data model to the database. These features save many hours of time and money in the database projects.

5. Navicat

Best Database Documentation Tools

Navicat supports popular databases like SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, MariaDB, and others. This offline ERD utility is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. You can represent your data on any level, from the conceptual to the physical, and Navicat provides all three major notations.

Navicat allows reverse engineering so you can visually edit existing databases. Additionally, you can create SQL scripts for each component of your physical data model utilizing this tool's Export SQL function.

5. SQL Server Management Studio

Best Database Documentation Tools

Microsoft created SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS), an integrated application specifically for managing and connecting SQL Server and Azure SQL databases. It also has features for creating database diagrams, so this application can serve as a design and documentation tool for SQL Server databases.

SQL Server Management Studio supports reverse engineering. You can construct a database diagram and add any already-existing tables to it. The diagram can then include relationships, keys, etc. You can also modify and personalize table views, change the layout of your diagram, copy it to the clipboard so you can paste it into other programs, etc. Depending on the context, SQL Server Management Studio allows you to maintain multiple diagrams for a single database.

The purpose of SQL Server Management Studio is to connect to and manage your physical databases. Additionally, it provides a tool for creating database diagrams for your current database and for graphically modifying your actual database by adding keys, indexes, relationships, foreign keys, etc. Because SSMS supports the full data modeling process, it serves a slightly different purpose than the other data modeling tools.

What's the Best Database Documentation Tool for You?

A database documentation tool helps specialists to capture all database information in a simplified format. Database documentation starts from the data modeling stage. There are many database modeling and documentation tools available in the market. However, we should always pick the best database documentation tool based on our project-specific requirements.

Find out more about choosing the right database design and documentation tool for your database development here.

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