Online or desktop ERD tool – are you puzzled about which one to choose? Read on to understand which one is best suited for your organization.
ER diagrams (ERDs, or entity relationship diagrams) are crucial in database projects, so choosing the right ERD tool is vital. Building a database system without an ER diagram is like building a skyscraper without a foundation.
ER diagram tools are some of the most important among all the tools used in a database project. There are many good online and desktop tools available in the market, but you should know which ERD tool is best suited for your project.
You can choose an online ERD tool and model your data immediately without any installation or setup. If you select a desktop tool, you need to install it on your desktop and model the data offline. Database architects choose tools from one of these two types for modeling their data based on the requirements of their projects.
Let's discuss the pros and cons of these two types to understand which is better suited for your project.
Pros and Cons of Online and Desktop ER Diagram Tools
There are many online and desktop ERD tools available with essential features for data modeling. Features such as clean and user-friendly interfaces, notation capabilities, and reverse and forward engineering come with most online and desktop ER diagram drawing tools. Many support different DBMSs (database management systems).
Each type has its unique set of features. Like with other online tools, you don't need to install online ERD tools on your device. You only need an Internet connection and a browser. You can use an online tool on any device on any platform.
On the other hand, if you select a desktop tool, you have to install and set it up before starting your work. You have to consider the compatibility of your ERD tool with the hardware and other software on your device. And it consumes your local storage capacity.
Online tools have auto-save options to save your work automatically. If your device shuts down for any reason, you don't have to worry about the work done. If your device crashes or if your computer's hard disk dies, you do not lose your data models if you use an online ERD tool. They are stored in cloud storage securely, and the cloud infrastructure makes automatic backups and ensures the security and availability of your data.
In contrast, if you use a desktop ER diagram tool, you need to think about the internal IT infrastructure. You need a team to manage your IT infrastructure for backups, data security, and hardware.
With an online tool, you don't have to worry about having to update your tool manually. You work on the latest version all the time, and your data models are updated to the newest version. When you use a desktop tool, you have to think about updates, fixes, and compatibility of your diagrams with the latest versions of the tool.
Features like data model sharing, collaboration with your team, and version controlling are available with online ERD tools. They are not that easy with desktop tools. That said, some desktop tools can integrate with a cloud platform, with features like model sharing and collaboration with teams, version controlling, auto-save, automatic backups, etc.
Typically, online ERD tools come as SaaS (software-as-a-service) tools. Since it is a subscription-based service, you can start your data modeling by investing less money.
With desktop applications, you have to invest more in software licenses up front before starting your work. However, some organizations prefer spending money only once on an ERD tool rather than having ongoing subscriptions. Desktop tools often better suit such organizations by their financial requirements.
If you have a desktop ERD tool, your device does not need to be connected to the Internet every time. You can model your data offline. With online tools, you have to be connected to use the tool.
Let's see a few examples of online and offline ERD tools and explore their features.
Online ERD Tools
Vertabelo is an online ERD tool that supports many DBMSs like MySQL, SQL Server, PostgreSQL, and Oracle.
As you can see in the image above, Vertabelo has a clean and modern user interface for modeling your data. It is responsive and supports all the essential and popular notations for drawing your logical and physical ER diagram, including crow's foot, IDEF1X, and UML.
Vertabelo has an automated feature for creating your physical ER diagram from a logical one. It validates your ER diagrams against general database constraints as well as against the DBMS selected. You can learn more about Vertabelo live model validation.
As an online ER diagram tool, Vertabelo has valuable features to facilitate collaboration in your project team. You can share your data models with your team members by setting their email addresses at different access levels: Owner, Editor, or Viewer. Your team can work on the same data model at the same time; for example, one person can edit while others view. Changes are saved immediately with the auto-save option and are visible to others simultaneously. You can also share the models with your customers and partners who do not have Vertabelo accounts with a public link to your model through email. Read more on sharing your data models on Vertabelo.
As your perfect online data modeling tool, Vertabelo provides you with two additional important features: forward engineering and reverse engineering of your data model. You can generate SQL scripts for creating or removing database elements in supported DBMSs with the forward engineering feature. With the reverse engineering feature, you can import an existing database and make changes in this user-friendly graphical tool.
SqlDBM is an online ERD tool that supports many DBMSs such as MySQL, SQL Server, and Amazon Redshift. It supports popular notations like crow's foot and IDEF1X for modeling your data from conceptual to physical models.
As an online tool, SqlDBM facilitates collaborative work on different platforms. You can share your data models with your team members by providing their email addresses and changing access levels by checking or unchecking the options.
SqlDBM has a version control feature for maintaining different versions of your diagram. You can also compare changes with the Compare Revisions feature. It has other important features like forward engineering for creating DDL scripts from a physical model and reverse engineering for creating a data model from a physical database for doing revisions visually.
ERDPlus is an online ER diagram tool that supports drawing all levels of data models. You can use notations like crow's foot, and it lets you generate SQL DDL files for creating your physical database from a physical data model (relational schema).
ERDPlus supports many DBMSs such as MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle, and IBM DB2. Like other online ERD tools, it makes your data models available to you from anywhere on any device or any platform.
4. Visual Paradigm
Visual Paradigm has an online version with different sets of notations for creating various kinds of diagrams. As an ER diagram tool, it supports many DBMSs such as MySQL, Oracle, SQL Server, Sybase, SQLite, HSQL, and MariaDB.
It comes with notations like crow's foot for creating your conceptual to physical data models. The Table Record Editor feature of this tool lets you enter sample data and understand the data format to be entered later. The automated Model Transitor feature helps you create your logical and physical models from conceptual and logical models, respectively, and maintain traceability between these models.
Like other online ER diagram drawing tools, Visual Paradigm has many valuable features for working remotely and collaboratively. Your data models are available anytime from anywhere and on any platform. It provides features for team collaboration and sharing your work among the members quickly. These features include the cloud workspace, committing and updating projects, branching, tagging, and revision archiving such as browsing history and roll-back. Everyone can work simultaneously. When a user makes changes and commits them to the repository, the changes are merged to the original document (not overwritten) and visible to everyone.
Visual Paradigm’s built-in tool improves team communication about your data models. Its Online Diagram Browser helps share your data models with stakeholders for them to comment, review designs, give approvals, etc.
Visual Paradigm can generate DDL files for creating your physical database from a physical data model as well as generate SQL scripts for patching changes to the database. You can also generate a physical data model from a physical database with its reverse engineering feature.
Offline ERD Tools
1. MySQL Workbench
MySQL Workbench is an offline ERD tool that supports data modeling, database development, maintenance, and many other database activities for MySQL. It supports all the essential notations for drawing your ER diagrams and validates your diagrams against MySQL constraints.
This tool comes in Windows, Linux, and macOS versions for you to install on your devices. However, as its name suggests, it only supports the MySQL DBMS.
This data modeler's forward engineering feature generates a DDL script for creating your MySQL database from a physical data model. Conversely, its reverse engineering feature can generate an ER diagram from an existing MySQL database or SQL script.
MySQL Workbench is suitable for individual work in MySQL data modeling. However, because this tool is an offline ERD tool, it does not support activities like model sharing, simultaneous work, etc., for collaborating with your team. Furthermore, this tool does not generate portable data models across different DBMSs because it is only for MySQL.
2. Astah Professional
Astah Professional is a multi-diagramming tool that supports various diagrams such as ERDs, flowcharts, UML diagrams, DFDs, etc. This tool comes in Windows, macOS, Ubuntu, and CentOS versions. You need to download the version compatible with the operating system of your computer and install it before you start modeling.
As an ER diagram drawing tool, Astah Professional supports the IDEF1X and crow's foot notations. You can use its reverse engineering feature to generate your ER diagram from an existing database. And you can use its SQL Export feature to export entities of your ER diagram to SQL (SQL-92).
This tool is suitable for individual work in data modeling offline as it does not support collaborative work. You can't share your data models with your team, nor does it support concurrent work on your diagrams.
Online or Desktop: Which Tool Is Best for You?
Many good ERD tools that are popular among database specialists today come as either online or desktop tools. They have standard features as well as features unique to each type based on its nature.
Don’t focus on who the developer of the tool is, be it an online or desktop tool. Instead, think about how the tool can help you achieve your database project goals, considering all financial and technical factors.
Suppose your project is large and complicated and needs concurrent work with a project team. In that case, an online ER diagram tool is the best match for your project. With an online tool, your team can work together on large and complex data models with easy options for model sharing, collaboration, version control, etc.
On the other hand, you may want to invest in your ERD tool just once. Your projects may not be that complex, small enough for one person to handle each data model. You may need a solution that is highly customized to your preferences. Maybe you have an internal IT team that manages the infrastructure aspects. In these cases, a desktop ERD tool may better fit your organization.
Let's move forward; it's your call!