Throughout my career in TCP/IP networking (mainly with Cisco products) I have learned a very important lesson: Spending some time to create Documentation for your projects will pay dividends down the road. An important part of this Documentation is a network diagram/topology of your Network project.
Moreover, another primary task you will need to perform when managing and monitoring a network is to map it.
Most network monitoring tools feature the network mapping functionality natively, with autodiscovery mechanisms that display your entire list of equipment inventory.
Nonetheless, an automated mapper isn’t always the best solution. In some cases, you would be much better off if you could create a custom topology diagram via a graphical Network Diagram Software.
This is especially the case if you’re designing a new network or intend to expand an existing one. In such cases, autodiscovery will be helpful but, most importantly, creating a custom Diagram of your network will help you understand how each device is interconnected and will greatly help in troubleshooting problems.
In this post, we list the 16 best network diagram software and topology mapper tools in my opinion, including both free and paid options. The list of the tools below is in no particular order.
Draw.io is one of my favourite free options.
It is completely online (browser based) and features an accessible and responsive interface with the main drawing area in the middle and the tools/devices column on the left.
When you visit the website it will ask you to create a new Diagram or open an existing one.
Clicking on “Create New Diagram” will open up various categories of schematics that you can start designing. Usually I select the “Network” category as shown below:
After selecting the “Network” (or any other category) you will be presented with several ready-made sample diagrams as shown below:
Just click one of the ready-made diagrams and then click the “Create” button to start modifying/editing the selected diagram or maybe delete everything and create your own from scratch.
From the moment you start using the tool, you have the option to save your work to cloud services like OneDrive and Google Drive, though you don’t need to sign up for an account to use the service.
You also have the option of connecting Draw.io to your Google account, which give you functional real-time collaboration, where you can work on projects simultaneously with others.
The main drawback of Draw.io is that it doesn’t create very detailed and very high-resolution diagrams. However, for day-to-day work or for documenting your network it will serve you just fine.
This is not just an automated network diagram tool, but a comprehensive network monitoring solution as well.
If your company is looking for an enterprise grade monitoring solution, that includes also an automated network diagramming tool, then OpManager is one of the best out there.
With this tool you can easily create visual representations of your network including 3D rack views, Layer 2 network diagrams, business views, logical network diagrams etc.
If your network includes also virtualized IT machines (such as VMs from Vmware, HyperV etc), the Windows network diagram option can help you map out and visualize a representation of your whole virtualization infrastructure.
To draw a network diagram with this tool, you can follow these steps:
1. Use the symbols provided in the software to represent specific network components such as routers, switches, servers, etc. The devices are already discovered by the tool automatically.
2. Drag and drop the symbols onto the diagram canvas.
3. Connect the devices by creating link connectors to show how they are connected to each other.
4. Position the devices and connectors according to your network layout.
5. Use labels to name the network components for easy identification.
Visio is a high-end design tool that can create charts, diagrams, flow-charts, engineering designs, floor plans etc. It has been the de facto standard for quite a while.
The main feature of Visio is in its use of object stencils as primary components. There are many different sets of stencils for all kinds of use, including a rich array of network symbols or network equipment.
Some manufacturers (e.g. Cisco) provide downloadable Visio stencils that you can use with your network diagrams.
Originally Visio started as a desktop application (like Microsoft Word, Excel etc) and can create high-resolution diagrams (300 dpi or more) with any size you want. Now, there is a web based version (Visio for the Web) which helps you work together on diagrams from a web browser, from almost anywhere in the world.
It is the most comprehensive network diagram tool and I use it extensively in my professional work environment.
- $299.99 for Standard Edition
- $589.99 for Professional Edition
- License per user for the Pro version in Office 365
SmartDraw’s network diagram software aims to provide the easiest and fastest way to create network diagrams. They also claim on their website that the tool is easier than Visio and more powerful than Microsoft Office.
Being web-based, it can run on any computer or tablet.
To use it, you only need to view some examples, choose a template, add your network design symbols of choice, input the necessary information, and that’s it.
SmartDraw will handle the rest for you. It ideally aligns everything automatically, and applies a professional look making sure the final diagram is presentation-ready.
- $9.95/User Per Year for the Enterprise Edition
This is another one of the well-known network diagramming platforms that actually packs an incredible punch. For anyone looking to fast track their diagram production and process management, then LucidChart could be the best solution for you.
From the start, you can jump right into a template and start making your diagram. While there isn’t any native autodiscovery features here, LucidChart is now compatible with UVexplorer, which you can use as a plugin for autodiscovery purposes.
- Free single user license (with limits)
- $9.95/User Per Month for the Pro Version
For small and medium sized businesses, ConceptDraw stands out as a great mapping and diagram program on this list. Clearly inspired by Microsoft’s Visio, the user interface lets you create a variety of diagrams for your network environment and export Visio files.
While it might look like a generic network schematic tool, ConceptDraw has quite the depth required to build complex network designs.
Moreover, features like Smart Connector and Building Plan Designer allow you to automate the entire process of creating network diagrams.
This makes it ideal for organizations that have to keep up with dynamic environments. The program is also easy to use, and if you are conversant with Microsoft Word, you can easily find your way around it in no time.
It is a desktop app for Windows and MAC.
- $199 per license
This is a rather neat drawing creation tool with specialized icons and templates for network diagrams.
As a pure design tool, Creately doesn’t feature any form of autodiscovery. Nonetheless, you can use it alongside a basic network explorer like LANTopoLog to make the most out of it.
Creately comes with a huge selection of templates, each with its own set of icons. The available layouts include WAN views that feature cloud and city icons. There’s also a collaboration feature that enable you to give viewing or editing access to other users.
It works on both Cloud (web based) and Desktop options.
- $75 Desktop Personal (paid once)
- $349 Desktop Team – 5 users (paid once)
- $5/month Personal (Cloud)
- $25/month 5-user Team (Cloud)
- Free Option (for 5 public Documents)
This is an online diagram creation tool that supports a wide range of technical and business types of diagrams, including flowcharts, UML, ERD, ArchiMate, Mind Maps, DFD, Floor plan, Org. Chart, and BPMN.
Visual Paradigm online provides you with a free online workspace that lets you create an unlimited number of shapes and diagrams.
- Ranging between $99 and $1999 for the Perpetual License
- Ranging between $6/mo and $89/mo for subscription License
This is a general plan, map, and chart creation tool that features some awesome formats specialized for network topology schematics.
The editor includes libraries of IT and network equipment in different styles, including 3D, Basic, and Detailed. It also has a rich library of icons, meaning you can create network diagrams that look as though they came from a professional company.
There are separate and specialized libraries and examples of different diagram types focused on Cisco Networks, Azure, AWS diagrams, Rack schematics, LDAP, Active Directory etc.
Edraw also has a stable of products with different specialization. For network diagramming, check out Edraw Max, which has a free trial.
The tool works as Desktop app on Windows and MAC
- $179 single user Perpetual License
- $99 per year subscription license
Smaller enterprises that only need an entry-level network diagramming tool should consider Dia. While the program’s overall appearance is kind of rudimentary, it somehow redeems itself with cross-OS compatibility.
Dia lets you create a wide range of network maps, and has all of the core IT component graphics so that you can clearly see what you’re dealing with.
Nonetheless, despite Dia being a great free tool, it simply isn’t capable of mapping out complex network infrastructures. For this reason, this tool is only suitable for smaller enterprises looking to experiment with a free network diagram tool.
This is easily one of the most popular and recommended network topology tools available today. SolarWinds ideally features all of the fundamental components you’d expect from a premium network topology program (including network monitoring), however with a “spicy” price tag.
It comes with an autodiscovery feature, which can be scheduled to detect new devices automatically and scale routinely based on the network infrastructure.
What sets this program apart is the autodiscovery feature. It really helps to get your diagram mapping completed without wasting lots of time building one from scratch using templates.
After scanning the network to map it graphically, you can export the network diagram to Visio format so that you can edit or enhance it accordingly. Moreover, any changes to the actual network are auto-detected by the tool.
The Intermapper tool includes an automatic discovery and mapping feature that gets you started fast when it comes to creating your own plan. Intermapper’s autodiscovery system can plot both a virtualization and a physical network topology.
Its graphics editor features a library of icons, with the option of creating your own. The tool is also capable of storing network performance data to help with SLA compliance reporting and capacity planning. The free plan limits you to monitoring only 10 devices, and the paid version is available for a one-off fee or as a subscription service.
This includes both a commercial (Notepad Professional) and a Freeware edition specifically made for drawing and mapping network elements.
Although Network Notepad lacks extensive autodiscovery capabilities, it does come with the CDP discovery tool that helps to discover all network neighbours in the topology. This CDP add-on also lets the user search through the network and pull information from the devices.
You can optionally expand to the paid software: The Network Notepad Professional Edition, and transform it into a network monitoring tool by integrating with NNMonitor, a Ping scanner utility.
Both the Free and Pro versions run only on Windows machines.
- £26 GBP (per PC license) for the Professional Edition
Produced by Pacestar Software, the LanFlow Net Diagrammer includes libraries of both 2D and 3D icons, which enable you to create your own network topology maps.
You can also create your own icons or import icons from another graphics tool. The editor uses the drag and drop feature, which lets you choose icons from a side panel and then place them onto a design board. While this is a paid product, it’s possible to get an evaluation copy on a 30-day free trial.
This is a purely network diagram utility and is used by many Cisco professionals and students preparing for certifications.
- $99 single user license
- $179 two-users license
- $259 three-users license
netTerrain is a cloud-based product of Graphical Networks, a company that produces a wide range of network management software.
netTerrain is a network documentation system that compiles the hardware inventory and generates network topology diagrams by probing the network.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to stick with the generated diagrams as the program lets you adjust the topology to meet the unique needs of your project.
The tool also supports network reorganization and capacity planning. The extra features let you identify and shut down any security weaknesses within your network. The tool is also compatible with Visio, meaning you can exchange data from netTerrain Logical to a whole variety of tools aligned with Visio.
- $98/mo single user (250 devices)
- $198/mo 5-users (500 devices)
- $498/mo 20-users (1000 devices)
This is a free (shareware) network mapping tool created by enthusiasts. While you won’t get a physical layout of your network from this tool, the information displayed in the mapper will give you a straightforward representation of all the data you need from the network rather quickly.
LanTopoLog also features a network discovery capability based on SNMP. The resulting diagram, which is automatically generated, ideally shows every device in your network, along with the other devices that it connects to.
The result is a rich schematic tree structure with IP addresses, host names, and port numbers of every device in the network and its corresponding connections. It even includes a Ping monitoring tool to visualize which devices are up and which are down.
For a free tool, it works pretty good if you don’t want more fancy features.
As you can already see from the list above, there’s no shortage of network diagramming tools available to you, no matter the intended use.
These tools range from rudimentary mapping solutions with autodiscovery features to sophisticated graphical solutions with or without autodiscovery capability.
Each tool has its own pros and cons, and the best tool for your project will depend on your specific use case and the nature of your network.
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