What is an ER diagram? 

What do we mean when we talk about ER diagrams? Developers use ER diagrams to outline the design of a database. In times past, a database engineer could diagram database relations on a whiteboard. Nowadays, we need powerful tools to properly map out a database. ER diagrams graphically represent the relationships between different parts of a database. This allows team members to easily explain the database structure to all stakeholders.

So, what is an ER diagram? ER diagrams are flow charts that illustrate relationships between entities. Entities in this case refers to objects, concepts, events or people. ER diagrams give a clear view of how entities work with and relate to  each other. 

How can ERDs help us?

ERDs can help teams to map complex relational databases. Teams use ERDs in the early planning states of new systems. Sometimes ERDs prove very useful for diagramming out existing systems. Whether used for planning or documenting current databases, ERDs allow teams to visualize how a database functions.

Let’s take a look at the 11 best ER diagram tools out there. We will examine their best features and how they function.  

11 best ER diagram tools to use in 2021

1. DeZign for Databases

DeZign for Databases helps teams to visualize database structure. You can use DeZign for Databases to create new databases or reverse-engineer existing databases. DeZign for Databases works well for many teams. Some teams may not love DeZign for its dated-looking user interface (hello gradients)! DeZign works through visual drag-and-drop. DeZign for Databases costs €19/month for the Standard edition, the full-featured expert version costs €59/month. You can download a 14-day free trial before you commit.

DeZign for Databases features:

  • Drag-and-drop user interface
  • Entity Relationship Diagramming
  • Multiple display modes
  • Industry-standard design notations
  • Multiple display modes
  • Pan and zoom window
  • ER-Modeling
  • Forward engineering
  • Reverse engineering

2. Gleek.io

Gleek.io is the fastest diagramming and flowcharting application. Gleek.io works through keyboard commands and code. Gleek lets users create diagrams without ever touching their mouse. Gleek gives software developers and architects a quick way to diagram with as few keystrokes as possible. They draw up plans and mock-ups to communicate with the rest of the software development team with ease and speed. Developers and architects will appreciate the speed with which they work when using Gleek. Developers use Gleek to diagram, create org charts, flowcharts, mind maps, and sequence diagrams. Gleek.io works as a standalone app or as a plugin for Confluence available in the Atlassian Marketplace. Gleek.io offers competitive pricing. The basic app is free, and the Premium version costs only €13/month.

Gleek.io features:

  • Keyboard-based user interface
  • Rapid Diagramming
  • Version Control
  • Live Collaboration
  • Diagram export
  • Design templates
  • Customization

3. Lucidchart

Lucidchart creates many types of diagrams, including ERDs. Lucidchart, written in HTML 5, works with many platforms, including MS Office and G Suite. Lucidchart works through a drag-and-drop interface. Lucidchart allows users to import many file types.  Lucidchart costs start from $7.95/month for a single user account.

Lucidchart features:

  • Real-time collaboration
  • Visio, Gliffy, Omnigraffle import
  • Automated diagramming
  • Enhanced security

4. DbDesigner

DbDesigner works well for teams that need to create different classes of users for a project. DBDesigner allows users classes; owner, editor, and viewer. These classes had different access and control. DbDesigner does not have the most modern user interface. But, the tool works well for teams who need powerful tools and don’t worry much about visual appeal. DbDesigner works through a drag-and-drop interface with some keyboard shortcuts. DbDesigner costs $6/month for the Basic package, $15/month for the unlimited package.

DbDesigner features:

  • Advance export options
  • Project and team management
  • Export to SQL
  • Import from SQL
  • Reverse & forward engineering

5. SmartDraw

SmartDraw is a web-based tool for diagramming and drawing schemas. SmartDraw uses a drag-and-drop interface. Users import CSV files and then move the entities around to create ERDs and other diagrams. SmartDraw integrates with Microsoft Office, G Suite, and Confluence. SmartDraw starts at $9.95/month for a single user account.

SmartDraw features:

  • Intelligent formatting
  • Professional results
  • Visio import and export

6. Visual Paradigm

Visual Paradigm comes with several ERD templates. Visual Paradigm also creates many other types of diagrams. Visual Paradigm allows teams to enter sample entity records for testing. Visual Paradigm has a drag-and-drop user interface for simple if slow, ERD creation. Visual Paradigm monthly subscription costs start at $6/month. Team and users interested in buying the software outright can do so at prices starting at $99 for a single user.

Visual Paradigm features:

  • UML diagram     
  • SysML diagram     
  • ER diagram     
  • Business Model Canvas     
  • BPMN diagram     
  • Data Flow Diagram

7. dbdiagram.io

Dbdiagram.io allows power users to create ER diagrams with ease. The user interface and design show some serious aesthetic improvement over many other tools. Users can create their ERDs with the keyboard alone, no mouse required. Developers and analysts will appreciate the simple and intuitive user interface. Note, though, dbdiagram.io is a specialized small tool meant only for ER diagrams, not other diagram types. The basic plan is free, but if you want more features dbdiagram.io pro costs $9/month.

dbdiagram.io features:

  • Generates SQL statements
  • Exports to images and PDFs
  • One-click sharing
  • Integrates with SQL databases

8. dBForge Studio for SQL Server

dBForge Studio for SQL Server is a SQL management tool that also allows users to create ER diagrams. Using a built-in Virtual Relation Manager, dbForge Studio allows users to view and edit logical relationships. You can try a version for free, or buy the Studio for prices starting from $249.95. 

dBForge Studio for SQL Server features:

  • SQL coding assistance
  • index manager
  • schema compare
  • data compare
  • query profiler

9. Navicat Data Modeler

Navicat Data Modeler creates diagrams for MySQL, Oracle, MariaDB, PostgreSQL, and SQLite. Navicat Data Modeler lets users create handsome ERDs with a simple drag-and-drop user interface. Navicat Data Modeler also offers import and reverse-engineering features. Navicat Data Modeler enterprise prices start at $22.99/month per user or $229.99/year per user.

Navicat Data Modeler features:

  • Database Objects
  • Model Types
  • Reverse Engineering
  • Comparison and Synchronization
  • SQL Code Generation
  • Standard Designing tools
  • Navicat Cloud

10. Creately

Creately bills itself as “your visual workspace” and largely delivers. Using a drag-and-drop interface users create charts, diagrams and even brainstorm with colleagues. Creately allows teams to work remotely together. Creately creates all sorts of diagrams, including ER diagrams. Creately Team costs $6/month per user.

Creately features:

  • Smart shapes
  • Easy drawing shortcuts
  • Themes and styles
  • Real-time collaboration

11. Gliffy

Gliffy works well for the average non-developer. Gliffy comes with templates and themes to help novice users create diagrams, including ER diagrams. Gliffy makes creating diagrams easy. Gliffy comes in both as an Atlassian app and a stand-alone online version. Gliffy Pro costs $7.99/month per user. 

Gliffy features:

  • Process Flowcharts
  • Workflow Diagrams
  • Swimlane Diagrams
  • Data Flowcharts