When I'm doing documentation, I frequently want to build a small ERD by hand to demonstrate a couple of relationships that are associated with the current topic.

I can do it in Visio, and frequently do, but it's a pain in the neck sometimes. Visio has rules in place that are sometimes difficult to configure and sometimes the line endings are painful to change. The plus side to using Visio as opposed to anything else that allows you to quickly draw boxes is that the line endings can be used to easily interpret the relationship (one to many, many to many, zero or one, etc.).

I'm not looking for a full blown modeling tool that can generate SQL, more just a quick and easy diagram tool with appropriate ERD connectors.

Here's a sample image so you know what I'm talking about:

enter image description here

I can use a Windows, Linux or web based tool.

  • I'm not familiar with ERD, but I've used drawing applications for other kinds of diagrams. How sensitive are ERD diagrams to precise placement? How diverse are the “arrow” symbols? Is there a lot of duplication, e.g. do you tend to have many similar diagrams or parts? Do you want to generate the diagram from source code or a WYSIWYG editor? Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 12:28
  • I know that this question is rather old, but if you specify which database you are suing, then maybe we can help you even further (specially if it's MySql ;-)
    – Mawg
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 11:49
  • @Mawg - I'm pretty set with GraphViz at this point, but I always appreciate looking at new things. I use postgres and oracle mostly these days when I'm using a relational database. Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 3:25
  • No ERD, but for Oracle, sqltools.net is useful (and free)
    – Mawg
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 6:47

5 Answers 5


I would suggest looking at:

  1. Graphviz it is free, runs on Windows, Linux & Mac. You describe what you need and it draws it for you - i.e. You define the nodes and connections with overrides on colours, line types, etc. - There is a bit of a learning curve but the results are very good so it is worth persevering. and you can generate your output in a wide range of formats.

    Pros: Once you are familiar with it it is very fast, allows you to generate your diagrams for almost any output format and does the layout automatically for you. There are a large number of tools that make use of it to generate diagrams automatically such as doxygen. Available for most platforms.

    Cons: There is a fairly steep learning curve.

  2. yEd this has a graphical user interface and is available for most platforms.

    Pros: There is a GUI so easy to use, Java so available for a lot of platforms.

    Cons: Large, Java so slow.

  • 1
    Could you please describe WHY you are suggesting those ? What are the goods and bads in each one?
    – Michel
    Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 11:34
  • I took a look at both yesterday. Both are quick installs and free. yEd is easy, but not quite as easy as I hoped. GraphViz will be as easy as I hoped once I figure out how to define a dot file. SchemaSpy shows a good output example, but I haven't delved into the source enough to figure out how. schemaspy.sourceforge.net/sample/relationships.html Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 14:09

I think QuickDatabaseDiagrams will suit you perfectly... but I do work there!

Quick Database Diagrams animation


  • Free
  • It really is very quick. You just type and it draws the diagram.
  • Relationships are drawn from field to field so it's clear what's going on.
  • Web based so easy to access and share diagrams.


For your use case I honestly can't think of any. Other users should note that you can't define indexes or defaults, but it's on the roadmap.

  • Could be what I was looking for. (cf websequencediagrams.com ; PlantUML; Mermaid, was it?) I'm looking for a way to turn off the datatypes though. Otherwise, I can't show people my "quick" database diagrams until I've got all the datatypes straight or else I'm misleading them....
    – mwardm
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 12:00
  • 1
    Ah, to have no datatypes shown on the diagram at all you need to (not specify them and) remove the DefaultFieldType setting. (Now I can't find any settings for colo(u)rs, font-faces or sizes... :-) )
    – mwardm
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 14:02
  • 1
    Thanks for the feedback. I'll consider removing the DefaultFieldType setting from the default diagram as I can image how that could be confusing. Formatting is in the feature backlog. You can vote for it our on our roadmap on Trello!
    – TrevorJ
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 16:05

ERWin is one of the good ones that I used. Not sure if it qualifies as "easy" for you, but it was for me. Sample diagram picture here (too big to inline).

If you use AquaDataStudio, it includes ERD tool. Inferior to ERWin in my opinion, but that's subjective, functionality wise both are OK for what you need. Frankly I'm not very happy with line placement rules in it.

Embarkadero ER studio was recommended to me by people I asked but I never used it.

More competing tools I haven't used can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entity%E2%80%93relationship_model#ER_diagramming_tools

  • 1
    $4,794.00 for ERWin Standard, holy cow! Then I saw the free community edition. Whew! Thanks for the minor heart attack :) Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 19:41
  • You can download the free community edition from erwin.com/products/data-modeler/community-edition BUT, note that "The CA ERwin Data Modeler Community Edition offers many of the core features of data modeling with a limit of 25 model objects. - See more at: erwin.com/products/data-modeler/community-edition/…" Btw, it is Windows only and supports Oracle SQL Server DB2 UDB MySQL ODBC Sybase
    – Mawg
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 6:50
  • it seems ERWin Community Edition doesn't exist any more :(
    – AntonK
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 20:51

This isn't quite an ERD diagram designer but depending on your needs it might work well.


It lets you draw Class, Activity, & Use Case Diagrams via simple text input (it draws the diagram for you)

With options to save as a PNG image, SVG, etc.

e.g. Here's a quickly hacked up image... enter image description here

  • 1
    This is awesome! I remember looking into UML a while back because it seemed perfect but the tools I found at the time led me down an endless stream of UML documentation. Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 19:36

I like Dia, though it's a little old it's free and open source, you can run it on Linux, Mac and Windows.

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