Fortunately, there is a solution. The oddly named program yEd is focused solely on creating graphs and diagrams for free, quickly and easily. The results that come out of yEd look professional, but the actual process of putting together a new project takes only minutes.
Creating A Basic Diagram
Jumping into yEd and throwing together a project isn’t difficult. To demonstrate this, I’m going to walk through putting together a graph about a computer network. When you first open the program you should see a blank diagram open. On the right side of the main window you’ll see the Palette. This is where you’ll find the nodes you can put down to form your graph.
Although there are a lot of basic nodes, yEd has also been kind enough to throw in some graphical icons, including computers! So I’m going to place one of those icons on my diagram. Just drag-and-drop the node into the main project window. If you want to add a label to your node, right-click on it and then click Edit Label from the menu. You can add multiple labels to a node.
Now I want to add another node and create a connection between the Home Computer and the new node. So I’m going to select another node icon and drag it over, and then label it Cable Modem. However, I need to make a connection between the two nodes. The tools for this can be found in the Edge Types section of the palette. Once an edge type is selected, it can be dragged between two nodes to form a connection, as below.
Presto! We have a basic diagram showing a connection between a computer and a cable modem. While this diagram isn’t the most informative, it’s a fine example, as adding additional nodes doesn’t require any techniques besides what was used here. The simplicity of yEd is wonderful, and what you don’t see in these photos are the little things yEd does to make things easier for you, such as the lines that appear when you move nodes as a means of letting you know if they’re perfectly aligned.
Beyond the basic ability to make graphs and diagrams, yEd includes some more advanced functionality. To demonstrate, I’ve slightly expanded the basic diagram I just made into what you see below.
Using the Layout menu, it’s possible to automatically change a diagram such as this into any number of formats. For example, let’s say that I want to change the structure of this diagram into something that is more circular. All I need to do is click on the Circular option in the Layout menu, and yEd handles the rest.
Or let’s say that I decided I need to make the diagram larger in order to fit some more nodes that I hadn’t anticipated needing. Rather than methodically dragging and dropping each individual node away from the center, which could become a big hassle on a complex diagram, the Graph Transformer in the Tools menu can handle it automatically. Just punch in a scale factor (I picked 2) and you have what you see below. You can also rotate and mirror graphs with this same tool.
I like yEd a lot. I’ve been having trouble finding a freeware solution to this problem, and I hadn’t really even tried to find one within the last few months because I’d effectively given up, relying instead on GIMP to form diagrams. That’s not an optimal solution however, so I often simply decided not to make diagrams that might have been nice because making the diagram was too awkward. Hopefully you’ll find yEd as useful as I did. Oh, and yEd is one of those rare programs that is free for both personal and enterprise use, so feel free to use at work as well as home.
Let us know what you think of the program and if you know of any other alternative programs.